Hyperloop: Super Duper Fast Travel

Post by Gondola Project

Hyperloop Concept Vehicle. Image from Tesla Motors.

In case you haven’t heard by now, Elon Musk — billionaire investor and founder/CEO of Tesla Motors, PayPal and SpaceX — unveiled plans for an ultra-fast, air-cushioned, solar powered transport tube system called the Hyperloop.

After reading a couple of articles, I’ve compiled some major stats:

  • Tube Capacity: 28 people
  • Max Speed: 1220km/h
  • Average Speed: 962km/h
  • Cost: ~$10 million/km ($6 billion for 570km between San Fran and LA)
  • Frequency: 30 seconds
  • Column Spacing: 45-90m
  • Implementation: Cities less than 1600km apart
Proposed alignment between San Francisco to Los Angeles. Image from Tesla Motors.

Proposed alignment between San Francisco to Los Angeles. Image from Tesla Motors.

Based on his current proposal, he sees this technology transporting passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 30 minutes.

As expected, once this concept emerged, there was a mixture of excitement and skepticism.

I’m not a scientist or engineer so I can’t comment on the technological feasibility, but experts seem to suggest that this system is possible with existing technology. So in some ways, it’s not completely innovative. In fact, many similar ultra high speed systems of this variety have been explored in the past — however none have reached the prototype stage.

ET3 or Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies: another conceptual mega fast transport technology. Also claimed can be built at 1/10th the cost of High Speed Rail. Image from Voxxi.com

I could only speculate why that is, but imagine that the initial start-up costs and associated complexities are enormous. Too much to risk for any one person or entity to take on, even for a billionaire like Elon — which might explain why he’s not personally building this concept but instead hoping to pass it onto other investors.

Being a transit nerd, this idea is fascinating and I’d love nothing more than to be able to hop in one of these tube capsules in the future. However, until a real-life model is designed, built and tested, it simply remains an idea. Perhaps one day we’ll finally see get to see ultra-super-high speed transit, but exactly when is anyone’s guess.

I must say that the buzz generated by this technology makes me hopeful and excited for the future — that smart, talented and bright scientists continue to push the envelope to develop new transportation solutions.

However, what I’m less enthused about is Elon’s suggestion that this will be the fifth mode of transport — planes, trains, cars, boats and the hyperloop — cause if he had read our blog, I’m certain he’d say sixth.

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  1. We had a similar project in Switzerland called the Swissmetro. it was cancelled a few years ago because it would cost to much. Main reason is safety. Those system would be nice to move parcels but to transport humans cost will be tenfold. Actually 100 Million USD would't be too bad for such a system.The would need entry locks to let rescue crews in and passengers out. The tube need to be dividided by locks to keep the vacuum. And to provide a efficient rescue those locks need to be placed every mile or so. Vehicles need to perform a full stop within 30s or whatever they use as headway. It could be performed by brake rockets as Mr Musk has access to this technology.
  2. You'd never get me to sit in one of these capsules... imagine the catastrophe if it crashes.
  3. Matt the Engineer
    "however none have reached the prototype stage" On the contrary, there was an entire demonstration line built under NYC in secret in 58 days almost 150 years ago. It wasn't vacuum or linear motor based, but the same basic idea. And on the topic of old pneumatic tube systems, check out this elevated track.
  4. ^prototype, this is impressive, too bad it didn't last. ^elevated track looks surprisingly beautiful, almost one of the most aesthetically pleasing pieces of elevated infrastructure. Kinda reminds of the Wuppertal Schwebebahn when I visited a few years back.
  5. I skimmed through Musk's white paper. This technology is actually innovative. Other proposals have suggested a total vacuum with magnetic levitation, and that's where my mind went when Musk first hinted at 'Hyperloop'. That kind of technology is very difficult and expensive. Hyperloop is a low pressure tube instead (150,000ft equivalent). The cars take up only part of the tube diameter so that the displaced air can pass around them. Even so, the paper indicates the tube diameter needed for air to pass without too much drag is excessive, so each car will have an electric compressor fan at the front, powered by on-board batteries, to draw in some of the air, pass it through a tube underneath, and blast it out at the back to compensate for some of the frontal drag. Some of that air is used for cabin pressurization, much in the manner of an airliner, and some is also used to provide air-cushion suspension (gap about 1mm), which saves the great cost and difficulty of magnetic levitation. Propulsion will be by short sections of linear motor at intervals along the tube to re-boost the cars, and decelerate them at the destination. Most of the line will be a plain steel tube that acts as its own structural member. The engineering seems reasonable, but Musk get's a bit 'hand-wavy' in other areas. I'm less then convinced by his arguments on cost, safety, and operations. "Even when the Hyperloop path deviates from the highway, it will cause minimal disruption to farmland roughly comparable to a tree or telephone pole, which farmers deal with all the time. " I don't think farmers would be too happy having an elevated line over their fields that need sun ಠ_ಠ , and we already know that elevated infrastructure is still requires a long and expensive process of local consultation, politicing, and land purchase, even if it only passes over it. "Hyperloop would feature the same high level of security used at airports. However, the regular departure of Hyperloop capsules would result in a steadier and faster flow of passengers through security screening compared to airports. " I've worked in a major airport; with enough flights, flow through security screening already is constant, and still slow, and passengers still hate it, and it still requires a huge work-force. If you have airport like security screening, the journey will becomes much longer then 35 minutes. I won't go into his safety discussion at length, but I was unconvinced. One thing though. Vehicles will have a first aid kit, but there's no room to even stand or move through the vehicle underway and no mention of on board attendants. One more thing that really sticks out; Musk specifies 40 cars in activity during rush-hour, but also specifies 30 seconds headway at 'peak-usage hours' and 35 minutes each way, plus six cars in station at any time. That's 146 cars! 40 is only enough to support his 'average' headway of 2 minutes. I think this is technically feasible, and possibly even achievable in real economic and operating conditions, but I don't believe Musk for a second when he calls it "Safer, Faster, Lower cost".

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