Hyperloop, Emphasis On Hype

Elon Musk is at it again, inventing futuristic modes of transportation.  The billionaire PayPal creator is most famous for SpaceX, which promises to revolutionize space travel, and Tesla, which promises to revolutionize the electric car.  This time it’s the Hyperloop, a relatively cheap train-like system to shuttle people at hyper-speeds between cities.  The basic idea is that you create a sealed tube and you push a vehicle inside it using the air pressure in the tube or make it a vacuum tube and magnetically push the vehicle through the tube.

It really is a great idea, but it seems to me to be hopelessly impractical.  Elon Musk actually seems to think so to, which is good to hear, but he seems to be coming from a politically impractical standpoint where I’m more of a, yeah, well this is great for rich people, but not really a practical public transportation method.  Of course, that’s what Elon Musk does, create better modes of transportation for rich people, and more power to him, but this is his first foray into public transportation.

I haven’t read the details of the specs, but it worries me that there’s no mention in anything I’ve read about what kind of volume of people the Hyperloop would be able to move in a day.  The cars themselves appear to be much smaller than a normal train so each individual trip would be much smaller than a train’s capacity.  And how many cars can travel in the tube at any given time?  At the speeds they’re talking across the distances they’re talking, I can’t see it being more than six in either direction at optimal conditions.  At 600 mph, since the cars are only supposed to hold 28 people, we’re talking about a 6 billion dollar system that can shuttle less than 200 people per hour.

Since Elon Musk is undoubtedly smarter than me and he says the system should be able to handle 7.4 million passengers per year, I’m assuming there’s something that I’m missing.  Maybe each car holds 28 people but multiple cars can be strung together.  Of course, he also says that this system is incapable of crashing and will need no external power source and will not need to purchase more than 1 billion dollars in land rights so he may be assuming much more than I am.

The world needs billionaire futurists like Elon Musk.  Looking to the future is important and efforts to make our ideas reality should always be at the forefront of our minds.  But where are the billionaire presentists?  Where are the Andrey Carnegies who believed that their riches should be spent now for the common good?  The incredibly solvable problems of today requires more Bill Gateses than Elon Musks.