Hyperloop: Fast, But At What Cost?

When it comes to travelling long distances, Americans tend to rely on planes, while the Chinese and Europeans love their high speed rail. However, a new technology promises greater speed with lower fares, with fancy pods travelling in large tubes held at near-vacuum pressures. It goes by the name of Hyperloop.

Virgin Hyperloop recently ran the first-ever passenger test of a Hyperloop vehicle, reaching 100 mph on a short test track.

Spawned from an “alpha paper” put together by Elon Musk in 2013, the technology is similar to other vactrain systems proposed in the past. Claiming potential top speeds of up to 760 mph, Hyperloop has been touted as a new high-speed solution for inter city travel, beating planes and high speed rail for travel time. Various groups have sprung up around the world to propose potential routes and develop the technology. Virgin Hyperloop are one of the companies at the forefront, being the first to run a pod on their test track with live human passengers, reaching speeds of 100 mph over a short 500 meter run.

It’s an exciting technology with a futuristic bent, but to hit the big time, it needs to beat out all comers on price and practicality. Let’s take a look at how it breaks down.

Fast But Compact

While many Hyperloop projects are under development around the world, the most-discussed proposal thus far has been the original idea of a route linking Los Angeles and San Francisco. The initial claims from the Musk camp were that a 350-mile Hyperloop system linking the two cities could be constructed for $6-7 billion, charging $20 for the lighting-quick 35 minute ride. Each pod would carry 28 passengers, with each pod spaced out by as little as 30 seconds in transit. Claimed maximum ridership for a two-tube system would be on the order of 15 million trips per year. Multiplying that out, that comes to $300 million in revenue generated by the heavily-patronised system.

Obviously, with ticket prices so low, journey times so short, and with far less fuss compared to taking a flight, the Hyperloop looks promising on paper. However, digging deeper, the fundamentals of the project don’t look so rosy. With such a low number of passengers per pod, the total flow rate of passengers through the system is limited, on the order of just 3360 passengers per hour. Projected land costs are likely far in excess of the mere $1 billion cited in the original Hyperloop paper, leading many to suspect the $6 billion cost is likely off by a factor of 10 or more, with tickets more realistically costing $1000 apiece.

Hyperloop designs struggle to match traditional high-speed rail when looking at traditional transit metrics like passengers per hour.

For comparison’s sake, the politically troubled high speed rail project in California aims to link the same two cities with conventional high-speed rail. Breaking ground in 2015, the project is targeted for completion sometime before 2030. But to date it has faced all manner of complications, not least with the acquisition of suitable rights-of-way to build the railway on. Land acquisition is often the biggest hurdle for such transport links, and this makes up much of the project’s $68 billion budget. The railway plans to operate at 220 mph, with a targeted travel time of under 2 hours 40 minutes from San Francisco to LA on a 380 mile route. Projected ridership is on the order of 16 million in 2029, ramping up to 35.6 million by 2033. Fares are on the order of $100 for the full route, leading to expected revenue of $2.2 billion by 2033.

Crunching the Per-Mile Costs

With a proven technology like high speed rail costing tens of billions of dollars, it’s somewhat difficult to believe a never-before-built Hyperloop system could be cheaper. This is before considering the technical difficulties of keeping huge stretches of large-diameter tube at low enough pressures to maintain high speed travel, or the safety concerns of how to rescue passengers stuck inside a broken-down pod. Other than speed, in every other metric, Hyperloop seems to fall down relative to the traditional high-speed rail option. As a bonus, at least on the Californian route, that rail option is already under construction, and it promises better-located stations, too.

Large, long-distance vacuum tubes are significantly more complex than a normal railway, and present issues around maintenance and rescues.

Further studies have only confirmed the higher costs that could realistically be expected of such a system. Modelling by Virgin Hyperloop One in 2016 estimated a per-mile cost of $84 to $121 million for a cut-down 107-mile Bay Area project. This compares to a projected cost of $178 million per mile for the full Californian high speed rail project. It’s difficult to understand how a complex Hyperloop system could be cheaper to build than a simple set of rails, but even if it can, proposals still fall down when it comes to the lower number of passengers per hour able to flow through the system.

Given we’ve only just seen the first human test of a Hyperloop prototype, it’s perhaps too early to discount the technology entirely. However, thus far, it fails to present a sustainable business case unless passenger flow rates can be increased significantly. It’s a similar problem that doomed the Concorde, and it could happen again here. But with so many projects underway around the world, we may yet see a real working Hyperloop in operation sooner rather than later.

162 thoughts on “Hyperloop: Fast, But At What Cost?

  1. Hyperloop is a problem maximizing concept: take everything, that is difficult and put it into a project plus not making anything substantial better than existing, working solutions.

    1. I agree but we need at all levels to kill this hyperloop crap. STOP writing articles about it, comment on everyone that is written. It needs to be consistently compared to flat earth as the ideas are equally stupid.

      Tldr: hyperloop = flat earth.

      1. Not quite. Hyperloop is actual science, while a flat earth isn’t. Also, believing in a flat earth doesn’t cost you anything, while the hyperloop is quite expensive.

        The Hyperloop is a solution for a problem that doesn’t really exists, and for which far superior solutions are available. But that’s what Elon Musk likes, comparable to going to Mars to live there instead of fixing the shit we create on Earth…

        1. Well, considering they did a switcharoo with the whole concept, one can say that the “hyperloop” doesn’t exist either. This is a vacuum tube train, not the pneumatic loop concept we were originally sold by Musk.

          It’s only called that because Musk got a trademark (“name mark”) for “HYPERLOOP” referring to “high-speed transportation of goods in tubes”. In other words, they made the definition of the “brand” so broad that even if the original idea fails they could still claim to have succeeded by doing something else that is vaguely similar.

          The real deal doesn’t exist and never did – it was just nonsense – yet people believe that’s what they’re getting here. It’s perfectly comparable to flat-earthism, where too you have to actively maintain a delusion against observable facts in order to keep believing in it.

          1. cool but expensive.
            What if pods were moved by the difference of air pressure between their back and front in a glass selaed tube?

            Compressors or turbines + valves or airlocks annexed to the tube. Maybe compressed air ducts..all these synchronized.
            No engine, no batteries means lightweight pods/trains. Air levitation plus some wheels for slow speed and taking curves. Costal installation: tube be can be suspended in the seas by anchors. Transparent – spectacular when possible.
            Now they want much money on securing this thing. Really? A plane has same problems, even bigger.

            Now if the tube makes a loop, almost all energy can be recovered. Was this the original idea of Elon Musk? If so, why abandon it?

  2. Hyperloop is awesome in concept, but there are 2 issues that pretty much make it impossible to actually build and operate:

    1. The vacuum thing. There will be hundreds or thousands of hatches and doors in a 400 mile evacuated tube. It just isn’t feasible to maintain all those seals, any one of which is a show stopper. And don’t get me started what it would take to pump it down.

    2. The flatness and turn radius thing for a 700 mph vehicle. Do the math. Keep in mind, there will be babies and grandparents on this thing, not bobsled racers.

    1. Even without any ports or hatches, I think people seriously underestimate what it would take to maintain a several hundred miles long vacuum tube. Look at our existing bridges and roads to see how well we maintain our current, much less complicated, infrastructure.

    2. Yes! The vacuum issue is obvious, but the turn radius problem perhaps less so. Centripetal acceleration is proportional to the square of speed. If an interstate highway is set up for 100mph traffic, increasing the speed by a factor of 7 requires increasing the turn radius by a factor of 49 in order to maintain the same g force in the turn. You can’t use an existing right-of-way, but you must build something new, and very straight. Certainly possible, but extremely expensive.

      1. That depends on how you define acceptable perceived gforces – the roads its all about adhesion of the rubber on the road so you can actually make the turn. In the tube that should be very much a non-issue, it should be designed self-centreing and strong enough for any reasonable lateral load to put people through, so then it comes down how much force are people happy to take / what will force defines your safety limits on the engineering/insurance grounds. Should still be able to have tighter turns than you think. But making it straight or very close will vastly simplify the design, or at least make a major accident harder as there negligible force in anything but the primary direction.

        I don’t think this system is particularly practical, but with the right design its certainly plausible, the vacuum doesn’t even need to be that impressive for it to work.

        1. Also mind that at 700 mph any deviations in the track are going to hit you like a jackhammer, because the pod has to fly just millimeters above. Slight alignment issues between tube sections will cause the whole thing to go *a-thunk-a-thunk-a” because you’re going 300 meters per second.

      2. And the obvious place to build something which needs to be unbelievably flat and straight is of course the most tectonically active place in the US, prone to earthquakes and land movement. Oh, and starting this massive construction project in a city where land costs nearly $2 a square INCH.

    3. You would also need to bury it deep underground to avoid thermal expansion/contractions from day/night and summer/winter. Otherwise if it was above ground you would need to deal with some major changes in length somehow, maybe heat the thing up to a constant temperature all year round. Which does not sounds cheap.

      carbon steel has a Linear coefficient (CLTE α) at 20°C of 10.8 x 10^−6 per kelvin
      carbon steel has a Volumetric coefficient (αV) at 20°C of 32.4 x 10^−6 per kelvin

      New York and Los Angeles is ~3,944 km (~2,451 miles)
      So night/day the expansion/contraction would be maybe 10-20 °C delta change in temperature at best (18-36°F) and probably 40 °C from summer to winter (36-72°F).
      3,944,000 meters x 10 x 10.8 x 10^−6 ~426 meters (~1397 feet) shrink/expansion day/night.
      3,944,000 meters x 40 x 10.8 x 10^−6 ~1704 meters (~5591 feet) shrink/expansion summer/winter.

        1. Why would it be perfect on mars, but never on earth, if deep underground?

          Problems with underground are, besides the cost, seismic activity. Which also occurs on Mars.
          So I would start on earth in seismic stable areas first, then find solutions to mitigate earthquakes.

        2. Still same issue. The travel of the vehicle through the tube also generates heat. So the travel alone will cause the tube to expand and contract. And the more travel, the more expansion.

          Now imagine what happens with the tube during rush hour. It will expand significantly, even on Mars. And between rush hours, it will contract again due to the coldness of the ground in Mars (no molten core there).

      1. Those are still extraordinarily small percentages for the overall length. It tackled on a per kilometer basis it would not be as bad. Still, it would require developing a joint that isn’t too leaky that allows for enough motion and is easy to replace/repair when it does wear out. Those are non-trivial challenges.

        1. The problem with a tunnel is not just boring it. You have to maintain it. That is much easier above.

          Even though there might be much less need for maintenance under the earth (if in a seismic stable area). And in general it is probably much better protected underneath.

          And you also don’t have to buy the land, which saves lots of time and money, too.

          But boring and building underground with current technology, is indeed expensive.

        1. Sun kinks on railway tracks are a thing. See examples on Youtube.

          Older train lines solved the problem by leaving expansion gaps, but high speed trains cannot tolerate any discontinuities in the track so the problem has re-surfaced.

    4. And the problem with expansion of what has to be a sealed system.
      And the problem of the time and energy to pump out the air from a huge volume of space
      And the problem of having to depressurise & repressurise the system every time someone wants to get off/on
      And the problem that any damage to the tube could depressurise it with fatal consequences for anyone in the tube. Look for what happened when mythbusters depressurised a rail tanker car.
      And the problem of stopping people shooting the tube/crashing into it (if placed along roads/rails to maximise mobility. See depressurisation problem
      And the problem of rescuing people
      Etc. Etc.

      A 500m arrow straight test track for a 2 person pod is one thing but there’s a reason this 100 year old concept for mass transit is still fantasy

      1. I would opt for 2 tubes to solve thermal/security and for pneumatic propulsion to minimise energy costs and depressurisation problems.
        Imagine what a classic plane turbine can push/pull when connected to a tube.

  3. I can’t count how many articles i’ve seen that blow a half dozen holes in the hyperloop argument in the first few paragraphs, yet still run into people that swear it’ll replace the bus stop by their house in 5 years.

    1. we live in a hype driven market. doesn’t matter what you can actually do if you can promise something awesome. investors will throw money at your stupid idea. and scams can be scaled to astronomical level. we’d need more engineers/scientists and less self proclaimed rockstar-alike-i’m-totally-the-tech-guy business men.

        1. They don’t. They land down-range at sea because getting back to the launch site would use up too much of the fuel. When there’s a heavy load to lift, they don’t have any fuel for return and ditch the rocket instead.

          Which was the original complaint, and it was correct. It was a silly idea. Here again you see the difference between the idea that got sold to the public, and what was actually delivered.

          1. Here.

            Didn’t you know that the ability of SpaceX’s rockets to return back to base depends on having little to no payload? The more mass they take up (or the higher the destination orbit) the less fuel margin they leave for the return, and so the drone ship has to catch the booster further and further out at sea.

  4. “Given we’ve only just seen the first human test of a Hyperloop prototype, it’s perhaps too early to discount the technology entirely.”

    No. It should have been discounted YEARS ago, like back in 1910 when Robert Goddard first proposed the idea that somehow Elon can claim he generously released to the public because that was totally patentable.

    It is a death trap in the case of a leak.
    The speed increase is marginal at best.
    The cost increase is astronomical, Elon can claim all he wants to do it for less like he lied with the borring company but it will be more. It’s a high speed rail in a vacuum, that is all the same cost times about 10 at least.

    This is a back of the napkin bad idea that people want to pretend is good because big daddy Elon said it was. People are saying what a great success it is that they built a tube that can go 100mph in the middle of nowhere. What part is a success, the rusted tubes, the speed less than half of a high speed rail, the astronomical cost to pointlessly depressurize this massive tube.

      1. Does that make it better?

        1. He clearly abandoned that idea as his “genius” white paper proposes the idea we all see reported.

        2. It sounds absolutely suicidial to enter a loop with 700mph winds.

      2. That’s not it. The original idea was for the cars to be able to operate at a higher pressure than previous vacuum system proposals by the cars having a way to pump air around them. That means the air needs to be compressed and some of that would be used to create air bearings for the car to ride on. Propulsion was to be linear motors kind of like a maglev train but without the need for the actual magnetic levitation.

        It seems to me that the whole idea hinges on being able to operate at higher pressures that could tolerate leaky tubes. But I don’t think any of the tests or demos try to use the linear motors, the air pumping equipment or the air bearing skids. That seems to negate the proposition that a hyper loop could operate with a pretty bad vacuum and still achieve high speed.

        Needing a lower pressure means all joints and access points need to seal better. It also has implications for the pressures that an air lock needs to pump down to before a car can be inserted.
        IMO they need to look at the cars first so they know what the highest pressure they can operate at is. But there is just too much to put together for the cars for that issue to get solved in an incremental way that can win investor or grant based funding.

        1. i am not sure whether ‘cars’ should play any significant role in public transportation. this is the most wasteful way of moving several 10s of kilograms of organic matter (human body), as regardless of the actual propulsion an additional extra ton of steel/aluminium/stuff needs to be also accelerated/braked just to move roughly 1.2 adults in average.

          1. From dictionary.com:
            car – noun
            1 : a vehicle moving on wheels: such as
            a archaic : carriage, chariot
            b : a vehicle designed to move on rails (as of a railroad) The train has 20 cars.
            c : automobile traveled to Boston by car
            2 : the passenger compartment of an elevator
            3 : the part of an airship or balloon that carries the passengers and cargo

        2. >Propulsion was to be linear motors kind of like a maglev train but without the need for the actual magnetic levitation.

          The original description was a long endless loop with low-pressure air being pumped around with gigantic fans at the end sections, and the pods or cars would be shot into the airstream by a linear motor. They would then be carried to the other end with the air pressure like in pneumatic mail systems.

          It was completely un-powered at the midsection, which was to be the point of it. Of course since they couldn’t actually make it, they quietly switched the description and are now pretending they have the technology that was promised. Classic.

    1. A leak isn’t going to be deadly in any kind of hurry. Poke holes in a space station or submarine for that matter and unless the hole is rather large you have hours or even days before its really done much, even with a large pressure differential flow rates through small leaks don’t let it equalize that fast. (Though high pressure fluid jets can be very damn dangerous cutting through things with relative ease, its not an issue in this case with a little bit of air leaking)

      Yeah a proof of concept test that doesn’t blow current highly developed technology away… What a surprise… The question is not if it works, as that is blatantly obvious – it was always going to work. The question such a test helps answer is how well can it work – much as I hate to say it (being by training a mathematician) modeling and particularly fluid dynamics are not properly solved problems, and no purely theoretical mathematical model ever matches the imperfectly engineered reality – you have to do some real world tests. I don’t personally think such a system can yet be made practical, but then I didn’t think tail landing practical reusable rockets would be quite there yet either (more plausible than this, various parts of the concept having been used or tested decades ago and all space hardware being stupendously expensive, but still you are talking a huge heavy brick with relatively limited throttle and steering controls correctly firing at the very last second, putting down in the right spot and not busting its landing legs, its far from a trivial challenge that I figured it would take much longer to really solve than it has proven to.)

      I’m not a big fan of Elon, but equally have no hate for him – hes got huge wealth and power and isn’t being evil with it, far as we can tell at least. Just using it in ways he finds interesting that might just improve the world… Probably while making him even richer, but whatever the motivation its better than many folks in similar positions can claim (though there are of course great philanthropist out there too, and he really doesn’t look like one of those)

        1. If you never have to adapt a project from the initial idea while you’re actually executing the project you’re some kind of god. Unfortunately you’re not some kind of god, and neither is Mr Musk. Expecting him to be one while you’re not is pure hypocrisy.

          1. It’s not an adaptation, it’s an entirely different system. It throws away Musk’s concept entirely and substitutes a traditional vacuum tube train running on a maglev track.

            Saying “it was always going to work” in this context is just a truism, because if “it” doesn’t work then you can simply substitute a different “it” indefinitely until it does – even if “it” turned out to be a boat instead of a train. That’s the point of Mr. Musk’s business ventures: it’s continuous bait and switch. Promise something special, deliver something mundane, and have your fanboys make up the excuses and rationalizations.

        2. You are correct I could have been clearer – I was meaning the train in a tube, and pulling some degree of vacuum in that tube. There is nothing in the concept that can make it a complete failure bar gross negligence in the construction – the degree of function and its effectiveness is the question not if a train in a tube can work – lots of those already exist.

          I really hope you are not accusing me of being a fanboy of Mr Musk.. I have nothing much against him, but personally his brash, loud style really annoys me. Been the front man for some very impressive projects though.

          1. Well, in an abstract concept it SHOULD work, but again this is not sufficient to claim that it “was always going to work”. There are some crucial details missing.

            I mean, in an abstract concept there is absolutely no reason why I couldn’t climb the Mount Everest. I have legs, I can walk, the mountain is there… which btw. is a mode of thinking that Elon Musk claims to employ, calling it “First principles engineering”.

            Take the case of a square peg in a round hole. How does one determine whether an object fits in the cavity? Well, the object entering the opening must have an equal or smaller cross-section area in the direction of travel. This is self-evidently true, which makes it a “first principle”. Thereby, if we take a square peg with a cross section of A, we can put it through a circular hole with a cross-section of A. Ignoring all other variables that might apply, this will always work.

            You see where I’m getting at? Even taking things that obviously work, you might still be missing the bigger picture that would flip the picture entirely. This is common, and difficult to explain to the layman who fixates on a single aspect of something and keeps ignoring reality, because they really really want their ideas to work.

  5. That’s what I have been wondering too: While it can be expensive to build a set of rails and a pantograph or third rail for an electric train, Hyperloop’s sealed tube looks like it would need considerably more material for a given length, not to mention vacuum pumps and other complications. I don’t get why it’s supposed to be cheaper than a high speed rail. The only thing that comes to mind is if you’re comparing an elevated heavy rail to an elevated Hyperloop, the Hyperloop tube may not need very much to hold up its span compared to something that needs to hold up a large train. But you could just use smaller electric railcars too.

    1. The original idea imagined something that would leverage the existing Interstate 5 corridor through California’s Central Valley. It was likely inspired by the mind numbing drive Elon must have been making fairly regularly between Palo Alto and Hawthorne.

      I5 has some wide medians, and is also fairly flat and straight through the Central Valley so the original proposal was for tubes suspended on pylons installed in the media of I5 and avoid the right of way issues plaguing the CA high speed rail project. But is such a construction technique actually realistic (never mind the vacuum and tube issues)?

      1. Railroad tracks on pylons in the median is common enough – the main question is how straight the I-5 corridor is and what speeds that would allow. I’d imagine a Hyperloop would have a similar minimum radius to something like a TGV – if not larger.

    2. It is different because it isn’t mag lev nor does it have wheels . it rides on. Ground effect in my design. I won the competition so gore and Richard Branson put on call saving the world. I am asking for the prize since he’s using the idea. It needs to ve done my way not in a vacuum

  6. 100mph on a short test track? Cool. The Japanese Shinkansen train line does 150-200mph, regularly, in real life usage. While it hasn’t always been that fast, it’s been around for 50 years.

    Frankly, the fact that anyone talks about hyperloop with any degree of seriousness baffles me.

    1. That people talk about it seriously doesn’t surprise me at all, as in theory it could be really impressive. Its just making that theory into a practical reality – which for me is probably beyond our current collective abilities.

      The bit that most boggles my mind though is that people seem to feel the need to travel that damn fast over the planet… A 200mph train or even a paltry 100mph train can get you places very far away in comfort and pretty damn fast. Which with how little need there is to travel in the age of the internet makes being able to cover that extra few hundred miles in an hour nice and all, but rather pointless. When you can communicate and interact basically instantly over a phone or video call the need to travel so far often enough that the extra travel time matters should not exist. If you put a few of these systems in very select places because they can move larger volumes of people in a given time and space I could see the point – like zapping back and forth between the major airport and nearby railway hub station – lots and lots of people going between those two points, so being able to handle more people in a day on the same land footprint would make alot of sense, but when the existing train links are not saturated or all that much slower…

      I can understand talk of faster aircraft more, as the travel distances aircraft routinely cover are so vast that it is a full day of traveling, but for trains you will fall off your landmass much sooner than that and be more comfortable for however long you are onboard as well..

      1. Remember the Concorde? A supersonic passenger plane, technically advanced, beautiful and sleek? Areospatiale, now Airbus is making now the uglier and slower A350.
        Was expensive to operate and was noisy, pilots had to be specially trained. Was a safe plane, only one accident happened and was caused actually by another plane that lost a piece of its engine on the tarmac.

        The biggest advantage of high speed trains are that could run on existing infrastructure, arrive at existing station so make easy to exchange with low speed trains, in case of blocked lines they could be routed on regular line, in case of electrical failure they could be rescue with a diesel engine.

        As some already have pointed, it could be a better solution where there’s no exiting infrastructure, and maintaining vacuum isn’t a problem.

        1. Y’know, the largest high-speed rail network seems to be the Chinese one. They did think about using the existing rail network. They built a parallel one in the end, because of a few issues.
          * You have freight trains. You have regular passenger trains. Both are slow and will interfere with your sleek high-speed train.
          * You need new expensive rails anyway, otherwise your expensive shiny new trains will shake themselves to pieces. If you are changing rails on the existing network, you have to stop all traffic, crippling your economy in the process.
          * Also, those shiny new rails? They don’t like freight trains. Because weight. And the rails are really long so the cost of frequent replacement skyrockets.
          And now you scale it up. China’s a big country… so after assessing the costs, they went and built themselves a parallel rail network. Still building it, in fact. So you have to build the new infrastructure anyway, you just don’t have to build yourself a linear motor across the continent and combine it with a vacuum vessel. Oh, and the train carries many more than 28 people…

          1. In China, if the government wants to build and infrastructure project, they just knock down your house – for the greater good, comrade. No argument, no courts, you take what they offer for it or you don’t, but you lose the house anyway. And environmental protests in the way? Remove them. That makes it a f%*# ton cheaper, and allows very fast construction of pretty impressive road and rail projects. And dams. It’s a way of doing government. But it’s pretty s#^*y for people who live there.

          2. Well, actually they pay compensations in China. Now, what exactly that compensation will be is widely variable, and if the land is needed for some huge project like high-speed rail, or Olympics, or a new super-duper-high-tech city… it’s either take what’s being offered and go somewhere else or just go to jail. Anyway, I wasn’t saying anything about land rights, just that to get a useful high-speed train network in a big country you have to build an entire parallel network. China did just that, mostly by throwing money at it.

            Oh, and by the way… they didn’t waste that much land doing that. The tracks are often raised above the ground about three stories and they grow cabbages beneath – just as they did before. The cities are different, but that’s why they put those shiny new stations on the outskirts of the cities and just link them to the subway (Guangzhou South station, Shenzhen North station), or route the trains onto the old network when entering the city with all the speed limits it entails (Shanghai Hongqiao station, Shenzhen Futian station).

  7. Some Years AOPA posted a Video that said for $1M you can build 1 mile of road & drive 1 mile, or for $1M you can build 1 mile of runway and go anywhere. Trains will never compete with airplanes!

    1. You have to land though. Reminds me of the old Command and Conquer Red Alert 2 game when you would have your planes go attack something, your airport would get blown up, and they’d return and crash into the ground. Just b/c you can build a runway and take off doesn’t means that you can go anywhere.

        1. Yeah, but then you aren’t going just “anywhere”, but to particular places.

          That’s the paradox of air travel. You fly to London or Los Angeles, but you actually end up in Gatwick or Inglewood.

          1. You only end up at Gatwick if you’re flying a quad. Otherwise you end up at Heathrow like any sensible person. It’s on the underground network, though admittedly a spur.

      1. In WWII we built runways in about a day. Bulldoze it flat. Truck full of rolls of tarmac/fabric strips, squaddies unload and roll them out, and then torch the edges to join them. Done. U.K. transport research labs design.

    2. Except you can’t build runway in city centre especially when we are talking about 800-2000year old cities of Europe. What all those cities have are train stations right in the middle. Add no bording hassle, being hour-two earlier and then waiting for your luggage and car rental. Paris-London, Paris-Brussels, Warsaw-Berlin and so on its faster to jump on a train than go to airport, check in, bord, fly, disembark, go to city centre. And its also way more comfortable than flying. I have pilot license i love flying but not on our european distances here train wins. If we are talking continental flight from SF to NY yea that one i’d use plane. but NY to Boston? Train should win there easily. LA-SF? why fly or drive there should be high speed train.

  8. vacuum tubes are a thing of the past..

    but a highspeed train, bus or maglev in a subway tube, does reduce wear on the road or rail(s).
    it seldom snows or rains in a tunnel, the temperature variations are less underground,
    it should not affect the neighbors and property values as badly as highway or rail construction,
    there is no crossing cars, and it is easier to prevent animals and suicide jumpers underground.

    1. Tunnels are problematic in low lying areas, flooding is really expensive to clean up and impossible to avoid. Ask NYC and Boston about the costs of flooding. Repairing the rails in tunnels is very difficult. Local geography can make tunnels impossible or very difficult and expensive. Above all the costs of construction can be stupefying.

      1. Quite the many cities area actually sinking, thanks to building heavy stuff on top, but also because they keep draining their ground water tables which compacts the soil. This causes the earth to shift gradually, and things like metro tunnels and sewers start to list in different directions until eventually you have to re-bore them.

    2. Huh! Even moderate speeds (around 200 kph/120 mph) in the tunnel are quite hard on ears. Also, at least in China they have to reduce the speed considerably so the train going 350 kph on the plains would slow down to no more than 200 kph between Wenhou and Xiamen (about 800 km/500 miles of Swiss cheese country – the whole route is basically one tunnel after another with open-air small gaps in between). So… nope, tunnels would make things worse for humans inside. Also… not sure you can just go digging as you please without land rights and the like coming up… or being an authoritarian country.

  9. “Chinese and Europeans love their high speed rail.”

    Except that for travel of any distance they’d rather fly if they can afford it, and often take the train otherwise (or drive) for more modest distances.

    The aviation industry has spent a century creating a culture of safety that is admirable in all corners that it operates…almost (looking at you, Boeing Max). I doubt that the blurry vision of a populist tycoon will generate similar results in any foreseeable time span, though it might sustain the halo effect and fanboys that keeps his coffers from emptying completely.

    1. less than 2h flight is faster by high speed train: faster boarding, no luggage waiting (try that in Rome, worst waiting time ever), no borderline physical inspection, arrival and departure in heart of cities.

          1. A terrorist attack on hyperloop would be far more deadly than the various terrorist attacks that have happened on London Underground.

            Train carriage technology has improved over the years to make the carriages much less likely to kill people in the event of a crash. And the new S-Stock trains allow people to evacuation from one carriage to the next, if there is a fire.

            And, if the worst comes to the worst, our emergency services can get the traction power shut down and detrain people from London Underground trains.

            Hyperloop, on the other hand advertises a service using cars inside a vacuum tube. Essentially they would be high speed submarines. If anything damaged them, there would be nowhere to evacuate to and no way for anyone to rescue you (short of building an ad-hock airlock to get to a damaged vehicle). So you would literally run out of air, if you couldn’t be got to or you would literally loose all your air, if the car was breached.

            To top that up, they are advertising pipes with a vacuum as being a good idea, by comparing it with aircraft and spacecraft (both of which operate under tension, because the pressure is on the inside pushing out). A vacuum pipe that has 99+ of the air taken out of it would be under compression – not tension. So a rupture in the pipe, wouldn’t cause a small hole that lets some air leak in, it would cause structural failure that would cause the pipe to implode.

            The advertised “one vehicle every thirty seconds” is a higher frequency than London Transport has managed to get to on the Victoria Line (which aims to be “the 90 second railway”) so they are talking about:
            • Submarines (that would kill the passengers if their air leaked out or ran out),
            • Traveling at aircraft speeds inches away from,
            • A vacuum pipe (that would implode catastrophically if broken) and
            • Vehicles so close together that any crash would turn into a pile-up 30 seconds later.

            There are over a hundred years of work on reducing all the dangers on a railway and trains are one of the safest ways to travel there are.

            But one of the reasons why train are safer than other forms of transport, is that the carriage just has to deal with the stress of a crash (or something like a bomb).

            With the stacked up bunch of nonsense that hyperloop is proposing, there are so many deadly elements of the system, that you don’t actually need to have a terrorist bomb to kill everyone. The implosion of the vacuum pipe would release so much stored up energy that any sort of minor accident would kill people in multiple loop vehicles and leave anyone who didn’t get smashed to bits in a pile up trapped in a queue of submarines containing a finite amount of air and hoping to be chopped out before the suffocate.

            Vehicles 30 seconds apart means a lot of sections of damaged hyperloop that need to be cut through immediately…and a lot of vehicles that need to be rescued.

            And, even if a hyperloop system was not immediately banned, the first time it flattened many of it’s passengers, it would cost millions of pounds to repair all the emergency holes you had to cut into it and a single hyperloop disaster would do to passenger uptake what the Concorde disaster did to Concorde.

            If you really want to build a long pipe between two different places, just build a high speed railway instead.

            Get rid of the death-trap technology, and use actual machines, rather than gadgetbahn nonsense that will only ever work in science fiction stories.

            Any route that allegedly works for hyperloop also works for high speed rail. High speed rail works now, and could be installed and working within the next few years.

            And, if we connect up every airport in Europe with high speed rail, we can transition passengers from planes to trains and use the existing customs staff on passengers that use trains to cross European borders.

          2. If there is a crash in the hyperloop and the pipe breaks, the air rushing in would slam against the other incoming pods so hard that they would disintegrate in milliseconds.

            Think about going 700 mph from a vacuum to normal air pressure.


          3. Planning a terrorist attack in a hyperloop? Sure, you could hit the tube, hope your crappy bomb damages it, and kill a few cars of people.
            Or you could do the tried and tested thing of a nail bomb in the queues, and shooting people as they flee.

          4. Big Mac you are about as wrong as you can get on imploding pipes..
            If it was that easy no submarine would survive normal use, let alone the many examples of crippled/sunk subs who’s crews are either rescued or free themselves… Heck look at how thin the walls of even the highest end industrial vacuum chambers or the space station are – the pressure differential between atmospheric and vacuum isn’t actually that high, so you can easily make a tube that can survive damage.

            Evacuation wouldn’t be much trouble either, certainly comparable to an underground – in both cases you make the tube safe for people then have them walk sometimes a very long way to one of the maintenance staircases… And it would take a very long time to exhaust all the air inside a carriage, with some half sensible design work far far longer than it takes to equalise the pressures and have fresh air in the tube.

            I’m not convinced a hyperloop is yet a practical engineering solution, but its absolutely plausable so one day could well be. On the safety front very comparable to things we don’t even think about the risks of like the high speed/underground trains and aircraft.

            Even on terrorist front its not the worst – Nothing is proof from deliberate attack, but hyperloop wouldn’t be any worse, infact would almost certainly be massively better than jumbos and highspeed trains. As both of those hold vastly more passengers who in the case of deliberate attack are certain to be harmed, where the smaller car of a hyperloop is a drop in the bucket, even if you managed to chain it to a few of them, its still small potatoes to a 300+ people airliner. Perhaps you get more minor injuries with the emergency stop of the whole system, but almost certainly less deaths.

            I would say its much harder to really kill a hyperloop – with low pressure on the inside any damage caused won’t be able to burn readily, with the sudden but not instant pressure change on one side of the car applying a force slowing/speeding it up, but almost certainly being gradual enough for the car to survive, and even if you did crush the first car and get a little pile up the emergency stop means the number of people in the crash zone will be small.

    2. So you have never actually travelled by air in reality where you must endure ridiculous traffic at the airport and wait in line for hours at security? The train goes downtown to downtown with no traffic and no waiting, big comfortable seats instead of getting crammed into a sealed can like a piece of fruit.

      1. As a result, the train is also full of drunks, crazies, hobos and kids running around, and you’re stuck there for hours.

        I’d rather sit two hours at the airport bar and then fly for an hour, than sit three hours in a train being bored out of my wits and trying not to have a conversation with the man offering me pocket whiskey.

          1. Even on regional trains I have never seen any. It’s always just, I sit somewhere, read a book in a quiet space or take a nap. No issues, rarely late, and usually I can get to the station 3min before departure and still catch my train

          1. That’s another advantage. In a plane, they serve you drinks and food. In a train, you have to waddle yourself to the packed restaurant car, if there is one.

            I’ve been on a long distance train once that had a kindergarden in it. Literally. One train car was for the parents to dump their kids in so they wouldn’t scream everyone’s ears off. That’s what you got to do if you’re stuck in a vehicle for an entire day, as opposed to having the freedom to walk around in cafes and shops in an airport, and then having a short 1-2 hour flight to your destination.

    3. “Except that for travel of any distance they’d rather fly if they can afford it, and often take the train otherwise (or drive) for more modest distances.”

      Says you?

      I don’t find that to be true at all. And even if it was, at least they have a choice.

  10. I think it is not necessary to have total vacuum. Lets say 50-40-30% of normal pressure could be able to give good speed because less opposition of internal air and at same time, less problem in maintenance of the “pipeline”. Instead to play “all or nothing” they should try a the “middle way”. Someone can do the relative math?

    1. Even 50% would be too much. The car will be basically a giant piston and you will have to make the pipe even bigger for air to flow around it. Then you have to deal with lots of aerodynamic and structural issues. In a vacuum it could have the aerodynamics of a borg cube and be happy.

    2. if you intend to move the capsules with almost the speed of sound, unless the air is _very_ thin, you’d create a sonic boom that could rip the entire thing apart. sonic boom does happen in ‘open air’ where’s plenty of room available for the compressed air to disperse, but Musk’s pipe is a very confined space.

      1. That’s a question for internal ballisticians, considering the type of medium of movement (a tube). I am sure there is an extensive body of knowledge on supersonic bodies moving through end-open pipes.

  11. Hyperloop doesn’t make any sense here for reasons enumerated.

    HOWEVER, it DOES make sense to get a lot of the kinks worked out when you will ultimately need to link two colonies on a different and very empty celestial body. Like on Mars, where there is effectively no atmosphere, or the moon where there’s a hard vacuum on the other side of your visor.

    All the challenges of running a depressurized tube on a planet with atmosphere are suddenly inverted on a planet without one, and pressurized habitable space.

    1. It doesn’t work like that, a pressurized tube in an unpressurized environment like a plane is under tension, a system like the hyperloop is under compression, at first glance they might seem equivalent, however they behave very differently. A tube under positive pressure is much stronger than a tube under negative pressure, or putting in another way your argument is like saying we should build submarines to study airplanes.

      Watch thunderf00t video: “Jixuan & Sebastian: BUSTED! (Part 1)” at minute 19.

      We have been putting pressurized things in space for the past 60 years, we have a giant tube in space with humans inside called the international space station for 20 years, the hyperloop will bring nothing new or relevant.

  12. What if I told you there was a place where constructing a long tube that maintains near vacuum was not necessary at all? What if land in this place was owned by nobody, and there was no existing infrastructure in the way? What if planes were not feasible in this place? What if 3000 people per hour was more than enough capacity for the foreseeable future?

    Figured it out yet?

  13. Kinda wondering why this is on Hackaday, myself. This seems very out of place. I’m here for the hardware hacking not pissing on other people’s work, whether feasible or not.

    1. I was a bit surprised too. Normally the articles are about the engineering. There are tons of articles about pointless things on HaD, and I love them.

      Hyperloop is pointless? Doesn’t matter. I love it. Show me how it works and how the are dealing with all of the challenges!

      1. Yeah, even if it fails – lots of great engeneering to be seen. New problems solved. Or some turned out harder than expected, new insight either way.

        But compared to some comments, the article was actually quite ok.

        1. Exactly, the idea we shouldn’t do something because we assume it will cost too much is the poison in this world we need an antidote to. It’s fine to criticize the work…if you are competent and familiar with the work. Miserable people the world over have consistently through history spoken against and sabotaged great work which in later ages proved revolutionary.

          Even if it fails a dozen or more teams of engineers around the world at many different companies have already produced some mind blowing engineering and new materials to solve some of the issues the article harps about. A wise man once told me, “If you think money is the problem you have much bigger problems.” Also, I believe another comment points out most of these so-called Hyperloop systems actually aren’t anything like Elon’s paper besides the tube. And yeah there are plenty of amateur crackpots in the mix.

          The article is tame compared to others but I guess my biggest point is that the world is dark and gloomy. Hackaday brings great joy to many people. And this article is specifically intended to stab a fork in the eye of the reader.

  14. French scientist Julien Bobroff made a conference about quantum levitation where he also speaks a tiny bit about the possibility of using quantum levitation to build ultraspeed railway. He doesn’t speak of that seriously, he just considers it in a way of a mental experiment.
    In this conference, he said that it’s technically impossible (it’s impossible to lower the temperature of something as big as train or railways at the temperature needed for quantum levitation) but the most interesting thing he said in this conference is that ultraspeed means of transport (like the hyperloop or other speed trains) have many problems to deal with :
    1° – the more speed you want for a vehicle, the more space you need for the acceleration (because human body can’t stand a too hard acceleration and casual travellers are not hard-trained spacionauts) and the more space you need to lower the speed when arriving at the final destination. So if there’s not the minimal distance between the two points you want to join, you can’t maximize the speed of your vehicle.
    2° – Even if it would be possible to build an ultraspeed transport between two stations dealing with all the stress of the point n°1, there’s human factor that are hard to speed up. The time for travellers to go in the train, put the luggages in the right place, take a seat, the time needed by technicians to do the maintenance of the train etc.
    I’d like to see how the technicians of the hyperloop projects deal with that kind of problems.

    ps : sorry for the bad english, it’s not my native tongue.

  15. I suspect that the whole Hyperloop fad will be utterly destroyed with its very first accident, if it ever even makes it that far.
    Passengers going 700 mph at ground level? What an amazingly stupid idea.

    Speaking of stupid ideas, high speed rail is a mature technology that has been economically built in a number of places around the world, and should not be anywhere near as expensive to build as that moronic vacuum tube people sucker. (sucker sucker?)

    1. You say that, but high-speed rail lines in quite a few areas I’m aware of are costing fortunes. Lots of legal battles to overcome the eco-mentalists that say you can’t put a new bit of infrastructure anywhere green, the locals saying you can put it near me and the like.

      Then even when all that is sorted and its going ahead its a goverment contract, with probably one maybe more changes in government during that time, all of whom seem to want to stamp their mark on it so they can claim it as their own work, or prove it costs to much and shouldn’t go ahead, the other part/leader was a fool (only to find the contracts make canceling and alterations about as costly if not more so than letting it run)..

      Putting something in a tube, or even a hole in the ground I expect vastly reduces the noise pollution, while being able to be branded as the new green super technology (even if its a bogus or at least dubious claim) to get the public behind it. Still going to be full of price hikes i’m sure, but probably gets less legal fights for it to exist in the first place – being told something new and ‘sexy’ is coming to your area tends to lower peoples objections, so something like this nobody has ever really seen with the right marketing department could well work out cheaper…

  16. The biggest disadvantage to the hyper loop is that the builders need to be able to make a profit. High speed rail systems, when built by the state, can run at a loss forever, because they are taxpayer funded, and no politician will ever shut it off once it is running. To do so would force them to admit they are idiots and squander the taxpayer money.

  17. Mr Musk is very good at creating the hype.
    People that buy into the hype prefer to wait with solving real world problems by waiting for Elon to fix them for him.

    There is a science fiction term for this. It’s called AM/FM. Actual machines (aka real world) vs F*cking Magic (fiction).
    In the FM category most of Musk’s ideas live but also the ‘drone hub’ ideas with human sized drones in the middle of crowded cities live in this magical place. (There is a great HAD article I can’t find.)

    I’ve learned about the concept from the talk: “34C3 – Dude, you broke the Future!” and it’s worth a watch.

  18. Hyperloops are just starting to look less credible as time goes by. I really question Virgin Hyperloops costings and their decision to built their next prototype in one of the more hilly areas of the US. It feels like they are just trying get government funding and waste it.

  19. I see the hyperloop as a technological answer to a non technological issue. Basically, regular high speed train is about what you want (tech-wise). They are fast (enough). The issue is mostly with infrastructure and the will to stop using airplanes for 2h trips… I live in Europe, we have quite a few high speed train lines, but they often are more extensive than a ticket plane. I think that with an EU wide train line strategy and a EU level infrastructure management, the cost could be way cheaper and the lines could make more sense to go from Amsterdam to Madrid for instance without having to switch company on the way…

    1. I love Hyperloop. But this is truth – ^

      The problem isn’t technology missing, it’s lacking the brave politics to make what we have truly great.

      Maybe a hefty carbon tax to make the big money go after rail rather than aeroplanes.

  20. “It’s difficult to understand how a complex Hyperloop system could be cheaper to build than a simple set of rails,”

    Easy. In most cases due to topography, geology and noise pollution, HSR will require an elevated substructure (remember, trains are heavy, so large piling or drilled shafts and huge girders just for starters) whereas Hyperloop can be built on spread footings and cut/cover trenches and the footprint is much less, reducing land acquisition costs. The savings in those examples only is substantial, even for a 50-75 mile project (which is more realistic, not 350 miles). The “simple set of rails” comment shows deep bias or a extreme lack of knowledge for an article comparing costs.

  21. Scientist and engineers around the world are working on the concept, they will figure it out. How will it build up heat if it elevates off the tracks and it is not pushing through air? Other countries will build ahead of the US because they will finance it. If it works like high speed trains the US will be decades behind.

  22. Please forgive the posting of my naive thoughts of that as an engineer having worked on vacuum installations for several years.
    First, “50%” vacuum doesn’t mean anything. If you talk about vacuum, please use sort of adapted units, such as absolute pressure. Producing vacuum is not a linear thing – getting down to say 100 mbar is an easy and efficient task, which is applied in any vacuum packaging installation. No need for any particular materials. When you go down to say 0.1 mbar, your pumping efficiency is not so high, as the number of molecules decreases. Degassing of ordinary steel is getting more and more problematic. So, the question is, how much pressure is feasible for the Hyperloop.

    Either way, producing air flow is much more efficient than evacuating. Why are we now talking about taking out air of the system to reduce friction, instead of “GOING WITH THE FLOW”? We could produce an air flow inside the tubes that reduces the resistance of an object moving within that flow accordingly. How about having a cycling high speed airflow (each tube for one direction) between the entry points of the “bullet”? Approaching the stations, the hight speed flow can be deviated to complete the cycle, while leaving the “bullet” the possibility to reduce its speed…

    Producing a high speed air tunnel is basically a long aerodynamic test tunnel, so it’s not rocket science at all.

    But maybe I am too simplistic or just not futuristic enough to approach such a problem…

  23. This will never happen. Even if at 10 millibar? It is just completely unfeasible and unaffordable. If they dropped the maglev and the vacuum then there may be a chance? Oh, that’s correct, Musk has invented the railway. (He recently said that the Hyperloop would run using wheels, not air-ski, nor magnetic levitation).
    Pneumatic train was invented 120 years ago.

  24. I saw dozens, if not hundreds of technical issues getting discussed with the hyperloop if all works fine. That’s OK and is ONE bit of what has to be considered. BUT: What if actually some accident happens?
    What, if something brakes (seals, bearing of the pod…)? If vacuum could not be maintained any more to the tube and collapses? Then you get massive friction, massive deaccelerations (G-forces!) and some pod that won’t be willing to move any centimeter – how to evacuate the passengers (if they would have survifed)? We are talking of travelling in near-vacuum conditions – what if you get some leak of your pod in the middle of the whole track? Wouldn’t that be almost same situation for passengers like being exposed to outer space conditions? What about seismic activity, if you get the tube in underground water or avalanche/ rock-slide will be problems you will have to deal with as well as tectonic movements. I won’t even mention any “intended defects” by act of terror…
    AND: Last but not least – Hyperloop may be some way of solving the problem of transporting “objects” from “A” to “B” in a very fast way. In that context it is always mentioned that business men need to get quickly to their customers. Or coworkers would have to solve some problem together and need some common discussion on it. But shouldn’t we think of maybe avoiding having to travel all that way just to talk to each other for business talk or scientific exchange of ideas? Wouldn’t be some way to talk to each other or show ideas to each other a really good solution to many of our actual travelling scenarios? OH, wait! There already is phone conferences, video conferences, virtual meeting rooms, chat rooms… We just would have to use them more extensively and effectively! ;)
    Sometimes we may not need some new technical solution. Sometimes the solution could be just some different PROCESS and not another device, don’t you think?

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