Here it is.
A minor quibble; they seem to be using (for the high speed rail comparison) the CLAIMED LA to SF travel time, which does not take into account station time and time spent accelerating and decelerating. In other words, the high speed rail would be even slower than the numbers used. (thus, they are in effect underselling the advantages of hyperloop). I think this is a further case of the hedgining mentioned, in order to avoid quibbles from the high speed rail side. Given the performance differences (even if hyperloop is half as fast as claimed, it’s still a couple of hundred percent faster than the best transit time claimed for high speed rail).
I’m also a bit skeptical about the use of solar… even if that’s the best option in daytime, is it really worth the inherent cost to utilize it via energy storage systems at night vs. grid power?
I laughed aloud at the mention that the high speed rail office had called to say that their train wouldn’t be quite the slowest high speed train on the planet. Not exactly a strong selling point for high speed rail.
One of the things I like a lot about hyperloop; it’s a lot less restricted when it comes to grade than a train, so it can go by a shorter route that’s also straighter.
I do take issues with the cost numbers for hyperloop; if this was being done privately, it might be at least close to the 6 billion range… but if it’s done by the state, it’ll be far higher. However… even if the cost claim is off by an order of magnitude, it’s still a far better system for lower cost.
The only other real concern I have is they seem to have placed the LA station on the northwest end of the city (San Fernando Valley) rather than downtown. I don’t see a reason mentioned (I may have missed it) but IMHO it might be better to have the station downtown (And overhead tubes solve most of the cost per mile and speed issues inherent in running a rail line through an urban area).
I really like the concept, and think it would be even better utilized on the NY-DC corridor than LA-SF. The vehicle transport option is especially alluring; I’ve used the “car train” method of travel in several countries, and it is indeed a great thing in some cases.
I can’t judge the technical feasibility, but to my layman’s opinion it looks feasible that it would be a lot faster, cheaper, and safer than the currently proposed “high speed” rail.
Thus, my prediction; hyperloop will not even be considered as an alternative to the proposed train. Why? Because the current train proposal is mainly a pork project, not a transportation project. The lower construction cost is thus seen as a drawback. Also, the hyperloop route raises further political barriers; it skips Bakersfeild, Fresno, Sacramento, along with a few other San Joaquin valley areas that have political clout.
I do hope that Hyperloop ends up being built somewhere (I just don’t think it’ll be California) because it sounds great to me. At the very least, the released proposal, though it clearly has areas that need addressing, looks to be better thought out and also more accurate regarding performance than what’s currently claimed by the high speed rail office (whose numbers have glaring impossibilities built in for both the fiscal and performance sides).
Heh.™ A commenter at Instapundit is on your wavelength:
The estimated $6 billion cost is exactly why it won’t be built in California. $6 billion won’t be enough for proper greed, graft, skimming, and waste. $60 billion for a train no one will ride sounds much better.
Oh do not worry. Given my estimates take Elon’s number, take it to the next order of magnitude, then double it. That is probably how much it is going to cost. i.e. ~$120 billion.
If it were built privately, on Earth, the cost would be vastly in excess of six billion. Once you commit to a route, every landowner with a thousand acres of worthless desert in your path will tack a couple zeros onto his asking price. With low-speed rail, you could perhaps build around the most recalcitrant landowners, but even that gets expensive. At 800 mph, it’s pretty much impossible.
I suspect what you meant is, if it were built by an entity that had the government’s power of eminent domain coupled with a robber-baron capitalist’s ruthless pursuit of economic efficiency and a complete lack of regulation or liability, it could be done for six billion dollars. But then, we’ve always known to the point of it being a cliche, that dictators can make the trains run on time.
This sounds like a plan that Musk might want to put on the shelf for a while and bring back as a hobby in his proposed retirement. Recalcitrant landowners should be less of a problem in that environment, and the low pressure in the tubes should be easier to achieve.
Just wondering if you read the technical paper. One of the key selling points of the proposal is that it will use existing right-of-way, along I-5 for example, to a very high degree and certainly much more than than the high speed rail concept. This solves the problem of recalcitrant land owners that you are concerned about.
This does not need to be “put on the shelf for a while” because the opportunity to avoid $60 billion dollars of wasted taxpayer funds is now, not later.
There’s no way it can follow I-5 through the Tehachapis at those speeds without turning its riders to jelly. It could only do it once it got down the Grapevine.
Rand, by “those speeds” are you referring to the speeds listed in the summary profile on page 41 of the PDF, or the 760 mph in general? The table seems to account for lower speed (300 mph) in areas that would need tighter turn radii accelerating to 555 mph once down to the Grapevine area as you suggest and reaching peak speeds in aeas allowing for turn radius in excess of 3 miles. He states a desire to optimize the route for a nominal .5 g maximum. Yes, I would imagine they would have to deviate from the exact right-of-way of existing interstates, but will still be able to use much of the existing right-of-way. Certainly more than the proposed high speed rail.
I haven’t read the PDF. But even at 300, there are some very tight turns between Santa Clarita and the Grapevine. He’ll definitely have to deviate.
The PDF has a decent Google Earth depiction of the notional route with turn radii overlayed. The ability of the pods to bank in the turns will keep the g vector pointed towards the toes, and without windows to provide an external reference it’s doubtful the passengers will ever know they are not level. It’ll still be more comfortable than a commuter airplane. Looks like they’ve done their homework, all of my initial thoughts (meager as they may be) were addressed in the PDF. They are asking for input from the airchair engineering community at large so this group ought to chime in!
the opportunity to avoid $60 billion dollars of wasted taxpayer funds is now, not later.
You assume that you can give politicians billions and expect them to spend the money the way you want, rather than they way they want.
That trick never works, Bullwinkle.
Yes, I did read the technical paper. I also read the initial comment here, regarding the alleged cost savings of a private hyperloop development project. A private entity, for any non-farcical definition of the word, does not get to make arbitrary use of public highway right-of-ways. If you want that land, you have to pay for it. Pay far more than “fair market value”, and in far more than just money, because the current owners are anything but capitalists.
Yes, we are about to dump sixty billion dollars down a rathole in exchange for some powerpoint slides of a high-speed rail line that will never be built. The reasons for this have nothing to do with any real or imagined deficiencies of conventional high-speed rail travel, so they will not go away just because the new viewgraphs have the rail line in a tube up on pylons. They are mostly legal and political, and they will attach themselves to a hyperloop the moment a hyperloop attaches itself to I-5. Plus a whole new set of issues because I-5 is federal infrastructure. Plus the very real technical challenges of the hyperloop.
So, yeah, Elon has given us the opportunity to sink $120 billion down that hole, in return for powerpoint slides of a hyperloop that will never be built even if he does solve every technical problem with the scheme.
“A larger system has also been sized that allows transport of 3 full size automobiles with passengers to travel in the capsule.”
That to me is a HUGE advantage in comparison with Air Travel that could greatly extend the length of trips where the hyperloop is preferable to air travel. Or I should say preferable to air travel + car rental. The time to get your bags, get to, and get processed through even an efficient car rental agency will add half an hour or more to the trip time. Plus you wouldn’t have to pay for the cost of a rental car. Plus again you’d have the familiarity of your own vehicle and all its little conveniences (your snacks in the console… music in the CD player… revolver in the glovebox).
Congrats, you’ve just given the TSA authority to search your car.
The energy per passenger per journey for rail is clearly bunk even if he was comparing the Amtrak freight service already running in that area instead of a modern electric high speed train.
Rails have less energy losses to friction than wheels. Electric trains have regenerative breaking. Contrary to his Tesla Model S the electric trains do not need to carry all the batteries along for the ride. I could go on but his numbers are pretty ridiculous. An modern high speed electric train is more energy efficient than his Model S electric car. One example of a leading edge design in electric rail would be this:
And since when is building overhead transport going to be cheaper than building on the level terrain? That was one of the major reasons why the Transrapid maglev was a major failure in Germany FWIW. It was originally proposed to run somewhat like that:
Has for the Hyperloop all I have to say is there is plenty of prior art. I remember people talking about it in the 1950s in the US and the UK and then there is this French prototype which never passed muster either:
I actually agree with everything you wrote. The safety section is hubris as well.
Reading through the technical portion, this stood out
Just as aircraft climb to high altitudes to travel through less dense air,
Hyperloop encloses the capsules in a reduce pressure tube. The pressure of air
in Hyperloop is about 1/6 the pressure of the atmosphere on Mars. …
Wasn’t there an earlier statement that this wasn’t a vacuum tube transport? It answers how the system keeps drag from killing efficiency.
I guess he could not get the speed numbers he wanted out of his linear motor Aerotrain without the pressure tube, so he added the pressure tube. I am used to seeing this sort of technical compromise by the maglev people as well. The problem is having such a huge leak proof tube, in vacuum, is definitively not cheap.
I would take his construction costs with a large sack of salt. Bridges and sealed tubes = not cheap. I guess he is not counting that he will need to get right of way for the bridges as well. Oh yeah, he is going to run it next to the interstate. Geez I just had a magical idea. Build a huge set of bridges next to the interstate but instead but the electric rail train in it. They do this with the Shinkansen in Japan after all. The thing is in those sets of the track speed is not paramount since it is running inside urban areas. Oh and as usual it is a bridge hence not cheap. It is just that you could not pass the line anywhere else:
There’s a really big difference between .75 Torr vacuum (1/1000 atmosphere) and hard vacuum. He seems to be aiming for a sweet spot in commercial vacuum pump performance curves, and does do (some of) the math for the power cost of keeping his system at ‘low pressure’.
I do have to wonder about the costs. Not enough room in the figures for graft…
He still says it isn’t [complete] vacuum — it’s “low pressure.”
Many of the advantages claimed for Hyperloop also apply to a much-more-conventional monorail.
One of the drawbacks of the Hyperloop is that it’s impossible to have windows.
Nah, ya just fake ‘em.
If you’re content with fake, why not just stay home and fake the whole trip? I can build you a simulator cheaper than Elon can build a Hyperloop.
The most profitable passenger rail lines are *scenic* railroads.
I’m not sure what Trent meant (it’s getting harder and harder to decipher him), but Elon could use Boeing’s suggestion for the Blended Wing Body: use cameras and projection.
I suspect the first few trips will be exciting, but after awhile, a 35 minute trip won’t off much time to look outside. Give people a TV with a dvr containing a favorite half-hour sitcom, and they will likely be calmed.
Agree that for all his talk of a fifth mode, he’s really talking about a specialized rail system.
The interior of the capsule is specifically designed with passenger safety and comfort in mind. The seats conform well to the body to maintain comfort during the high speed accelerations experienced during travel. Beautiful landscape will be displayed in the cabin and each passenger will have access their own personal entertainment system.
Now I’m thinking of Soylent Green and Brazil.
First, track/tube construction costs and challenges, including the legal and economic right-of-way issues, seem to be mostly handwaved away with “we’ll put it on pylons twenty feet up, where there are no problems”. This is not a new idea. Elevated railroads, including spiffy high-tech monorails, have been put up on pylons for over a century now. AFIK, it is pretty much always more expensive, not less, than surface-grade railbeds.
2. Most of the safety difficulties are handwaved away with the “mechanical braking system” that automatically brings the pods to a stop when anything goes wrong. Such a system is functionally equivalent to the landing gear of an airplane with an approach speed of about Mach 1. Wow.
3. There are more details that I want to think about for a bit first, but bottom line: An LA-SF run with pods big enough to carry the passenger’s (presumably Tesla) automobiles, is far too ambitious for a first or even second-generation system. The pods should have just passenger seats and racks for everyone’s Segway, and the route should just be fom Ogdenville to North Haverbrook.
re no problems”. This is not a new idea. Elevated railroads, including spiffy high-tech monorails, have been put up on pylons for over a century now. AFIK, it is pretty much always more expensive, not less, than surface-grade railbeds.
Some studies have claimed otherwise, at least for areas with high land values. As I understand it, he main problem with monorails has always been socio-political. Monorails are associated with Disney, especially in the US, so urban planners tend to dismiss them as “theme-park rides.”
At one time, Disney offered to build a monorail line from downtown LA to Anaheim, free of charge. City planners still turned them down.
For whatever reason the Chinese do not seem to be in a hurry to build more Transrapid maglev lines. Plus they have some fairly solid cost numbers on the Transrapid Wikipedia page:
The fully elevated Shanghai Maglev was built for $US1.33 billion for 30.5 km including trains and stations. Thus the cost per km for dual track was $US43.6 million per km including trains and stations. This was the first ever commercial use of the technology. Since then conventional fast rail track has been mass-produced in China for between $US4.6 and $US30.8 million per km – mostly in rural areas.
In short currently it can cost up to ten times more to build a maglev than a regular high speed train. No wonder they haven’t gone very far anywhere. I have no doubt the cost would go down as people get more experienced building maglevs and construction got more automated as already is the case for high speed rail. However I doubt it will ever be as cheap. In fact the Chinese suspended new maglev construction of an intercity maglev link between Shanghai and Hangzhou while approving a high speed rail link at the same time.
Even if the brakes work, what then? You’re now trapped in a tube that’s hundreds of miles long. Do you have emergency exits (more seals, more leaks)? How do you get to them? What happens to other traffic in the system?
Problems like that occur in subways on a frequent basis. A mechanical problem with one train causes delays throughout the system. But Hyperloop is a much larger system, and delays will be less acceptable in a system that’s billed as high-speed transit.
There’s emergency exits if necessary, and a conventional (Read: slow) wheeled propulsion system.
Read the damn PDF.
Gosh, Trent, you don’t think that slow wheeled propulsion system is going to cause backups in the system? You’ve never ridden a subway, have you?
You really need to think about these things, not just read the holy writ.
Noteably missing from “the damn PDF” is anything resembling a market analysis. How many people want to travel from SF to LA, and how much are they willing to pay? Do they want to travel nonstop, or would they prefer to stop at a coastal town along the way (which Hyperloop is poorly suited to)?
Elon says the return would be “massive,” but there are no financial calculations to support that claim.
If you consider Elon to be infallible, let me point out that it was Elon who met with Sean O’Keefe back in 2003 and sold him on the idea that became the Bush Vision of Space Exploration — I don’t think that quite worked out the way Elon expected, do you?
Fanboyism notwithstanding, Elon can and does make mistakes.
Also, Elon advocates airport-style TSA security. He also envisions airport-style baggage handling. Those things will add 2-3 hours to each trip. So, the system is no faster than air travel (and perhaps no cheaper).
There’s still a perhaps horrible flaw in the wheeled backup system. As we’ve seen with the 787 Dreamliner, one of the failure modes is a battery fire (along with several possible electrical problems that would result in an engine-out condition).
Since weight isn’t much of an issue, you can easily carry on-board fire suppression sufficient to stop any catastrophic fire spread (and probably design the battery and electrical compartments so they can vent to the relative vacuum of the tube), but if your battery is dead there’s no way to power the wheels.
The passengers can’t exit because they’re essentially in a space-ship or extremely high-altitude aircraft. So, the vehicle behind will have to push the disabled one, and controlling that operation will have to be done remotely because there aren’t “pilots” on board. Pushing is generally not done quickly, so you’d want lots of sidings or some way that a vehicle can mate up with a pressurized escape hatch mounted on one of the towers. But that would either have to be opened unassisted by the passengers or they’d have to wait an hour or so for a specialist to drive to the remote area and let them out. Meanwhile, there’s a line of back-up tube trains with stuck passengers.
After you establish the push linkage, and perhaps get all the backed up cars to some kind of siding, you’re still limited to the wheel speed because the magnetic acceleration sections are only near the endpoints. So late that night, when traffic is low, you have to shut the system down so all the previously stuck cars can roll along to one of the end terminals.
I would suggest a close cost evaluation between steel tubes and ones precast out of ultra-high strength concrete, which unlike normal concrete is non-porous and could possibly hold a vacuum almost as well as steel.
I’d also caution against running routes through terrain with any significant vertical relief, because given the speeds involved, the passengers are essentially flying a nap of the Earth, extremely low altitude supersonic penetration mission, and those can be unpleasant.
If I were Musk, I’d look at high speed cargo applications before looking at a passenger system. Fed Ex ships lots of items that can fit in smaller diameter tubes than would be needed for human passengers. Run a hyperloop between two Fed Ex hubs.
Fill the tube with helium (no pesky breathing passengers) and you can go 2.7 times faster at the same mach number. If practical, use hydrogen instead for an even higher speed.
I heartily agree. Not only would a small cargo hyperloop be vastly cheaper to construct due to the reduced size, passenger ratings and tight G-limits wouldn’t be an issue, nor would marketplace acceptance hinge on odd bits of human behavior like a fear of dark tubes. If shipping a package is cheaper and faster, the technology will win out.
Another reason package shipment is a great application is that it would simultaneously compete with both air freight and ground transport, being faster than air transport (and obviously MUCH faster than trucks) yet cheaper than ground.
If small subsets of packages are grouped, loaded, and sent on their way automatically from hub to hub, the laborious task of loading and unloading the trucks goes away, and the hyperloop essentially becomes part of the hubs’ conveyor systems.
Oddly enough, a hyperloop could also ship containerized fluids more efficiently than a conventional pipeline, and fuel loads could be intermixed with packages (though often fuel isn’t remotely on the same routes, going from remote areas to refineries instead of between cities).
And I think the best reason to try the system with package delivery is that just connecting two reasonably close hubs, such as in the North East corridor, would knock hours off the ground route (truck loading and unloading figured in), and routes between hubs like Louisville to Memphis or Dallas to Houston would be a boon.
You have a tons of routes to pick from based on “flight rate”, which is the number of packages to deliver daily from point A to B, and the distance (which is going to be a linear factor in capital costs). So you can pick the easiest installation with the highest potential return, then iron out the inevitable bugs, optimize the technology (especially regarding loading and unloading), and use the results as a case study for converting other routes. That development path doesn’t start with the inevitable question “About how many people do you think would ride this instead of flying or driving?”
Higher g limits would enable a test track to be much smaller. The minimum radius of the test track, for a given velocity, will scale inversely in proportion to the maximum allowed centripetal acceleration.
I could eventually replace baggage delivery between some cities. Wouldn’t it be nice to get a text from Fed-Ex that you bag had arrived before you boarded your airplane.
That might be genius. It would cut a whole lot of time off boarding a disembarking, allowing much tighter domestic or continental airline schedules, and separating bags from passengers en route would eliminate the need for a lot of TSA baggage screening. And then, of course, UPS, FedEx, and USPS would just piggyback onto the airport systems.
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