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Design Smackdown | The Hyperloop vs. The California High-Speed Rail

Jul 22, 2016 (0) comment

California High-Speed Rail Authority and devotees to Elon Musk’s Hyperloop are racing to the finish to faster transport. Who’ll cross the finish line first?

Design Smackdown | The Hyperloop vs. The California High-Speed Rail

Never before has tech design innovation in the US been more exciting. For years now the rest of the world has looked on in curious bewilderment at the US’ lack of a high-speed train, much less more widespread metro systems for its cosmopolitan metropolises. Whereas Europe and Asia benefit from various species of high-speed trains that range from Maglev trains to electric incarnations, the US still lumbers about in its traditional trains rendered by Amtrak. And while comfort and luxury are dependent on the level of ticket purchased for an Amtrak trip, they still wallow in a gone by era of travel and transportation: a sentimental, if not nostalgic, holdover from the Industrial Age.
So it didn’t take long for the real world version of Iron Man Tony Stark, Elon Musk, to question why hasn’t the leader of the free world invested in such a high-speed rail system? Why indeed? Much, as Musk posited back in 2013, comes down to politics and red tape. Building a proposed high-speed rail system that cuts across any portion of the United States and remains efficient requires sawing through natural habitat environmentalists will quickly take up arms to defend.

The Hyperloop. Photo courtesy of Hyperloop Transport TechnologiesThe Hyperloop. Photo courtesy of Hyperloop Transport Technologies.
There’s also that little question of servicing commutes between LA and San Francisco. Such a jaunt would mean whipping across real estate most owners will be reluctant to part with in order to cede ground to a rail project. Then, of course, there is the always reliable legion of filibustering politicians who hedge on such ideas either to wait out another election year, cow down to the needs and desires of their local constituents, or “unwittingly” become seduced by the devilish charms of lobbyists. Whatever the case, nothing on the subject of a high-speed transport system gets down in the houses of Congress.
But that hasn’t stopped California putting forward its most innovative ambition. Its high-speed rail system proposes to jettison travelers from LA to San Francisco in 2 and a half hours. A flight typically takes an hour and costs and arm and a leg if purchased at the last minute. Driving is upwards of 5 hours. The high-speed rail system will follow the standard Maglev design currently used in Japan for instance. Whipping up to a thousand passengers from the base to the crown of California in record speed, it ultimately proposes to pay for itself by the sheer numbers of passengers who will gladly opt for a less expensive commute to northern California.

The Hyperloop. Photo courtesy of Hyperloop Transport TechnologiesThe Hyperloop. Photo courtesy of Hyperloop Transport Technologies.
That brings us back to Mr. Elon Musk. In a white paper Musk put forward in 2013, he floated the idea of building a Hyperloop transport system that would run from LA to San Francisco in 30 minutes. Faster than your direct flight. Faster than the proposed high-speed rail system. And at more than 700 mph, yes Superman, faster than a speeding bullet. The proposed Hyperloop would, in fact, use the same magnetic tracks that we see populating Japanese and Chinese high-speed rail routes.
But here’s the difference. The Hyperloop propels pods through air propulsion like a vacuum sucking passengers from point A to point B in less time than it takes to get through an episode of Game of Thrones. And where is Musk with the ida? He was, understandably, too busy to carry out the plans himself. But never one to squelch brilliant ideas, he launched a design competition. Teams and independent engineers across the globe would be eligible to submit their best ideas to carry out the design. The winning team would be funded by Musk’s Space X or Tesla to run trial tests. However, Musk asserts there will be no investment in the actual building of the hyperloop itself from either of his colossal enterprises.

The Hyperloop. Photo courtesy of Hyperloop Transport TechnologiesA Hyperloop construction site. Photo courtesy of Hyperloop Transport Technologies.
MIT’s 30 person team presented the winning idea and now moves on to the next phase of testing which they will probably carry out abroad in Japan. Why? Less red tape. Less regulation. Plenty of route already fitted with track perfect for a hyperloop.
But besides just logistical and technical hurdles that await the brash young group of thinkers, there is the small object of coin as well. Musk suggested a hyperloop system would cost around $6 billion. But according to most experts, that’s low on the price totem. How would such a transport system that only carries 20 people pay for itself. Unlike the high-speed rail system, the hyperloop is looking at pricing itself out of the market, pinning itself in a niche as luxury travel much like the ill-fated supersonic Concorde (which cost thousands per round trip ticket). Unless the hyperloop can manage launching several pods simultaneously, only an elite group of travelers will be able to afford the steep cost of ultra high-speed travel.

California High Speed Rail System. Photo courtesy of CA Government

California High-Speed Rail System under construction. Photo courtesy of CA Government.
And then there are those same peculiar issues of regulation, the environment and land that equally dog the CA High-Speed Rail System hovering in the distance for the hyperloop. But if the MIT team have their way, hyperloop will be a reality in 2021.
And there, folks begins the beautiful race to the high-speed finish line between the CA High-Speed Rail and the hyperloop. Which will emerge first? Or even which will become a tangible reality? Word has it trial tests are slated for the hyperloop in Nevada shortly. And CA High-Speed Rail Authority regularly posts updates to their construction progress with photos, videos, and news. All the same, the effort to produce a better system of travel has put a positive bit of pressure on the thinkers who hope to change the way in which we get from one place to another.

Original Article by Akil WingateJul 20th, 2016 on

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