A half-breathless, half-realistic assessment of the hyperloop

Mario Aguilar, writing for Gizmodo, discussing the hyperloop:

Trains failed in America because they’re expensive and not really better than the alternatives. Amtrak’s “high-speed” Acela trains are a prime offender. They’re way more expensive than just the regular train (which itself is often more expensive than a plane to begin with), and on a trip from Washington DC to New York, it saves you a grand total of about a half-hour.

I’m pretty sure that’s not why trains have “failed” in the U.S. I’m pretty sure they failed because we gave up on them decades ago and are only now wondering what happened.

And yet the proposed high-speed rail line in California isn’t a big enough step forward by many accounts.

Whose? Musk’s? California’s HSR won’t have face melting speed, but at an average speed of over 160 mph for the entire route, it’ll be pretty fast.

It’s not using the fancy magnetic levitation technology being implemented in places like Japan and Germany, which will allow trains to fly down the tracks at over 300 mph.

If by “already being implemented” you mean “currently being tested”, then yes. (Also, Germany’s Transrapid maglev test track will probably be dismantled soon.)

If the Hyperloop doesn’t happen, it won’t be because of the proposed price tag.

Or it could be because the budget in the hyperloop proposal is too optimistic.

Up until this point, Aguilar has pretty much taken Musk’s proposal and talking points at face value. But then his tone changes pretty dramatically.

Indeed, take a look at the numbers, and you start to wonder if the money wouldn’t be better spent on regional transit. The estimated daily ridership for the California High Speed Rail is 260,000 people, which is pretty middling considering that the San Francisco’s BART alone moves some 380,000 people every day. What’s more, Hyperloop would only serve a fraction of that 260,000 population because it doesn’t include all of the intermediate stops.

And he ends with a totally sensible summation of the whole project:

The technological ambition and courage behind Hyperloop are unimpeachable. Ambition, know-how, and funding don’t mean a thing if you don’t have the right kind of support. And right now, it’s hard to see how Musk gets it.

Clearly the hyperloop has sparked a fairly large conversation around the proposal and also around high-speed transit in general. I’m split as to what value Aguilar’s article adds to the discussion. He begins with some pretty shallow reporting about the hyperloop proposal and its competition. But then he fires up the reporting machine and pumps out some solid criticism of the hyperloop. Not just “oh, this thing will be terrible” criticism, but insight that could be valuable to both refining the project and reevaluating our current transportation options.

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