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Author Topic: Elon Musk's Hyperloop
C3PO the Dragon Slayer
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So the crazy guy behind PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla Motors has just revealed plans for a new transportation system that basically shoots capsules through a tube at 760 miles per hour.

I'm reading through the specs, and it looks very interesting. I'm skeptical of the price, which seems way too good to be true (my non-expert guess is that there would be civil and logistics costs that aren't factored into the production costs presented), but the principle seems sound. I thought the physicists and engineers of Hatrack might want to take a gander.

Some highlights:
  • It's self-powering, using solar cells and rechargeable batteries
  • It will take you from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about 35 minutes
  • The capsules ride a cushion of air that compressed from the air in front of the capsule in the tube. The tube itself is NOT a vacuum
  • Every safety- and practicality-related issue I could think of is neatly raised and addressed in the document. The tunnel is not perfectly rigid, but is built on pylons with dampers that can mitigate the effects of thermal expansion and earthquakes
  • The document suggests that $20 a ticket would pay for the construction cost of the system; a car ride over the same distance would take ten times longer and cost almost six times more

Elon Musk has a reputation for proposing completely outrageous futuristic things and then miraculously making it happen. The Tesla Model S is not just a figment of the imagination, and SpaceX has actually sent cargo to the ISS. If this were coming from anyone else, I'd be extremely skeptical of the actual feasibility, but this document seems pretty well thought-out. What do you guys think?

Here's the document that details it.

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Samprimary
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that's a brilliant idea, let's let legislature destroy it
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Lyrhawn
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The Atlantic had an interesting article criticizing it.

They liked the concept, thought it was a great idea in theory and really ignited that same sort of spirit as the stuff we imagined in the 50s and 60s for sci-fi did.

But the problem is twofold:

1. People might like this idea enough to derail the current plans for high speed rail. While many might say "well good, if this is better they should be derailed!" But the problem with that is it's taken decades to get the high speed rail plans in place in California. Years of study, planning, etc. Switching to this would start that process all over again and ensure it takes yet decades more just to come to an agreement before a single pylon is installed to build this thing.

2. Musk underestimates the single greatest cost of high speed rail in California: land purchases. It requires a huge amount of land to be purchased to go from Point A to Point B, and it's a massive headache. His low-ball estimate for land purchases, even for the relatively smaller footprint, is wildly out of touch with reality. It might be easier in the midwest and east, but in California it's not realistic.

Plus Musk doesn't even want to spearhead the project, he just toss out a football and yelled FUMBLE at the top of his lungs. He said he'd consider doing the proof of concept work, and it would maybe take 3-5 years, but that's eternity in California. Maybe, if you consider how long it's supposed to take to build the high speed rail system currently planned, this is still something worth pursuing.

But it's not the moonshot a lot of people think it is.

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capaxinfiniti
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This thing is a pipe dream.
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Xavier
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I love the idea, though from the pictures I'd dread being a tall man and going for a ride in this thing.

I'm all about us taking on more "not because they are easy, but because they are hard" projects. I want to see more technological jumps forward for the sake of progress itself, dammit.

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C3PO the Dragon Slayer
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quote:
But the problem is twofold:

1. People might like this idea enough to derail the current plans for high speed rail. While many might say "well good, if this is better they should be derailed!" But the problem with that is it's taken decades to get the high speed rail plans in place in California. Years of study, planning, etc. Switching to this would start that process all over again and ensure it takes yet decades more just to come to an agreement before a single pylon is installed to build this thing.

I don't know enough about the political climate of California to say how realistic it is to suggest that it's possible to make the switch with the right kind of popular demand and lobbying, but my understanding of the current high-speed rail project is that it's incredibly expensive and not actually all that fast, compared to other, existing bullet trains. If they want to make the switch, now is the time, because construction hasn't actually started yet.

What has been causing the high-speed rail to drag its feet so much? The answer to this question will probably provide insight as to whether the Hyperloop could ever work.

quote:
2. Musk underestimates the single greatest cost of high speed rail in California: land purchases. It requires a huge amount of land to be purchased to go from Point A to Point B, and it's a massive headache. His low-ball estimate for land purchases, even for the relatively smaller footprint, is wildly out of touch with reality. It might be easier in the midwest and east, but in California it's not realistic.

This is my primary concern as well, at least in terms of feasibility. There are a few questions that I don't know the answer to that might minimize this concern.

The document proposes that the bulk of the system could travel along the median of a fairly straight interstate. Obviously, where the interstate does veer, the Hyperloop track will have to take a gentler turn (to minimize G forces), whereupon it will have to deviate from the highway. Can the state unilaterally approve the highway stretches, or will those still have to be paid for?

In the segments where you absolutely have to buy land, is it possible to reduce the cost by saying you only want the construction rights to build ABOVE the land, the way you'd construct telephone poles? Farmers could still farm the land and properties that already exist on those stretches would not be compromised. My intuition, knowing that the capsules ride air cushions and that the tunnel is pressurized at a small fraction of one atmosphere, is that the system would not be noisy like a train or a highway, so you wouldn't have the same noise pollution concerns.

quote:
Plus Musk doesn't even want to spearhead the project, he just toss out a football and yelled FUMBLE at the top of his lungs. He said he'd consider doing the proof of concept work, and it would maybe take 3-5 years, but that's eternity in California. Maybe, if you consider how long it's supposed to take to build the high speed rail system currently planned, this is still something worth pursuing.

But it's not the moonshot a lot of people think it is.

Since I don't live in or anywhere near California, I am impressed more with the engineering of the design than with the prospect of actually traveling from LA to SF in 35 minutes in a certain timeframe. The intent of this is clearly to broaden the box that civil engineers think inside, and I certainly appreciate that effort. I think it's worth discussing: will this physically work, what are the practical concerns, what stands in the way of solving them, and how many of the roadblocks are artificial, government or bureaucratic, and how many are actual engineering and economic challenges?
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Stone_Wolf_
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I'm DLing the pdf on my phone...so forgive me if this has been addressed in it, but how long does this thing take to get to speed/deaccelerate? Can't be too fast cause it would splat the passengers, but can't be too gradual unless it is a direct from LA to SF (I live between the two) and thus have a very limited use.
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Lyrhawn
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It's direct, supposedly with some stops along the way. But I mean, look at how fast an airplane accelerates, or a roller coaster. It really doesn't have to be that gradual.
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Dan_Frank
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quote:
Originally posted by capaxinfiniti:
This thing is a pipe dream.

Wanted to make sure you got some kudos for this.

I laughed. [Big Grin]

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twinky
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a series of tubes
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BlackBlade
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quote:
Originally posted by twinky:
a series of tubes

[Big Grin]
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Lyrhawn
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quote:
Originally posted by Dan_Frank:
quote:
Originally posted by capaxinfiniti:
This thing is a pipe dream.

Wanted to make sure you got some kudos for this.

I laughed. [Big Grin]

I didn't mention it, but I laughed as well.
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tertiaryadjunct
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quote:
Originally posted by Stone_Wolf_:
I'm DLing the pdf on my phone...so forgive me if this has been addressed in it, but how long does this thing take to get to speed/deaccelerate? Can't be too fast cause it would splat the passengers, but can't be too gradual unless it is a direct from LA to SF (I live between the two) and thus have a very limited use.

Assuming an acceleration of 1 g would be comfortable enough, Google can do the math for you (35 seconds). Double that for a lighter acceleration of 0.5 g.

From what I hear, a lot of obstruction to the current high-speed rail plans is from towns in between the endpoints that don't want to be turned into backwaters by having everything just pass them on by without stopping. Don't know how true that is though.

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Lyrhawn
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I'm not sure I see their argument. How would high speed rail change that? It's not like planes stop at county airports to let people off.
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Wingracer
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
I'm not sure I see their argument. How would high speed rail change that? It's not like planes stop at county airports to let people off.

It happened with interstates. A small town on the only road between two major cities would do thriving business. Then a major interstate takes them out of the loop and the place becomes a ghost town within a year.

That being said, I doubt the rail would carry a high enough percentage of travelers to have much effect.

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tertiaryadjunct
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quote:
Originally posted by Lyrhawn:
I'm not sure I see their argument. How would high speed rail change that? It's not like planes stop at county airports to let people off.

I think they're worried about losing people who drive through, as Wingracer suggested. Lord knows the only reason I ever set foot in Bakersfield, Fresno, or any of the tiny towns in between is because I'm driving somewhere else and need gas or food.

There are probably a lot of people who drive SF <-> LA rather than fly. It's only a 5 hour drive, so once you factor in the time and PITA of airport security, not having a car when you get there (more of an issue in LA), and cost of additional people (friends/family), driving can be quite preferable.

A half-hour, $20 Hyperloop ride would beat the pants off it though!

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Geraine
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I absolutely love this idea. For a few years there was a company that wanted to put a high speed rail system between Las Vegas and Anaheim (Disneyland) that could make the trip in about 90 minutes.

Well, Reid didn't like that, and decided to back a different company that would build one to Victorville. In other words, a high speed train to nowhere. If the train went to Anaheim, you would have more people coming to Vegas as well as numerous families from Vegas that would rather take a train to Disneyland in the morning and be able to sleep in their own bed that night.

There was an application for a federally backed loan filed earlier this year. I don't know if it was ever approved.

The Hyperloop would effectively let people living in LA work in San Francisco. I have to travel to Sacramento and Phoenix every couple of months, and I'd love to take the Hyperloop instead of having to get to the airport two hours early and then deal with delays.

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Kwea
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we need something like this badly. Doesn't mean we will be smart enough to build it though.
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Elison R. Salazar
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The "Lets build it above a farm" isn't going to work unless you invoke eminent domain because NIMBY; a lot of people are just going to be unconvinced it won't be a huge hassle.

I'm leaning "Lets not derail plans for normal high speed rail, work on this in parallel."

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