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The Hyperloop Lives

Posted June 09, 2015 2:34 PM by HUSH

If you ever compose a blog for CR4, prepare to be told you're wrong. It has happened to me dozens of times and it's somewhat of an 'earned stripe.' Well by now, I've been writing on CR4 long enough to witness myself become wrong.

In July 2013, when Elon Musk publically debuted his idea for the Hyperloop, I believed that the Hyperloop was innovative and exciting, but that red tape and the wild price would prevent it from usurping high-speed rail, or ever being realized. Musk had retasked some engineers at SpaceX and Tesla to work on his Hyperloop concept. He then debuted the open-source project with a lengthy white paper and invited other entrepreneurs to improve the Hyperloop design, since Musk was too busy to pursue the project himself.

Even today it is easy to see why I was so pessimistic at the time. A full-scale Los Angeles to San Francisco Hyperloop would cost $7.5 billion, according to Musk. A UC Berkeley professor estimated the real expense to be more like $100 billion. It would be built completely from conjectural technology, and though several independent engineering firms said that the concept was feasible, it needed work. Also, the rider experience could be distressing, as people are subjected to 800 mph in sealed, claustrophobia-inducing metal capsules.

But the invitation from Musk was all it took for several startups to jump onto the Hyperloop bandwagon, and the most successful is Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, which is building a five-mile-long test track in California for $100 million. HTT enlisted the help of over 100 engineers around the U.S. who participated remotely for stock rather than salary. HTT won't go so far as to say its five-mile-long track is a prototype, as it won't have the speed or distance of a true Hyperloop (though those specs have yet to be released). Rather, it will be used to test Hyperloop concepts. HTT expects this sub-Hyperloop to be opened by 2017 with public ridership by 2018.

A few of the areas under scrutiny? Capsule design is one of them. Engineers discovered that the capsules featured in Musk's original design weren't feasible. HTT sees a future where each capsule is unique-some are first class, some can transport a car or cargo, some are slower for anxious or ill riders. HTT has also put four-foot-diameter wheels on the trains to help cornering. It is also important to see how the Hyperloop responds to seismic activity, as the loop needs to remain smooth and sealed for its entire length. Eventually HTT wants to bring sub-Hyperloops to most metro areas, at first linking cities and then establishing intra-city networks.

Of course because one is never enough, Musk is still planning on building his own prototype Hyperloop in Texas. I'm surprised the Hyperloop is making such ambitious progress, but it still seems far off from being a practical solution. I'd love to see it built, but it's more likely to end up like other atmosphere railways-an abandoned tunnel 100 years from now--than as a disruptive technology.

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#1

Re: The Hyperloop Lives

06/09/2015 3:47 PM

No one has shown me the numbers, but I can't imagine the system being profitable without fare tickets that are astronomical.

Long distance fare tickets on conventional rail road cars are high and no one can operate those with a profit, either.

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#2
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Re: The Hyperloop Lives

06/09/2015 7:29 PM

GA. I'd say the only area that Amtrak could possibly turn a profit would be the Northeast Corridor (Wash. DC, Philly, NYC, Boston). Other than that, they should shut it down even though tourists do enjoy the rides through the Rockies.

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#3
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Re: The Hyperloop Lives

06/10/2015 9:34 AM

Here's a wild idea, instead of shutting it down, why don't we subsidize it to half the level that the Interstate highways are subsidized, and see if that brings rail transport usage closer in line to highway usage?

Then again Big Oil hates the idea of helping the rails, since more rail use means less gasoline sold. (The fuel cost for a train doesn't really vary much by adding the weight of the passengers, so the increase in diesel usage is nowhere near the drop in gasoline usage.)

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#4
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Re: The Hyperloop Lives

06/10/2015 9:56 AM

How much are interstates subsidized? I thought they were paid for by the users via gas tax.

According to this source ( i can't vouch for how accurate it is....just one of the first entries in my google search on the subject):

  • The Interstate Highway System was built without a dime of subsidy, being funded entirely with gas taxes and other highway-user fees;
  • For the last 60 years virtually no federal money and very little state money other than highway-user fees have been spent on any highways or roads;
  • Cities and counties, however, do spend property, income, and sales taxes subsidizing new local roads and street maintenance;
  • But these subsidies are partly offset by diversions of federal and state highway-user fees to mass transit and other non-highway programs;
  • Bottom line: user fees cover nearly 90 percent of the total amount spent on highway construction, maintenance, and operations.
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#5
In reply to #3

Re: The Hyperloop Lives

06/10/2015 10:56 AM

It's already been done.

Amtrak receives about 44% in subsidies versus roads at 45% on a cost per mile basis according to an article in the Economist.

Keep in mind that there are a lot of different ways to gather metrics and that is the reason why you see so many different numbers.

The bottom line is that Amtrak is a non-profitable mechanism for transportation and the taxpayer picks up a significant percentage of Amtrak's total costs each year.

I think a significant factor in that is a cultural thing in the USA where personal transportation is held in high regard. Due to the vast distances in the US and the expectations to go anywhere at any time, the prospects for that changing are dim.

The Hyperloop has an uphill battle in that regard and I don't think that speed alone will change the hearts and minds of the public, particularly when they see the ridership costs.

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#6
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Re: The Hyperloop Lives

06/11/2015 2:18 PM

Yes, an astronomical fare and/or heavily subsidized by the taxpayers.

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#7

Re: The Hyperloop Lives

08/23/2015 5:41 PM

Or we could just put new rails down the middle of the Interstate system, elevated when necessary. Right of way is already there.

When I was a kid before I-75 was built, on our way from Indiana to Florida on US 41, we 'raced' many a long train whose tracks ran right next to the highway.

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