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Hyperloop
August 12, 2013 2:10 PM   Subscribe

HYPERLOOP Elon Musk & SpaceX finally reveal their plan for a radical new mass transportation system, Hyperloop.
posted by GuyZero (300 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Not that my opinion particularly matters, but Hyperloop passes the smell test with me. The predictable problem is cost (7.5B LA-SF estimate is low by a factor of 5 IMO), and comfort.

The size of those pods would be OK for an amusement park ride, but a 30+minute trip, I would say they'd be claustrophobic.

Also, never underestimate the delays and cost associated with NIMBYism (cf I-710, I-105 in LA), cost-plus contractors whose "lowest bid" turns into plenty of extra years of marching armies on the tab, and general political tomfoolery (cf. Henry Waxman and his Subway-banning law that delayed the Red [now Purple] line for decades for specious but plausible-sounding reasons).
posted by chimaera at 2:12 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


To Musk's credit the PDF at the link is surprisingly detailed with estimated route information and even financials. It also avoids some of the eminent domain hassles by taking up far less room and following existing interstate routes. I'm basically waiting for someone credible to shoot it down.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:14 PM on August 12, 2013


Immediately made me think of a recent sci-fi novel I read where terrorists left a bowling ball on the "track" of the super-high-speed rail system...
posted by mrbill at 2:17 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


SAYS IT'S NOT A VAC TUNNEL

(scumbag Elon Musk meme image)

IT'S A VAC TUNNEL

posted by steveminutillo at 2:18 PM on August 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


IT'S A VAC TUNNEL

It isn't - that's why there's a big fan at the front of the capsule.
posted by swift at 2:21 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


How can we be living in a bold future of supersonic cyber trains, and we're yet watching youtubes of 20-year-old Simpsons episodes that have been taped off of a TV using a videocamera?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 2:22 PM on August 12, 2013 [24 favorites]


From the whitepaper: The expected pressure inside the tube will be maintained around 0.015 psi (100 Pa, 0.75 torr), which is about 1/6 the pressure on Mars.
posted by steveminutillo at 2:23 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Mark my words: the first installation, if it ever exists, will be Guangdong to/from Shanghai, not SF/LA.

...when the US does eventually build one, it will take five times as long, cost ten times as much, tickets will be $1500 (for the convenience!!), and it'll fail within a year.
posted by aramaic at 2:23 PM on August 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


A Transatlantic Tunnel, Hurrah!.
posted by Devonian at 2:24 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


So not maglev, it's basically a hovercraft in a tube, if I'm reading it right.
posted by zardoz at 2:24 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of something....
posted by fullerine at 2:25 PM on August 12, 2013


...when the US does eventually build one, it will take five times as long

Ten times, if the TSA has anything to say about it. (The TSA bits in the PDF struck me as the most Pollyannaish bits.)
posted by Z. Aurelius Fraught at 2:26 PM on August 12, 2013


My beef with it, such as it is, is that he doesn't touch at all on interconnection with other modes of transportation. Airports are huge choke points which is why everyone hates them so much. if this thing just takes cars it will be a traffic nightmare. if it take passengers then we have the same problem high-speed rail does, which is interconencting it with other transport modes and putting it close enough to a city centre to be useful.

That it might get built first in China is really more about their lack of existing infrastructure to interoperate with and their massive subsidy their government is making on building infrastructure. It's not like trains are so much cheaper in China by magic. They just pull out a blank check and build them.
posted by GuyZero at 2:29 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Fuck Yeah! Elon is giving us Rocket Tubes.

Elon was always my favorite.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:29 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Those lauding the infrastructure-building prowess of our friends in China might want to read this.
posted by docgonzo at 2:29 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Alas.
posted by tracert at 2:31 PM on August 12, 2013


It's not so much the infrastructure competence of the Chinese, it's the incompetence (plus inefficiency & outright cowardice) of Americans.

...besides, did you hear? The infrasonic vibrations created by passing Hyperloop pods will give children heart cancer and increase the risk of godlessness.
posted by aramaic at 2:32 PM on August 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


Well I wouldn't say we are incompetent. We just care about stuff like worker safety, environmental impact, and not having it crumble to dust in 10 years because we used beach sand.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:35 PM on August 12, 2013 [19 favorites]


My city (Santa Clarita), along with many of the other cities on the route, probably already have legal consul working on lawsuits to to keep this from happening.

Just put it up the 5? Well, the 5/14 interchange is in the middle of a 5+ year long improvement project, so CalTrans is not about to do anything there for years and years to come. Running it up one side of the 5 right there puts it through protected open space that would have the national environmental groups getting involved in stopping this. And the city and country are fresh off a victory of stopping a developer from building up the other side.

For what it's worth, the current plan for the CA High Speed Railway has it going a different route through town and also includes a stop.

So, all this hassle, and this is a 5 mile stretch of the route. Multiply that across the entire route and it obvious that this has a slim chance of happing.
posted by sideshow at 2:36 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


The size of those pods would be OK for an amusement park ride, but a 30+minute trip, I would say they'd be claustrophobic.

Have you been in a Smart Car?

I'm sure there are a million ways to shoot down a massive proposal like this, but we need more of Elon Musk and Tesla and SpaceX and big ideas -- not less.
posted by mattbucher at 2:38 PM on August 12, 2013 [20 favorites]


The design mentioned in the PDF is interesting from a engineering perspective but the drawings show a horrible way to travel. You have a reclined seat that you can not get out of, no toilets (for a 2 hour journey), couple who wish to be seated together have to board on different sides of the train, no way for groups larger than 2 to converse, etc. I am not even clear that you get much of a view. Maybe there is a market for hard-core commuters.
posted by AndrewStephens at 2:38 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


If I may borrow snark from @YApplebaum:
This is either Elon Musk's Hyperloop, or Alfred Ely Beach's 1867 Pneumatic Railway. I get confused.
(link to a picture)
posted by straw at 2:39 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Mostly Hyperloop is silly nerd-wankery. But the part that makes me angry is how Musk pitched this to shit all over the California High Speed Rail project. Proposing a completely untested vaporware high concept as a way to disrupt a troubled transportation infrastructure project. I think California's HSR has problems too, but pretending this sci-fi napkin sketch informs the debate is offensive.
posted by Nelson at 2:39 PM on August 12, 2013 [42 favorites]


I was hoping it would involve Segways.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 2:39 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


In all fairness, the idea is a 35 minute trip, not two hours. If you can't hold it in for 35 minutes, or skip talking to someone for that long, you probably shouldn't be commuting anywhere in the first place because you need to be in a facility with appropriate medical staff on-hand.
posted by aramaic at 2:43 PM on August 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


Out of curiosity, are any of Elon Musk's companies (SpaceX, Tesla Motors, SolarCity) providing anything to make this happen? Money, engineering, intellectual property, people, infrastructure, parts, etc.? Or is he essentially providing the core blueprint and giving away the designs in hope of someone else actually building it?
posted by zooropa at 2:45 PM on August 12, 2013


30+ minutes is basically a cab ride from any of the NYC airports into Manhattan. Actually the Hyperloop sounds more pleasant.
posted by 2bucksplus at 2:46 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


That 35min quote doesn't account for local stops, does it?
posted by jeffamaphone at 2:47 PM on August 12, 2013


Musk is already running two companies so he's just giving his ideas away now.

His next idea: put bacon AND cheese on a hamburger.
posted by GuyZero at 2:48 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


The intent of this document has been to create a new open source form of transportation that could revolutionize travel. The authors welcome feedback and will incorporate it into future revisions of the Hyperloop project, following other open source models such as Linux.
Interesting idea; I would like to see many of the mechanical aspects of this hashed out much more thoroughly and academically. But I don't really understand these so much anyway.

No local stops, which is the key and most important aspect of this. It's point-to-point, only. Maybe expansions to Sacramento, San Diego, and Las Vegas, but if you add local stops, the whole system is pointless.
posted by Llama-Lime at 2:49 PM on August 12, 2013


There are no local stops. It's mid-distance point-to-point.
posted by GuyZero at 2:49 PM on August 12, 2013


According to reports, he will "probably" build a prototype. Sounds more like a large model than an actual working device though.
posted by bonehead at 2:49 PM on August 12, 2013


Sounds like more of a Shelbyville idea.
posted by dr_dank at 2:52 PM on August 12, 2013 [46 favorites]


Part of Musk's pitch for this is the reduced cost compared to the California HSR project. The design of his system addresses some of the ways he will be able to reduce the cost, but it doesn't address all of the, or even the main, reasons why rail projects cost so much in America.

Understandably so, because the cost drivers largely aren't a matter of engineering. The huge infrastructure costs in the U.S. compared to other developed countries (i.e. Europe, Japan, Korea) is a subject that has attracted a considerable degree of comment.

Here is the best article I've found on the subject
.
posted by eagles123 at 2:55 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


From the looks of it, if you want to go from LA to Sacramento, you've got to take the main Hyperloop to San Francisco and then you get off the car and walk over to the branch Hyperloop for the ride to Sacramento.
posted by ckape at 2:55 PM on August 12, 2013


zooropa "...are any of Elon Musk's companies ([snip]) providing anything to make this happen?"

Big public-private projects like this are far more complex than that. The proposed prices are ludicrous and don't even pass the smell test, but this public crapping on the California HSR project, which people are already primed to be pissed off about, means that there'll undoubtedly be lots of money spent on EIRs and feasibility studies and other distractions. If Elon Musks's companies don't directly profit from this, consulting companies run by various friends will still make out very well.

In a decade or so the accumulated evidence will come in demonstrating just how ludicrous this idea is, but it'll get spun as a pure idea being wrecked by politics. Musk will come out smelling like roses, a visionary too awesome for the world as it actually exists, the existing HSR project will, at that point, be twice as expensive (some, undoubtedly from this derail, some just because rail is always a boondoggle), and that many small civil engineering and economics consulting companies will have their yachts and weekend places in the foothills paid for.
posted by straw at 2:56 PM on August 12, 2013 [18 favorites]


I bet the cost overruns on this would be hilariously epic.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:56 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure how I feel about it not being a gravity train like so many people seemed to have assumed. On the one hand: Gravity Train! On the other hand: Ha ha gravity train.
posted by ckape at 3:01 PM on August 12, 2013


So here in Minneapolis, when the city was trying to build its little light rail line, a group of very smart local engineers lobbied to get their personal rapid transit system built instead. Little pods, all cruising independently on the same track. The engineers opened an office, filed a bunch of patents, and even built a couple hundred yard long prototype track.

Then the anti-transit crowd seized on the idea. "These guys can give us better transit for 10% of the cost! They just need a few more years to develop it! Light rail is going to be obsolete!"

Almost exactly the same thing happened with the Seattle transit system, only the city spent real money on a multi-year diversion into a completely unproven homegrown monorail technology before abandoning it.

I don't blame Elon for coming up with what sounds like a really neat idea. But I am sure conservatives will use it as an argument for delaying further work on the California HSR indefinitely.
posted by miyabo at 3:02 PM on August 12, 2013 [11 favorites]


If you can't hold it in for 35 minutes ...

Wait until someone feels the effects of a bad train station burrito 5 minutes into the ride.

"Hey, robo-conductor, could you stop this Mach 1 train so I can explosively decompress?"
posted by zippy at 3:07 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow! A high speed horizontal elevator with no windows or bathrooms, but comfy reclining lounge seats! As much as I have been fascinated by pneumatic tubes for sending paper zipping along since childhood, this sounds a little suspect. They built one of these in NYC back in 1800's. They did build a tunnel. Don't know if anything moved in it though. We shall see.
posted by njohnson23 at 3:08 PM on August 12, 2013


I don't buy it.

He's completely handwaving the cost of the tube. I'm sorry, but the cheapest path-per-mile to build is a road, and the 2nd cheapest is rail. You want to build a pair of enclosed tubes, with tight tolerances, and being able to hold back pressure (since you're pulling a partial vacuum in them?)

Not only not cheap, but nowhere near cheap.

If you build it on the cheapest possible land, it would be cheaper. If you build rail on the cheapest possible land, it'll be cheaper than this tube. The biggest reason CA HSR is so expensive is that land in CA is incredibly expensive, except, of course, for areas that nobody wants to go to.

My favorite statement.... "The train in question would be both slower, more expensive to operate (if unsubsidized) and less safe by two orders of magnitude than flying, so why would anyone use it? "

Hint: ALL TRANSPORT IN THE WORLD IS MASSIVELY SUBSIDIZED. More importantly, it *SHOULD* be subsidized, because good transport links are an economic multiplier. Why do you think we spend billions of dollars on airports? Because good air links help the economy. Why do you think we've spent well over a trillion on roads? Because good road links help the economy.
posted by eriko at 3:10 PM on August 12, 2013 [19 favorites]


So, all this hassle, and this is a 5 mile stretch of the route. Multiply that across the entire route and it obvious that this has a slim chance of happing.

YOU MUST CONSTRUCT ADDITIONAL PYLONS
posted by kakarott999 at 3:11 PM on August 12, 2013 [25 favorites]


Hyper-- D'oh!
posted by Greg_Ace at 3:12 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


My favorite statement.... "The train in question would be both slower, more expensive to operate (if unsubsidized) and less safe by two orders of magnitude than flying, so why would anyone use it? "

Hint: ALL TRANSPORT IN THE WORLD IS MASSIVELY SUBSIDIZED. More importantly, it *SHOULD* be subsidized, because good transport links are an economic multiplier. Why do you think we spend billions of dollars on airports? Because good air links help the economy. Why do you think we've spent well over a trillion on roads? Because good road links help the economy.


Dude, he's not making a normative argument. He dismissed subsidies as a factor in operation costs because he's not some sage and can't predict politics and the resulting funding levels.

I've got to say, a few reactions to this here on Metafilter are super-surprising. Do you seriously think - by suggesting what is a superficially-feasible and superior alternative - Elon Musk merely is trying to derail (ha!) California HSR? Like he's some kind of Republican plant or something?
posted by downing street memo at 3:18 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


This guy's imagination, confidence, and insight leave me feeling angry and confused. So basically his idea is stupid and I'm glad it won't work. I want to ride in a car everywhere. I like cars and this sounds lame. I hope he just shuts up.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 3:25 PM on August 12, 2013 [23 favorites]


Once all capsules behind the stranded capsule had been safely brought to rest, capsules would drive themselves to safety using small onboard electric motors to power deployed wheels.
so to rescue people in a busted capsule either you have some kind of tube escape hatch every 50 or whatever miles, drastically increasing the difficulty of keeping a low-pressure environment, or it has to drive the length of the journey on tiny electric motors?
posted by xbonesgt at 3:26 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry, but the cheapest path-per-mile to build is a road, and the 2nd cheapest is rail.

He's saying the tube being elevated and narrow would have minimal land needs and could run along the I-5 corridor.

I think he says that rail needs 100' in width along the line (for grading) and also disrupts the area because rail plus fence means farmers whose fields are divided by a rail line need to travel further to get from one field to another.

While this scheme might be 10' in width? 15'? and allow traffic to pass underneath.

Road, especially four- to six-lane highway, plus shoulders, plus on- and off-ramps, would take a lot more land than this proposal.
posted by zippy at 3:28 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Do you seriously think - by suggesting what is a superficially-feasible and superior alternative - Elon Musk merely is trying to derail (ha!) California HSR? Like he's some kind of Republican plant or something?

Yeah, exactly. I personally don't think this is some indirection where his real plan is to funnel money to some other business or to disrupt the current HSR plans.

Musk is a real, honest-to-god idealist. He's funding a goddamn rocket program out of his own pocket, a business that has a long and thermodynamics-approved track record of losing money.

I think he sincerely just wants someone to build this thing. And the nuts and bolts of it are not a bad idea. It just suffers from all the same problems that trains suffer from.
posted by GuyZero at 3:29 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I say we pioneer this stuff around Detroit. Rebuild that area, with kickass public transportation. Make the Detroit area into a model of how we want our urban spaces to be. Approach it like the 21st century equivalent of the space program.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:31 PM on August 12, 2013 [17 favorites]


The economics seem reasonable. Let's assume his guestimates are off by a factor of two, and the thing costs $15 billion. Assume another billion in operating costs (Musk doesn't get into this.) California projects 35-58 million passengers per year on the high-speed train project LA to SF route. Take the high end, given the excellent speed. In 10 years that's 580 million. So you need to cover $15 billion in construction and $10 billion in operating costs, total $25 billion, divided by 580 million, comes to $43.10 per ticket. You could charge 2 or 3 times that, because air fare is $134 and up, and driving is about the same at 50 cents per mile total operating cost. Or, look at it another way, even if it costs 6 times what he says it does, it could be quite competitive with flying and driving.
posted by beagle at 3:31 PM on August 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


Almost exactly the same thing happened with the Seattle transit system, only the city spent real money on a multi-year diversion into a completely unproven homegrown monorail technology before abandoning it.

God damn people are still shitting on this? Aspects of it were sound, and i still fail to see how it was that bad. It had several solid upsides(like the tiny footprint for pylons, and no massively expensive underground stations that are huge decade long projects) and wasn't using any weird unproven technology. It rode on tires just like a bus, but guided by the rail. There were also no grade-level crossings.

Mostly though, i'm just mad that millions got blown on it including actual land purchases and then the entire thing got scrapped. There should be some sort of point of no return with that type of thing where it was just "No, sorry assholes, too late we're already balls deep in this" especially since that's happened with a lot of other city projects around here.

There's plenty of examples of bad ideas dropped in for personal, or nearly trolling reasons like the weird pod thing you mentioned. In the context of seattle having tons of hills and how ridiculously complicated light rail has been here(and don't even get me started on the 2-3 unrelated streetcar systems that will never interface in any way of which one is operational, and another is under active construction) a monorail wasn't that stupid of a plan.

I will admit that as a soundbyte, it sounds like a really stupid and easy to attack boondoggle. But yea, there's plenty of better examples of stuff to hate on out there.
posted by emptythought at 3:32 PM on August 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


I say we pioneer this stuff around Detroit

Based on historical data the cars will only be full on the outbound legs from Detroit.
posted by GuyZero at 3:34 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yeah. I'm not quite getting the part where he dismisses conventional rail as being expensive, without accounting for the costs associated with acquiring/building a right-of-way for the train.

High Speed rail isn't particularly expensive because of the wires, the rails, the power lines, or the trains. It's the cost of cutting a very straight, very flat, and very level ~60 foot path through several hundred miles of two of the most densely-populated areas in the country.

The hyperloop would need to be even straighter, flatter, and you'd need to build a steel pressure vessel instead of conventional tracks.

I'm glad that somebody's being visionary, but this thing won't be cheap.

zippy: "He's saying the tube being elevated and narrow would have minimal land needs and could run along the I-5 corridor."

Why couldn't you do the same for a conventional train? Hell, the most recent extension of the DC Metro is costing on the order of billions per mile, and it's basically being built in a highway median and on prefabricated elevated structures. The hand-waving "let's build this on the cheap" crowd argues that this should be theoretically the cheapest kind of construction.

I-5 is straight-ish in the area that we're talking about, but even conventional, low-speed freight rail would have trouble navigating the curves on most interstates.
posted by schmod at 3:34 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


When the pneumatic pod gets launched into the eye of the moon-man and he weeps waxy tears onto earth no-one shall be amused.
posted by benzenedream at 3:36 PM on August 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Musk claims (or at least claimed during an earlier iteration of the proposal) that it could very well be energy-positive: that with the solar panels and the energy capture technology, it will generate more energy than it uses. So do what they do with windmills. Pay for the patch of earth that the track takes up, AND quarterly checks to the landowners based off of the revenue generated by the energy.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 3:37 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Based on historical data the cars will only be full on the outbound legs from Detroit.

Ha. Well, yes. But the idea would be to have a variety of projects going on, all of which would make Detroit and environs an appealing place to invest in, to work in, and to live in.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:38 PM on August 12, 2013


I say we pioneer this stuff around Detroit. Rebuild that area, with kickass public transportation. Make the Detroit area into a model of how we want our urban spaces to be. Approach it like the 21st century equivalent of the space program.

Yes! 800mph people mover in a big circle around the city with only one stop!

Seriously, though, where would an 800mph tube train thinggy from Detroit take you that would be of any real use? Chicago's too close for this implementation. New York City, maybe? Why?
posted by The World Famous at 3:39 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yes! 800mph people mover in a big circle around the city with only one stop!

NO STOPS. NO ESCAPE. ONLY SPEED.

Enh, I could speculate, but it'd only be an uninformed derail.
posted by Sticherbeast at 3:42 PM on August 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


Why couldn't you do the same for a conventional train?

Running it for hundreds of miles along pylons gives you a very unconventional train.

A conventional train is much wider and much heavier. This makes the supports more expensive, and the failure modes much worse.
posted by zippy at 3:43 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't know if I like the simulation videos of Hyperloop very much.
posted by GuyZero at 3:46 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I am also surprised at the amount of hate going on here. Any comment talking about partial-vacuum is wrong. Any comment claiming that roads are the cheapest way to build transit are wrong too. Claims that this SURELY will cost 10 times the estimate are not backed up by any arguments or evidence. Straw men about people shitting their pants on a 35 minute ride... hasn't anyone ever been on a plane during takeoff or landing?


I'm not going to stake my reputation on this idea (if I had one to stake), but I don't see why it is generating so much anger. Because it's a disruptive idea, I suppose...
posted by twjordan at 3:47 PM on August 12, 2013 [15 favorites]


High Speed rail isn't particularly expensive because of the wires, the rails, the power lines, or the trains. It's the cost of cutting a very straight, very flat, and very level ~60 foot path through several hundred miles of two of the most densely-populated areas in the country.

People in the transit industry say it's a lot more complicated than that. (click around that site - Alon Levy's has done some great work on HSR cost comparisons.)

I have a friend who's a contractor on the Silver Line expansion who says there are wild inefficiencies in just his team's section of track. Among others, he told one story of management not knowing precisely when they'd need him and his team, so they all sat around in the trailer for two weeks, billing all the while. And this guy's responsible for one small subsystem in one relatively small section of track (about a half mile, if I remember correctly)
posted by downing street memo at 3:48 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I'm not going to stake my reputation on this idea (if I had one to stake), but I don't see why it is generating so much anger. Because it's a disruptive idea, I suppose...

It really does severely underestimate construction costs. There's no clear argument why it would cost any less than building out HSR tracks. I'd agree that it might have lower energy costs and it would certainly be faster.
posted by GuyZero at 3:48 PM on August 12, 2013


Hmm, yes, completely new unproven technology requiring exacting standards of construction, sounds cheap!
posted by entropicamericana at 3:48 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not going to stake my reputation on this idea (if I had one to stake), but I don't see why it is generating so much anger.

Optimism is strictly forbidden on Metafilter.
posted by downing street memo at 3:49 PM on August 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


This looks cool and I want it to exist. There are a few other cases like this, the HS2 network in the UK is projected at £33 billion. But then NIMBYism is as bad in England as it is in California. That's what you get when only the rich can afford houses in the country...
posted by absolutelynot at 3:51 PM on August 12, 2013


Optimism is strictly forbidden on Metafilter.

More like it's easy to poke holes in naive plans.
posted by GuyZero at 3:51 PM on August 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


The issue that stuck out for me is the number of passengers that the train could carry. A typical high speed train carries, lets say, 800 passengers. Let's assume that during rush hour, three trains leave per hour. That's 2400 passengers in an hour. But the "hyperloop" only carries 28. Even assuming it's possible to have a hyperloop arrive and depart every 30 seconds (what about cargo that needs to be loaded or people who can't put their carry-on bags beneath the seat in front of them with near-military precision?), that means that you'd need to have 85 trains departing every hour in order to carry a comparable number of passengers.

Using Musk's own assumptions about speed, it would take 2 hours to get from LA to SF in the hyperloop. That means that you'd need to have nearly 40 trains constructed in order to ensure a constant new supply of trains at either end of the loop. I can't find Musk's estimate on how much it would cost to build 40 of these trains, maintain them, and come up with a system that somehow juggles arriving and departing trains.

Sure, the technology sounds wonderful, but trains have been kicking ass at being efficient for more than a century and a half now. I suspect the whole debate surrounding this concept breaks down pretty much along the same lines as the tired "science can solve anything / science isn't the messiah" debate.
posted by anewnadir at 3:52 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


Ha. Well, yes. But the idea would be to have a variety of projects going on, all of which would make Detroit and environs an appealing place to invest in, to work in, and to live in.

Normally, I'd agree with you. But I think the folks who live there want first responders to get to their location a lot quicker than 58 minutes or their parks mowed by someone other than well-intentioned volunteers.

This isn't RoboCop.

Bottom line: get the basic infrastructure repaired first in Stage 1. Make Stage 2 all about investment and Big Ideas. Stage 1 makes Stage 2 possible (not the other way around).
posted by zooropa at 3:52 PM on August 12, 2013


I'm assuming most of the Rah Rah people are, like Elon Musk, SV types with no background in government or transit.

You know how pissed off you get government tells you how to do something? Same thing.

Imagine Joe Biden saying we should build an AI and throwing a copy of "Weird Science" on your desk to use as a guide.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:52 PM on August 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


Monorail technology is hardly new or unproven: Seattle has had a small monorail line running for fifty years now. Last I heard it even turned a steady profit. The idea of extending it across more of the city was hardly ridiculous; it was inexperience and significant financial mistakes made by the group in charge of the project which doomed it.

Also relentless opposition from the City Council, who were already deep in bed with the far less ambitious regional light rail project.
posted by Mars Saxman at 3:53 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fair enough, GuyZero, but the HSR is pegged at 68 million and that would just as likely have cost overruns too, right?

So we can even go 5-6X more than his estimate and it would still be 1/2 the cost and better.

I guess I just don't see why this is incredibly naive or stupid. I don't think I'm a pie in the sky optimist either.
posted by twjordan at 3:54 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Using Musk's own assumptions about speed, it would take 2 hours to get from LA to SF in the hyperloop.
This is plainly false, the answer is 35 minutes, not two hours. That's nearly a factor of four difference. Is there some sort of organized campaign that makes up and agrees upon bad numbers?
I can't find Musk's estimate on how much it would cost to build 40 of these trains, maintain them, and come up with a system that somehow juggles arriving and departing trains.
If you click on the Continue reading linked off the main page you will find some of the answers you seek. Each pod's cost is expected to be around $70 million.
posted by Llama-Lime at 3:57 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


I guess I just don't see why this is incredibly naive or stupid. I don't think I'm a pie in the sky optimist either.

I actually like HSR and I think California is doing OK (not great, but OK) with the current HSR plans.

But you're right - HSR will run over and cost a lot. So would hyperloop.

On the plus side for hyperloop, it would be a lot better if you built it.

On the plus side for HSR, we can reasonably expect that it actually will work.
posted by GuyZero at 3:57 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


> "I'm not going to stake my reputation on this idea (if I had one to stake), but I don't see why it is generating so much anger."

Hyperloop killed my family.
posted by kyrademon at 3:58 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


So we can even go 5-6X more than his estimate and it would still be 1/2 the cost and better.


This is the oldest logical fallacy in business plans ever. It's called "anchoring". There's no reason to believe his initial estimate is anywhere near reality. So saying "well, we could go 5x" is just pointless. As long as the initial estimate is low enough you get all this magic headroom for cost overruns. But the inital estimate is just a fantasy from day one.
posted by GuyZero at 3:59 PM on August 12, 2013 [9 favorites]


Do not taunt Hyper(Fun)Loop.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:59 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Meh. This doesn't strike me as something entirely ill-informed and ignorant of government funding or transit research (which IMO seems to be half made up of people who hate one or both), and I'm all for people coming up with seemingly crazy plans that may have wide-ranging effects on people and the world. The fact that a lot of hate for Elon Musk comes from people who are upset either that he isn't designing the next revolution in handheld black rectangles with round corners and skeuomorphist awesomeness or that those designers aren't aiming to change the world outside of entertainment really cements it for me.
posted by zombieflanders at 4:01 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


> No local stops, which is the key and most important aspect of this. It's point-to-point, only. Maybe expansions to Sacramento, San Diego, and Las Vegas, but if you go point-to-point, the whole system is pointless.

The document did mention that there could be splits in the tunnels, so you could have some capsules shooting off to San Jose and Oakland and / or Sacramento while the main line goes up to SF.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:04 PM on August 12, 2013


I've got to say, a few reactions to this here on Metafilter are super-surprising. Do you seriously think - by suggesting what is a superficially-feasible and superior alternative - Elon Musk merely is trying to derail (ha!) California HSR? Like he's some kind of Republican plant or something?

Superficial is a really polite way of describing the report, and its level of credibility. Can you imagine what motivations a car manufacturer might have in attacking high speed rail? Particularly one whose biggest market is California, and whose previous big announcement was in improving the ability of his products to make that car trip between SF and LA?
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 4:04 PM on August 12, 2013 [10 favorites]


Travelling at 800 mph? Already been done.
posted by pwnguin at 4:06 PM on August 12, 2013


Why is such a visionary linking to a PDF doc on the web?
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:07 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


GuyZero: "More like it's easy to poke holes in naive plans."

Ok, except Musk has actually bothered to show his work (over about 50 pages), whereas no one in this thread has done anything other than assure us that he's wrong, supported entirely by lots of hand gestures.

I mean, I don't know if this is crazy or not. But I do know the character of the mockery is very similar to what was said about electric cars, and Tesla in particular. By lots of automotive "experts".

It's actually sort of an investment strategy for me (only half-joking). I buy whatever Metafilter mocks gleefully, but can't actually substantiate beyond a nose snort.
posted by danny the boy at 4:09 PM on August 12, 2013 [12 favorites]


Musk has actually bothered to show his work (over about 50 pages)

So don't get me totally wrong - I like this crazy plan. But he undermines it by handwaving away a realistic cost estimate and by saying that hyperloop would be so easy to build while the current high speed rail is too hard.

Like I said above:

- how does this interoperate with existing transportation infrastructure?
- where would you build terminals?
- what's the real cost per mile of building out the elevated tunnel?

I mean, there's a reason they didn't elevate the entire proposed high-speed rail line.

Using the tube to generate photoelectric power is a great idea. But honestly right now this thing seems to me to have immense, huge, space-program-esque capital costs with the promise of faster travel time and maybe lower operational costs.

He showed the part of his work that's honestly the easiest part of building a 1000-mile transportation system. Nice work. But it's not that simple.
posted by GuyZero at 4:14 PM on August 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


schmod: "Why couldn't you do the same for a conventional train?"

Much of the handwaving that happens in the PDF uses the tiny diameter of the vehicles as the selling point. Lines like "The small diameter of the Hyperloop tube should keep tunneling costs to a far more reasonable level than traditional automotive and rail tunnels." are easy ways to say "your objections are invalid because you're making an apples to oranges comparison" when we pull out the easy numbers.

Which is the only way one can keep a straight face reading statements like "Tunneling cost estimations are estimated at $50 million per mile."

So, what's smaller? Well, this sounds a lot like a gas pipeline. Huh. The Underground Construction Magazine 2012 Pipeline Construction Report says that they're running $200K-300K/inch-mile for pipes in the 24" to 36" range, so let's assume that scales, and we get $17.6M to $26.4M/mile.

But that's for trench buried pipeline, we have to put this in the air, so let's look at prices for infrastructure in the air... looks like $2.6M-4M per mile (PDF), with five pylons per mile. The Hyperloop PDF claims 100' spacing, so 10x denser. But they're shorter. So I suspect we're looking at $13M-20M per mile additional.

So I'm looking at, call it $20M-45M/mile, they're claiming a bit under $16M (cost of tube only)/mile. Oooookay. And this thing's gonna power itself with photovoltaic cells on the top of the tube...

These prices also don't include the "Linear accelerators".

And that includes "Tunneling cost estimations are estimated at $50 million per mile ($31 million per km)" for 15.2 miles of the 382 or so that we're talking about less. But let's drill into that tunnelling price a bit: What other prices can we compare to? Devil's Slide... naw, that's a car tunnel, we have to throw that out, but there's a proposed Delta water tunnel. $23B for 35 miles, $657M/mile. Man, I'd like to know what their tunnelling technology is.

xbonesgt asked about rescue, but I'll go another way: Repressurizing this tube with vehicles traveling 760MPH... yeah, you don't have to worry about rescue.
posted by straw at 4:17 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


The design mentioned in the PDF is interesting from a engineering perspective but the drawings show a horrible way to travel. You have a reclined seat that you can not get out of, no toilets (for a 2 hour journey), couple who wish to be seated together have to board on different sides of the train, no way for groups larger than 2 to converse, etc. I am not even clear that you get much of a view. Maybe there is a market for hard-core commuters.

Do you ever plane?
posted by srboisvert at 4:18 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


He showed the part of his work that's honestly the easiest part of building a 1000-mile transportation system. Nice work. But it's not that simple.

Maybe, but he does in effect say, "this is an idea, but I'm not doing it now" and suggests that others take it on:
The critics of California’s high-speed rail may be dismayed to learn that Musk does not plan to commercialize the Hyperloop technology for the time being. He’s posting the plans and asking for feedback and contemplating building a prototype. “I’m just putting this out there as an open source design,” he says. “There are sure to be suggestions out there for making this better, correcting any mistakes, and refining the design.” Musk maintains that he has too much on his plate to deal with bringing the Hyperloop to fruition. “I wish I had not mentioned it,” he says. “I still have to run SpaceX and Tesla, and it’s fucking hard.”

Musk says he would support another person or organization that wanted to make the Hyperloop a reality.

“It is a question of finding the right person and team to get behind it,” Musk says. “Creating a prototype is not that expensive.” But if no one advances or acts on Musk’s ideas, he may come back to the Hyperloop in a few years’ time and pursue it as part of Tesla. “Down the road, I might fund or advise on a Hyperloop project, but right now I can’t take my eye off the ball at either SpaceX or Tesla.”
posted by zombieflanders at 4:20 PM on August 12, 2013


General flaws:
1). The proposed system does not go from San Francisco to Los Angeles, despite the press and hype. It goes from San Leandro to Sylmar, which is something of a difference. It's a lot easier to devise a system when you don't have to deal with going through cities, their tight constraints and the politics associated therewith. Particularly when you're competing against HSR, which
2). The proposed route crosses two mountain ranges -- two seismically active mountain ranges, to be precise; the report deals with this fact in the most vaguey and hand-wavey sorts of ways; "we'll build some tunnels, I guess." No mention of things like vertical curves, and grades, and the sort of things that are actually a problem out here in the real world.
3). Seriously, the design is back of a napkin Google Earth sketches. Like many smart people who are good at some things, he has assumed that the part he knows nothing about is simple. He's done well at the parts of the transportation system that have nothing to do with networks or right of ways, but those are the hardest part. There's nothing fancy about it, no conceptual leap that gets you around the fact that you have to make a very straight, very flat, track to go at high speeds, and the people who live in the way may not always support it.

If Musk is correct, he has a technology that he can build, that would easily provide $500 million a year in profit. He's not only able to raise capital to do so, but he could fund the whole system from his current net worth if he wanted. That seems like a hell of a lot better investment than Tesla; yet he's not calling a press conference to announce he's doing it; not even to announce a test system has been built or a detailed design is being done and land rights acquired. Instead, he's releasing his back-of-a-napkin fantasy transit system design documents and taking shots at HSR (right as it starts construction). I'm not sure why people here think that he's right, since clearly Musk doesn't think so himself.

“I wish I had not mentioned it,” he says in a call to the press announcing the idea. On the bright side, auto manufacturers using hypothetical designs for magic whoosh tubes to attack the well-established technology used for HSR is a refreshing change; traditionally they use back-room dealing and lobbying to stop rail infrastructure.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 4:28 PM on August 12, 2013 [19 favorites]


The World Famous: Seriously, though, where would an 800mph tube train thinggy from Detroit take you that would be of any real use?

Gary, Indiana, of course!
posted by dr_dank at 4:30 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


People have been talking about this for a few days, and here's a thought I had that I haven't seen elsewhere:

Don't fill the tube with vacuum. Fill it with hydrogen.

At standard temperature and pressure, hydrogen is about 1/15 as dense as air. Thus, a train plowing through a tube filled with one atmosphere of hydrogen would encounter roughly the same wind resistance as an airplane flying about ten miles above sea level.

If the tube is at the same pressure as the outside, you don't need a heavy steel pressure vessel, any airtight (well, hydrogentight) material would do the job. Leaks aren't catastrophic, as there's no real pressure pushing the hydrogen out or pulling air in. If a car breaks down, you don't need a space suit to get from the car to the outside of the tube, you just hold your breath and walk to a non-airlocked door on the side, and if emergency responders need to cut a hole in the side, they can just do so, with duct tape being a realistic repair possibility.

Hydrogen isn't free, but can be manufactured with no input other than water and energy. Assuming a 20 m^2 tube, and assume that the tube leaks 1% of its Hydrogen out every day, you'd need somewhere in the neighborhood of a gigajoule of energy to replenish the daily loss from one kilometer of tube.

A 1GW power plant could produce enough hydrogen to replenish about 50,000 miles of tube, roughly the length of the Interstate Highway System.

The speed of sound in hydrogen is about 1.3 km / sec, so you could go up to about 2500 MPH without even having to think about issues associated with breaking the sound barrier.
posted by Hatashran at 4:30 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wonder if Musk maybe has an engineer or two who works for him that might have proofread it for him and shot down the obvious flaws before putting it up online.
posted by Space Coyote at 4:31 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


It goes from San Leandro to Sylmar, which is something of a difference.

This is a very big deal. It's airports, not train stations and merely getting to and from the terminal is going to be an entirely different set of transportation infrastructure problems.

As a competitor to SFO-LAX flights, maybe.
posted by GuyZero at 4:34 PM on August 12, 2013


A few weeks ago i started using the term "Digital Horseshit Chuckwagon" but nothing to attach it to.

Now I do.

I want to go to investor meetings for this and yell "I'm not hitchin' my caboose to your Horseshit Chuckwagon, Elon Musk!"
posted by hellojed at 4:36 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wonder if Musk maybe has an engineer or two who works for him that might have proofread it for him and shot down the obvious flaws before putting it up online.

If Musk allowed things like this to happen, he wouldn't have his black-belt in Managerial Skills.
posted by The River Ivel at 4:38 PM on August 12, 2013


You know, this sounds like it would make a lot more sense connecting the cities in the Texas Triangle than LA/SF. You have relatively flat terrain, almost no need for tunneling, and a state that has shown some past interest in transportation mega projects (like the ill fated Trans Texas Corridor). Plus, SpaceX has a Texas facility, so Musk is no stranger to the state.
posted by fremen at 4:48 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


I bet if Elon Musk were a dictator, this could be deployed quickly and efficiently.
posted by Halogenhat at 4:50 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Is the goal to reduce congestion, pollution, or just give us more time to spend not driving?

Speaking for myself and I'm sure many of my fellow Californians, I'd like to suggest you make it big enough to fit my car in there, so I can get from one end of the state to the other and then drive myself to my final destination. Otherwise it's just an alternative to Southwest Airlines, from my myopic "I need to get to Los Banos to see my nieces birthday party this weekend", point of view.

Or, how about we just make the tube for freight instead of people, then we'd reduce the amount of semis on The 5, The 101, and The 99.
posted by Lukenlogs at 4:56 PM on August 12, 2013


Wow.

An actual genius and liberal idealist industrialist who makes spaceships and saved the electric car industry from being assassinated puts out (for free! done on his own time! with numbers and things, and admissions that it's probably off by half everywhere!) what is to him an interesting idea that he thinks is better than an admitted total shit show of a rail project in the state where all his other industries are based and tested. And this is the response.

How petty you seem!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 4:57 PM on August 12, 2013 [29 favorites]


ANY large transit project is going to have detractors, political opposition, cost overruns and chronic NIMBYism and yet, other countries do still get large projects pushed through.

The shared assumption seems to be that in the US, large scale, government-led projects like these are impossible. Which is tragic given the history of the nation.

I'm not stupid enough to think that every project is guaranteed to be a success; you does your studies and you takes your choice, but what would you rather do with the money anyway? Spend it on science and domestic infrastructure or piss it away in a war?
posted by fingerbang at 4:59 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Little pods, all cruising independently on the same track.

Something like that IS the future of public transit. NO MORE WAITING. Tell the system your start point & time and the pod's waiting, tell it your destination and the computer calculates best-time routing. A very small track means the elimination of much of the asphalt (and the constant maintenance) and the whole thing can be powered by renewables. LUKE! IT IS YOUR DESTINY
posted by Twang at 5:08 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


straw: " The proposed prices are ludicrous and don't even pass the smell test, but this public crapping on the California HSR project, which people are already primed to be pissed off about,"

A lot of us who, you know, actually live here in California think that the HSR proposal deserves to be crapped on, because it's a shitty politics-infested boondoggle that doesn't stand a chance in hell of being built, and is already operating as a funnel taking public money directly into the pockets of private interests.

Nobody here who knows a goddamned thing about transit should be taking the California HSR proposal seriously, and if you do take it seriously, you either haven't done the math or haven't read up on the reality of the project. Or, I don't know, I can't even. The California HSR project is a fucking disaster, and nobody with any sense should support it, much less hold it up as an example of, well, anything.

I personally am glad that Elon Musk exists, because at least he's swinging for the goddamned fences. I don't care why he's doing it. I really, really don't. What I do know is that he has singlehandedly revitalized both the electric car and space exploration, and I like having someone like that in the world.

In the absence of any meaningful Apollo-project level commitment from our actual government, I'll take what I can get, and, right now, Elon Musk is what I can get. I'd rather see an Apollo-program-scale effort on renewable energy, but that's apparently a pipe dream. So I'll settle for Elon and his big dreams.
posted by scrump at 5:10 PM on August 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


People have been talking about this for a few days, and here's a thought I had that I haven't seen elsewhere:

Don't fill the tube with vacuum. Fill it with hydrogen.


Um, remember the Hindenberg?
posted by beagle at 5:11 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Speaking for myself and I'm sure many of my fellow Californians, I'd like to suggest you make it big enough to fit my car in there, so I can get from one end of the state to the other and then drive myself to my final destination.

You don't speak for me, bub. I'd rather be reading a book or posting pithy/snarky comments on MeFi than trying to guess what the idiot in the lane next to me is going to do.

....The 5, The 101, and The 99.

Oh, you're from Southern California. That explains it.
posted by entropicamericana at 5:11 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Musk may be an idealist, but in this domain he's another crank with another gadgetbahn. So many guys from engineering — and I'm using gendered language deliberately here — why do so many guys from engineering backgrounds look at the complex tangle of social, political, financial, and technical problems involved in building transit systems in built-up areas and think "ah! I see what you're doing wrong! You're using proven, off-the-shelf technology. You should try untested gadgetry instead!"
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:14 PM on August 12, 2013 [17 favorites]


Don't fill the tube with vacuum. Fill it with hydrogen.

I was going to object to this based on the extremely low ignition energy if air ever gets into the mix, but Wikipedia points out an even odder issue: Hydrogen embrittlement. It's more pronounced at high temperatures, but apparently works just fine on structural steel in normal outdoor temperature ranges.
posted by figurant at 5:17 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


That would be a salient point if Elon Musk didn't have a track record of, you know, actually delivering shit. There are Tesla's all over the road out here. SpaceX is launching actual things into space.
posted by scrump at 5:17 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


You don't speak for me, bub. I'd rather be reading a book or posting pithy/snarky comments on MeFi than trying to guess what the idiot in the lane next to me is going to do.

I think the idea would be that you drive your car onto the "pod" and it's transported in the tube at 800 mph. Like a car ferry. Being able to drive right on and off solves the "last mile to the station" problem.
posted by mr_roboto at 5:18 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Ah, that wouldn't be so bad, but that would add a lot to the weight.
posted by entropicamericana at 5:20 PM on August 12, 2013


Seriously, why is rail transit in particular cursed with all these gadget guys? Can you imagine a world where, whenever anyone wanted to build a freeway, a bunch of engineering guys came out of the woodwork to demand that instead of an old, lame conventional roadway, we should build a slot car track. Or a car train. Or a big conveyor belt for cars. And then picture a universe where people took those guys seriously. I mean, really, can you imagine?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:21 PM on August 12, 2013 [16 favorites]


There are Tesla's all over the road out here. SpaceX is launching actual things into space.

These two things require relatively little cooperation with outside entities.

A crash test is peanuts compared to getting cooperation with landowners along a 1,000 mile stretch of track.

As a wise man once said, hell is other people.
posted by GuyZero at 5:24 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, if you want to get right down to it, it's kind of bullshit to get all over Elon Musk for not solving the NIMBY problem when the California HSR project itself hasn't solved it either.
posted by scrump at 5:25 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


There are two designs, entropicamericana. One for passengers (plus luggage) and one for passengers and a couple of cars. The latter design requires a bigger tube and would cost more, but would probably be easier for people to use. Kind of like the Chunnel - drive into the station, your car is loaded on the pod - then WHOOSH! - and 30 minutes later you're driving the streets of San Francisco.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:26 PM on August 12, 2013


I'm guessing that one of the most awesome things about being filthy stinking rich is that people suddenly pay lots and lots of attention to the fantastic ideas you have for awesome things neither you nor anyone else have any intention of doing.

Now I just need to find a way to make a billion dollars so people will care about my really-almost-there idea for how to make a functioning lightsaber in real life. Seriously, I've come up with a way to make something that looks and works just like a lightsaber except for two small issues: (1) it has to be connected to an external fuel source with a tube and (2) it will not offer resistance if its beam strikes another beam like it but will instead just pass right through. Other than those two things, I have it totally invented and ready to go. Anyone? . . . anyone?
posted by The World Famous at 5:26 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Musk may be an idealist, but in this domain he's another crank with another gadgetbahn

Are you talking about the guy who makes cars and spacecraft, and previously had no experience in either domain?

I think he may have a track record for doing radically novel transportation that rises above just "another crank."
posted by zippy at 5:27 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Musk may be an idealist, but in this domain he's another crank with another gadgetbahn

Are you talking about the guy who makes cars and spacecraft, and previously had no experience in either domain?


See, that's the difference between just another crank and a very, very rich crank.
posted by The World Famous at 5:28 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


That would be a salient point if Elon Musk didn't have a track record of, you know, actually delivering shit. There are Tesla's all over the road out here. SpaceX is launching actual things into space.

Remind me again, how much road has he built?

If the problem was that we had this incredibly straight, incredibly flat path from SF to LA with no buildings or mountains in the way, where everybody living along it was thrilled to have whatever elevated structure we wanted built on it, then he would be solving the problem with a high speed vehicle system. Instead, the problem is that the path between SF and LA goes through two mountain ranges and millions of people's backyards, and it is hard as hell finding/building a route that is straight enough and politically acceptable enough to build the well-established high speed technology along.

It's not a high tech problem here; it's a very basic problem of boring things like land ownership and local politics.


Well, if you want to get right down to it, it's kind of bullshit to get all over Elon Musk for not solving the NIMBY problem when the California HSR project itself hasn't solved it either.

Which one put out a big media release today attacking the other one as disappointing and expensive?
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:29 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Seriously, why is rail transit in particular cursed with all these gadget guys?

I don't know. If the CEO of Blue Cross came out with a hypothetical napkin design for a high-tech medical system that would diagnose all your ailments automatically for just pennies, so this stupid Obamacare thing that is coming into force should just be cancelled, people would be able to see through it better for some reason.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 5:32 PM on August 12, 2013 [8 favorites]


Homeboy Trouble: "Which one put out a big media release today attacking the other one as disappointing and expensive?"

The one who was, you know, right on the facts and the merits? The California HSR project is disappointing and expensive. And, frankly, indefensible.
posted by scrump at 5:33 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


scrump: So the solution to the California NIMBY problem is, well, hard work. Beating them in the legislature, beating them in the courts, beating them in the press. And keeping at it. Moving lots of people politically is the necessary first step to moving them literally, and it involves just as much labor.

So I don't think it's fair to say that California HSR has failed to "solve" the NIMBY problem. It's not a problem to be solved, it's a challenge to be met. And they're meeting it.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:33 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nobody here who knows a goddamned thing about transit should be taking the California HSR proposal seriously

I happen to agree that California HSR is a ridiculous boondoggle. But it is being taken quite seriously by people who know a whole lot about transit. In fact it's partially funded and it's going to be built. Just because we don't like it doesn't mean it shouldn't be taken seriously.

What I can't imagine taking seriously is Musk's napkin sketches as a viable critique of HSR. Being as charitable as possible, maybe Musk's idea is a brilliant design that after 20–40 years of R&D will become a viable transport mechanism. And the inevitable safety and practicality concerns won't encumber it too much. But all Hyperloop is right now is a fiction, a non sequitur, and a distraction.
posted by Nelson at 5:35 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, if you want to get right down to it, it's kind of bullshit to get all over Elon Musk for not solving the NIMBY problem when the California HSR project itself hasn't solved it either.

Here's exactly what he says:

"• Not disruptive to those along the route"

"Even when the Hyperloop path deviates from the highway, it will cause minimal
disruption to farmland roughly comparable to a tree or telephone pole, which
farmers deal with all the time. A ground based high speed rail system by
comparison needs up to a 100 ft wide swath of dedicated land to build up
foundations for both directions, forcing people to travel for several miles just
to get to the other side of their property. It is also noisy, with nothing to
contain the sound, and needs unsightly protective fencing to prevent animals,
people or vehicles from getting on to the track. Risk of derailment is also not
to be taken lightly, as demonstrated by several recent fatal train accidents."

He makes very good points about the problems/complains about ground-level rail but he basically handwaves them all away.

He goes into great detail on STATOR WINDINGS of all things but then assumes that right-of-way is free along highways. It's just not that simple. If it was that simple, why didn't the current HSR project follow the same route?
posted by GuyZero at 5:35 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


Why do you think California HSR is a boondoggle, Nelson?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:36 PM on August 12, 2013


A big reason the current HSR project didn't follow the same route is because HSR will actually serve communities in between LA and SF, like Fresno and Bakersfield. The I-5 route is more direct, yes, but doesn't serve the Central Valley communities as well. The Hyperloop doesn't serve them at all.
posted by ambrosia at 5:38 PM on August 12, 2013


Why are we even discussing LA to San Fran as the starting point? Why not prove the technology out under ideal conditions (say, Dallas to Fort Worth along the I-30)?

LA to San Fran as the starting point is like buying an F1 car to start your racing career.
posted by I Havent Killed Anybody Since 1984 at 5:44 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm skeptical about covering the thing with solar panels. That's a whole lot of glass or plastic that will wear down when exposed to the elements, plus all the wiring that will will corrode with time. The Hyperloop would probably have to be powered more conventionally.

But other than that, it sounds pretty darn neat. And putting all the California high speed rail discussion aside, the place to build it is in Alberta. The Edmonton Calgary corridor: about 300 km, pretty much all flat, with about 1.7 million trips per year. No earthquakes. And we have a lot of local companies that are experienced in pipeline construction, which is what this thing is. A people and cargo pipeline.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:45 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Why are we even discussing LA to San Fran as the starting point?

Because the person floating the idea explicitly has no intention of ever starting the project at all, but he wants publicity, so he's playing to the sensibilities of the people in this country who can guarantee him publicity.
posted by The World Famous at 5:47 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Yes. Let's send the gadget enthusiasts off to freeze in the Albertan oilfields. It's the perfect place for them.

can we cut off their Internet access while they're out there?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 5:48 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


See, that's the difference between just another crank and a very, very rich crank.

Everything I've read about Musk points toward him being not only an extremely bright engineer but someone who can manage other extremely bright engineers and get them to deliver. Individually these skills are rare (especially the latter, ask your engineering friends!), together they make Musk someone absolutely deserving of more than baseless snark.

I mean, I get the natural distrust of people the tech community fall over themselves to praise, but this is one of the few instances where the respect has been well earned.
posted by ReadEvalPost at 5:49 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


>There are Tesla's all over the road out here. SpaceX is launching actual things into space.

These two things require relatively little cooperation with outside entities.

I think you are underestimating by an unknown but very large amount what it takes to build and launch a modern, totally electric vehicle in multiple markets in an industry that is actively hostile to such things.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 5:53 PM on August 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


Nelson: "I happen to agree that California HSR is a ridiculous boondoggle. But it is being taken quite seriously by people who know a whole lot about transit. In fact it's partially funded and it's going to be built. Just because we don't like it doesn't mean it shouldn't be taken seriously."

The ARC tunnels under the Hudson River from New Jersey into Penn Station were being taken seriously by transit geeks at the time, despite some fairly serious flaws in the plan that would have burdened the future users of the tunnels with operational difficulties and inflexibility for decades after. The prevailing thought was that "No Tunnels" < "Bad Tunnels," especially given how politically tenuous the project was.

After Gov. Christie cancelled the project (for actually-terrible reasons), we got a vastly better proposal from Amtrak on the table. It's going to be many years before it's built to completion, but they're serious about actually getting it built. Amtrak is taking advantage of nearby construction to build the Manhattan portion of the tunnels for cheap right now. Almost every version of the new proposal is vastly superior in every way.

I don't know enough about the specifics of CA HSR to know the full details (the portion of the line along the Caltrain corridor seems like it's going to be a big problem that nobody is taking seriously), but I could imagine that the project might benefit from being sent back to the drawing board if it's taking a particularly troubling direction.

Hell, they should have done the same with DC's Silver Line. However, the (pretty awful) line that we're building is the absolute best thing that Virginia State politics were ever going to allow in our lifetime.
posted by schmod at 5:56 PM on August 12, 2013


That would be farm fields, You Can't Tip a Buick. It's one of the more fertile areas in the country. And we've had lots of problems with NIMBY too (although probably not anything close to the ones in California), mostly with farmers unhappy about having land expropriated for new power lines. The cool thing about Musk's idea is that it can run beside the road, which should cut down on the amount of land that has to be bought. Instead of plowing through new areas you just nip off a bit more land next to the road, like building a new lane.
posted by Kevin Street at 5:57 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


GuyZero I think you quoted the part where he explains why HSR can't do the same:

A ground based high speed rail system by comparison needs up to a 100 ft wide swath of dedicated land to build up foundations for both directions...

If anything this whole proposal reads to me like a way to engineer around the NIMBY problem. If you can build along the footprint of existing infrastructure you can sidestep that entire class of problem. If solving the problems involved in building evacuated tubes and elevating them above a highway is cheaper than fighting tens of thousands of individual eminent domain hearings and buying all that land this could all work. If not, not.
posted by Skorgu at 5:57 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Because the person floating the idea explicitly has no intention of ever starting the project at all, but he wants publicity, so he's playing to the sensibilities of the people in this country who can guarantee him publicity.

The man literally builds spaceships, and you think this is a publicity stunt.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 5:58 PM on August 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


straw: "we have to put this in the air, so let's look at prices for infrastructure in the air... looks like $2.6M-4M per mile (PDF), with five pylons per mile"

That doesn't pass the smell test at all. You couldn't even build a bicycle overpass for that kind of money.

I don't doubt at all that Musk's genius could introduce some very significant efficencies into transit construction (see above anecdotes about the MWAA Silver Line), but there are some very hard limits on how low he can drive the price.
posted by schmod at 6:00 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


But this wouldn't be an overpass, made out of concrete and asphalt, or a bridge. It's a big, dumb pipeline. Just a steel tube. The technology is in the pods and the impeller stations.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:04 PM on August 12, 2013


The man literally builds spaceships, and you think this is a publicity stunt.

The man literally said he has no intention of doing anything with this back-of-the-envelope idea, and you think he's lying?

If you can build along the footprint of existing infrastructure you can sidestep that entire class of problem.

When you're going over 120 miles per hour or so, the big sweeping curves and the little jogs left and right on a California freeway can be pretty harrowing. I suspect they'd be even more jarring at 800 mph. You can use the existing footprint of the freeway just fine until it turns, I guess.
posted by The World Famous at 6:05 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


Kevin Street: "But this wouldn't be an overpass, made out of concrete and asphalt, or a bridge. It's a big, dumb pipeline. Just a steel tube. The technology is in the pods and the impeller stations."

Not a dumb pipeline. It needs to be a lot bigger, carry a dynamic load, and also remain fully intact during an earthquake.

I think that these are surmountable challenges, and that it might be a good idea to build this thing. However, it will not be remotely cheap.
posted by schmod at 6:08 PM on August 12, 2013


You can use the existing footprint of the freeway just fine until it turns, I guess.

Well sure, maybe you can't follow it 100% but if you hug it where you can and diverge where you have to I can still imagine the time and cost savings compared to a brand new right of way being enormous.
posted by Skorgu at 6:12 PM on August 12, 2013


Mark my words: the first installation, if it ever exists, will be Guangdong to/from Shanghai, not SF/LA.

Or Dubai <> Kuwait City - they build genormous stuff by decree of a single Prince.
posted by stbalbach at 6:14 PM on August 12, 2013


The man literally builds spaceships, and you think this is a publicity stunt.

What level of crankery does skill at rocketry excuse? What if he said he could use electromagnetism to cure cancer? (What if his design had 25 pages on how big a waiting room you would need and how to prioritize people and two on the actual cure bit, with a lot of handwavey assumptions?) What if he said he could use the Hyperloop to bring lasting peace to the Middle East? What if he said he was inventing a teleporter? What if he said he could resurrect the dead?
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:20 PM on August 12, 2013 [3 favorites]


"Not a dumb pipeline. It needs to be a lot bigger, carry a dynamic load, and also remain fully intact during an earthquake."

My (sketchy) understanding of this is that there will be "two adjustable lateral
(XY) dampers and one vertical (Z) damper" in the pylons, to compensate for ground movements and thermal expansion in the tube. Then he talks about changing the neutral position on the vertical damper to compensate for ground movement over time. (Like the different height of land after a quake.)

The tube itself is dumb steel, because it will be the most massive and expensive part of the system. Then you get functionality by plugging things into it.
posted by Kevin Street at 6:22 PM on August 12, 2013


You don't speak for me, bub. I'd rather be reading a book or posting pithy/snarky comments on MeFi than trying to guess what the idiot in the lane next to me is going to do.
--entropicamericana

I think the idea would be that you drive your car onto the "pod" and it's transported in the tube at 800 mph. Like a car ferry. Being able to drive right on and off solves the "last mile to the station" problem.
--mr_roboto


Yep, that's what I meant. Still, why not just freight instead of people? Again, is the goal to reduce congestion, pollution, or just give us all more time to surf MeFi?
posted by Lukenlogs at 6:32 PM on August 12, 2013


Here's a link to a report done by an informed amateur looking at tunnel alignment for the CAHSR between LA and the San Joaquin Valley; he's actually attacking the existing HSR plan, which would go through Palmdale and the Tehachapi Pass in favour of a more direct route through Tejon Pass, so he's being as ruthless as possible. His proposed Tejon Pass route is the same choice that the Hyperloop concept has.

The faster a vehicle travels, due to rider comfort if nothing else, the straighter it needs to go. The Hyperloop pods, travelling three times as fast as the HSR need curve radii nine times larger to produce the same G forces on riders. So any route that is okay for HSR is too twisty for Hyperloop, and more extensive construction is needed to handle this, either via tunnels or viaducts. Hypothetically, you could build massive viaducts in the area as opposed to tunnelling, but this becomes expensive -- we're talking about a pass that goes from 1400 feet elevation in Sta. Clarita to 4160 ft at it's peak.

The official design of the HSR through Tehachapi calls for 37 miles of tunnel. The proposed Tejon route calls for 27 miles of tunnel. The Hyperloop design -- despite a much higher standard of construction being required -- calls for only 11.7 miles through the same terrain.

With that sort of difference, Musk is either a knave or a fool -- and he builds spaceships, so he couldn't possibly be a fool.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 6:35 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


There are a few really interesting things about this. He's running about 325kW of power through the fan and the second compressor (small pod), and getting back maybe 50 kW of that as thrust. The other 275kW are absorbed by a steam pot. "Water and steam reservoirs are changed automatically at each stop." Therefore 137.5 kWh (275/2) of energy as steam is released every two minutes at the termini.

Where will the cooling come from? Figuring out how to reject the heat somewhere sounds like a challenge that's glossed over. I suppose a connection to SF Bay water to get rid of the heat could work. Where in LA is similar?

The tube doesn't work if the steam is released inside, the pumping costs would be immense, but -where does the heat go-?
posted by jet_silver at 6:37 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


The faster a vehicle travels, due to rider comfort if nothing else, the straighter it needs to go. The Hyperloop pods, travelling three times as fast as the HSR need curve radii nine times larger to produce the same G forces on riders.

Or you could just go slower. The Grapevine South section proposed for the Hyperloop has a maximum velocity of 300 mph to allow for tighter turns.

The proposed Tejon route calls for 27 miles of tunnel. The Hyperloop design -- despite a much higher standard of construction being required -- calls for only 11.7 miles through the same terrain.


Is it possible that the Hyperloop will be better at traveling at grade? Trains are awful at grades. Steeper grade tolerance translates to less need for tunnels.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:59 PM on August 12, 2013


Still, why not just freight instead of people?

Who the hell needs to ship freight across California at the speed of sound, and how would you make any money serving them when FedEx already offers same-day package delivery for comparatively reasonable prices using existing airport infrastructure?

People care a lot about the time they waste in transit. Most freight doesn't.
posted by Mars Saxman at 7:19 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


So I don't really get the whole NIMBY objection to this. At least according to his plans, that sounds like a tiny issue compared to other infrastructure plans even a fraction of the size.

The key thing is 'according to his plans'. To me, this just reeks of egomaniacal Silicon Valley nonsense. He MUST be smarter than thousands upon thousands of civil engineers, since he invented PayPal, right?*

*As with all crazy plans from egotistical Silicon Valley billionaires, that actually might be the case. In which case, this is awesome and I want it now.
posted by graphnerd at 7:44 PM on August 12, 2013


A couple more items not noted above which would seem to make this invention impractical.

1- You will ride for 30 minutes in what is going to feel like an enclosed roller coaster. Even a little rise or drip in the road is going to be stomach turning at mach 1. After the first passenger throws up, a chain reaction of passenger stomach upset will occur. I'm registering the trademark "Hyperpuke(tm)"
2- Keeping all the tubes properly aligned across big distances in the seismically active, landslide prone, earth shifting soils on California is going to be extremely challenging and expensive. It is already a significant challenge for traditional road and rail infrastructure.
posted by humanfont at 7:45 PM on August 12, 2013


The road and rail lack the advantage of being isolated from the ground by adjustable dampers, though.
posted by ftm at 8:10 PM on August 12, 2013


Straw men about people shitting their pants on a 35 minute ride... hasn't anyone ever been on a plane during takeoff or landing?

Pretty sure the whole dump question's actual answer is it will happen occasionally, like on planes taking off and landing.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:10 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


“I’m just putting this out there as an open source design,” he says...I wish I had not mentioned it.”

He is passionate about space travel.

His space related plans are highly practical, to the point of profitability.

He's been giving a lot of thought to the technical details of a system for accelerating vehicles to hypersonic speeds with "an external linear electric motor." Interesting.

He says he's interested in linear electric motors as part of a mass transit system.

He has apparently given little thought to the logistics of how to practically implement his design as a mass transit system. It's not a serious proposal.

My conclusion: the hyperloop idea is either a throwaway fancy or a deliberate distraction. What he's really planning is an earth-to-orbit railgun.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:15 PM on August 12, 2013 [7 favorites]


You can use the existing footprint of the freeway just fine until it turns, I guess.

He addresses this in the PDF. The route would diverge.
posted by limeonaire at 8:16 PM on August 12, 2013


Then, all those people get out of the capsules in SF and get on bicycles to ride to the hotels. In LA they get on Segues and ride to the golf courses. But what about the guys in Sacramento?--do they get on burros, or what? Okay, maybe you can figure out where to park all the taxis, but somewhere along the way you are going to have to get back on the glutted surface streets and deal with it.

See, back in the Pleistocene days of road-building, our high-finned Oldsmobiles took us there and brought us back--we parked in suburbia, on one side of our two-car garages. Ike's National Defense Highway Network got us linked from sea to shining sea, and all those three-digit interchanges got us around towns--literally round them, I mean--and for a few decades all we had to do was condemn land and put in roads. Now we are in the phase where the roads are either inadequate or under construction, but we don't have any practical places to put new ones. We created suburbia and then had to come up with shopping malls to try and cover that issue, without dealing with the social factors. Okay, we didn't need to, so we didn't. Now we have urban decay and rampant deterioration. We have infrastructural weaknesses in places where we didn't even know we had infrastructure.

(I'm sensing a disconnect here, but I choose to ignore it.)

I like the Star Trek imagery of the HSR. Sure, it's better than hovercars in some ways, but I'm thinking that even though the technology may be sound enough. You can go to LA from San Francisco in 30 minutes, but why? I don't think our transportation system has problems that can be solved by putting more people through more miles in less time. As I see it, the HSR is just another 19th century wet dream, trying to solve a 21st century problem. We shall spend a lot of money on something that, like the freeway system in LA, will be inadequate before its finished.

I will be impressed if we decide to replace I-5 with the HSR, for example, but disappointed that the focus remains on the SF-LA connection. All those billions, just to eat at Fisherman's Wharf? Or attend a meeting and get back home before dark? Can't there be a paradigm-challenge in the offing here somewhere?
posted by mule98J at 8:33 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


That would be a salient point if Elon Musk didn't have a track record of, you know, actually delivering shit. There are Tesla's all over the road out here. SpaceX is launching actual things into space.

How profitable have his businesses been? At some point, you have to make a thing that in one way or another, pays for itself, even if it is a subsidy paid out of extra taxes paid by people enriched by the transportation system.

The problem with this system is how much economic benefit does it generate? It is 4 times faster than a plane, right? But what does 4X faster metropolis to metropolis add? I can't imagine their will be all of these benefits for business created out of the cost savings of spending 35 minutes in transit instead of 4 hours.

Plus, let's look at the politics. Why does HSR still move forward? Because it stops in towns and the station provides business to locals and tourists.

And that's where the subsidy problem exists for Musk. There's zero incentive for anyone outside of San Francisco and LA to want to subsidize this out of tax dollars or with local help in securing right-of-way. The history of railways is replete with locals working to bring the railway to town.

Not here. Sure a few construction jobs, but the train never stops in the towns and counties whose support Musk needs.

This ain't getting made.

Musk's machine is really a solution in search of a problem. Wouldn't it be cool if we could just get there in 35 minutes? Yes, but that doesn't mean people will pay for it.

When I was a kid, I thought we'd have flying cars. In the late '90s I started wondering--why no flying cars?

The answer occured to me reading this excellent discussion--there is really little profit in making cars fly. So a lot of the reason why we don't have stuff like this is that it doesn't really provide people a thing they need bad enough to pay extra for.

Really, we're up against the fundamental flaws of capitalism here--it is very bad at pricing in long term costs like pollution and global warming. Hence, we have the short-term cheapest way to move around--gasoline-powered 4 person vehicles. And so Elon Musk is wildly misapprehending the cost and politics of his machine.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:41 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


The problem with this system is how much economic benefit does it generate? It is 4 times faster than a plane, right? But what does 4X faster metropolis to metropolis add? I can't imagine their will be all of these benefits for business created out of the cost savings of spending 35 minutes in transit instead of 4 hours.

Well it sounds like the LA-SF trips are already happening at huge levels, and the idea here is that (again, using his math), it would be cheaper than either flying or driving.

So, if feasible, there's a pretty clear economic gain from it.
posted by graphnerd at 8:53 PM on August 12, 2013


Well it sounds like the LA-SF trips are already happening at huge levels, and the idea here is that (again, using his math), it would be cheaper than either flying or driving.

I don't see how that could be. There are tons of sunk costs that compare very poorly to aircraft. Similar speeds, similar failure modes, similar need for excellence in engineering to protect against accidents like a plane, but add in the cost of real estate and construction on scales not needed in aviation. Basically, he's putting something as engineered as a jumbo jet in a tube on ground he has to buy. Can't see how this is cheaper. Most importantly, it can't just be marginally cheaper. It has to be way cheaper to pay for all that real estate and physical plant. Something on the order of $35 a seat. (Rule of thumb guess)
posted by Ironmouth at 9:14 PM on August 12, 2013


Seems to me that having a really fast train to LA still leaves you with the problem of how the fuck do you get around LA with no car?
posted by empath at 9:20 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


If they build the deluxe Hyperloop, you can take your car with you. Cost to build the passenger version: 4.06 billion dollars. Cost to build the cargo and vehicle version: 5.31 billion dollars.

If it's only one and a quarter billion more, it would make sense to build the bigger one. People would probably get more use out of it if they could take their cars to the destination, and it would be a lot more comfortable to spend the trip in a padded seat with your favorite tunes playing, instead of a passenger capsule.
posted by Kevin Street at 9:48 PM on August 12, 2013


I want to believe.
posted by homunculus at 9:50 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


jet_silver: Where will the cooling come from? Figuring out how to reject the heat somewhere sounds like a challenge that's glossed over.

It's my read that the vehicle will have a store of cold water which is used to run through a heat exchanger, boiled to steam, and then the steam will be stored on board. The flow chart in the paper shows a 290 kg water reservoir, and a flow rate of 0.14 kg/s which is more than enough to cool the 290 kW compressor for half an hour. Storing 290 kg worth of steam without an enormous or very high pressure tank will be a neat trick.
posted by Popular Ethics at 9:50 PM on August 12, 2013


You can go to LA from San Francisco in 30 minutes, but why?

Maybe you are a wealthy entrepreneur with one business in Palo Alto and another business in Hawthorne, and you have to commute back and forth several times a week, and you're tired of wasting such a substantial amount of your life dealing with airports?
posted by Mars Saxman at 9:57 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


*Storing 290 kg worth of steam without an enormous or very high pressure tank will be a neat trick.*

Yes. And then what? Just vent the steam at 4th and Townsend? Every two minutes?
posted by jet_silver at 9:57 PM on August 12, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can't imagine their will be all of these benefits for business created out of the cost savings of spending 35 minutes in transit instead of 4 hours.

The same argument could be made about the bridges that connect San Francisco to the East Bay and Marin, namely that if people could make the trip in four hours, what's the benefit of doing it in 35 minutes? The bridges are unnecessary.

The difference is that a hell of a lot more people are willing to travel 35 minutes from A to B than are willing to travel four hours. With a connection like this, LA and SF would be practically adjacent.
posted by zippy at 9:58 PM on August 12, 2013



Or Dubai <> Kuwait City - they build genormous stuff by decree of a single Prince.


Getting the right people in Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the UAE to agree on it could be something of a challenge.

I could believe they would do it in Saudi, from Riyadh to Jeddah or Dammam (east coast) to Riydah to Jeddah. They tend to dither around, though, are behind Dubai on the subway front; they've started building one in Riyadh and it's scheduled to open in 2017, 8 years after Dubai's system debuted.

The UAE, home of the world's longest driverless subway system, is really good at getting stuff done, though Dubai to Abu Dhabi is only about 90 miles.
posted by ambient2 at 10:38 PM on August 12, 2013


I think this will change the World as much as the Segway!
posted by homodigitalis at 11:04 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


You Can't Tip a Buick: "So many guys from engineering — and I'm using gendered language deliberately here — why do so many guys from engineering backgrounds look at the complex tangle of social, political, financial, and technical problems involved in building transit systems in built-up areas and think "ah! I see what you're doing wrong! You're using proven, off-the-shelf technology. You should try untested gadgetry instead!""

Because if it was left to everyone else, we'd still be snuggled in furs by the fire to keep the tigers away. Where else is this bright-eyed technology idealism going to come from, politicians?

(I miss the America that said, you know, let's just go ahead and put dudes on the moon for no reason. That's the one that I looked up to from far away as a child. I didn't have to pay the taxes for it though, so there's that. )
posted by vanar sena at 11:15 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


So many guys from engineering — and I'm using gendered language deliberately here — why do so many guys from engineering backgrounds look at the complex tangle of social, political, financial, and technical problems involved in building transit systems in built-up areas and think "ah! I see what you're doing wrong! You're using proven, off-the-shelf technology. You should try untested gadgetry instead!"

I don't mean this as a defense of Musk or as a vote of confidence for the Hyperloop, because as much of a geek as I am I can't even feign an investment in this idea of his. But I think that a general reason for this mindset is the assumption that something is broken in the way the world works today, and that the brokenness has less to do with individuals than it does with systems—that is, something large and fundamental is broken in the world, and unless that large thing is fixed then no solution at all will work.

The fun thing about this assumption, and I'm not saying that assumption is necessarily wrong, is that you can use it to justify all manner of shallow geek-interest as somehow crucial to the future of the universe. Many smart people defend many seemingly silly things as "necessary disruptions" that will make the world whole again. Elon Musk's electric cars strike a blow against gas and oil companies. Facebook strikes a blow aganst the conformity of Fox News and CNN and frees us to form our worldviews within our actual communities. Steve Jobs's obsession with UX is what empowers the idle minds of the universe to create amazing things. Michael Bay's high-kinetic energy filmmaking style frees us from conventions of structure and ritual to focus us on the I can't do this one with a straight face, but you get the idea.

If you think that driving cars is going to lead to earth-shattering global warming, then you want to put an end to cars as fervently as a Jehovah's Witness wants to put an end to your eternal damnation in hellfire. And if trains are too inconvenient to convince people to switch, then instead you decide that the only solution is NEW TECHNOLOGY. Only by the power of NEW TECHNOLOGY can everything be saved, and without NEW TECHNOLOGY no combination of humanity, community, faith, or values will suffice. Again, this is not entirely a stupid way of thinking; our worldviews and cultures do significantly change when new technology is introduced. The meta attempt to recognize that technology provokes change and to find the new big source of disruption is a new thing, but it's no different from trying to change the world through media manipulations or political machinations or big protests or what-have-you. (And by "no different", I mean it's occasionally successful, frequently annoying, and sometimes outright terrifying.)

For what it's worth, you see a lot of people on MetaFilter and elsewhere online combine a skepticism of the tech-will-save us mentality with the cynical attitude towards all the non-tech solutions that could theoretically exist, and the result is somebody who is completely, utterly convinced that we are living in the End Times and that there is no possible hope for our self-damned species. I find that kind of attitude no less annoying than the tech evangelism, but that sort of attitude is basically impossible to dominate the mainstream with—it's never a trend, though it's usually an undercurrent. People usually find it unpleasant to dwell on the possibility that no future can exist. It's a place lots of people in their teens and twenties go to before finding something, whether it's tech or politics or media or God, to latch onto. At which point many of them will assume that only their chosen salvation can be worth a damn, which is when the rest f us stop inviting them to our cheese-and-crackers parties.

Me, I think technology can wreak incredible things sometimes. I don't think the arguing over whether Elon is a genius or a shill is especially productive; the parts of this conversation that are about what this particular solution would entail, how much it would cost, what its competing transportation modes lack, etc., still contain that for-and-against fight that's so deliciously fun to waste time in, but with fewer petty squabbles and more general informing involved. But even my saying that exposes my own core beliefs that knowledge should spread, that worldviews change with information, and that the best way to make the world a better place is to trick people into knowing things. So take everything I have to say with a grain of salt.
posted by Rory Marinich at 11:27 PM on August 12, 2013 [6 favorites]


vanar sena: Oh, bullshit. There's this disease where people get the idea that because they're really, really good in one particular domain of human endeavor, they're therefore authorities in all domains of human endeavor. This guy has it, bad.

Basically I'm not saying his answer to the people moving problem is bad, I'm saying that it's not even wrong. He's released an elaborate statement of how thoroughly he doesn't understand the terms of the problem.

There's nothing here to justify your lazy trope about lone engineers ushering us all out of the darkness. This stuff is timecube. NOT, I stress, because the theoretical idea of theoretically transporting people in vacuum tubes is crazy. But because a theoretical idea for theoretically transporting people in vacuum tubes, built at a price pulled out of thin air, is not in fact a meaningful contribution to any conversation about high speed rail.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:28 PM on August 12, 2013 [5 favorites]


Rory: This technology is not an answer to the question posed, not in a for-technical-reasons sense but in an almost grammatical way. Designing a system to move masses of people hundreds of miles is large-scale industrial production; he's proposing a system that isn't even at the like skunkworks stage. It's a total red herring to divert from that to a conversation on the value of technology in general. Believe you me, I loves some cheap technological fixes, let me tell you.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 11:39 PM on August 12, 2013 [1 favorite]


In all fairness, the idea is a 35 minute trip, not two hours. If you can't hold it in for 35 minutes

Sadly enough, in the real world, outside of nerd fantasies likes this, there are plenty of people who'd need to be in reach of a bathroom all the time, for various medical reasons.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:40 PM on August 12, 2013 [4 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: "There's nothing here to justify your lazy trope about lone engineers ushering us all out of the darkness."

No, I think there is. How much time and money does the guy who founded (and funded) Tesla and SpaceX need to devote to this before he's doing more than just adding to the noise? I mean he does have some background in transportation and related infrastructure.
posted by vanar sena at 11:50 PM on August 12, 2013


I would propose he start by building something instead of getting in the way of legitimate efforts to legitimately build a needed system, which is to say that he'll stop adding to the noise when he starts making something other than noise. Don't hold your breath, though. Proposing this system as a replacement for California HSR is an epically shitty move, because, well, it's not. You can see for yourself, on the face of it, why it's not. It's just more chaff, a proposal to not build anything now because hypothetically, if we don't build anything now, there might be something better to build 40 years from now.

Does Musk, like, own property on the peninsula that backs on the Caltrain line? Serious question.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:02 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Musk's machine is really a solution in search of a problem. Wouldn't it be cool if we could just get there in 35 minutes?

What struck warning signs to me, other than, you know, the whole kewl sci-finess of it in the first place, was that Musk argued that this was the ideal solution for cities less than 1500 km apart and beyond that supersonic planes would be better.

Supersonic passenger airplanes failed in the sixties.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:12 AM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


So here's what we really do. We dig a tunnel in a direct straight line between LA and SF. I mean, a straight line, rather than one that follows the (curved) surface of the earth. To make this feasible, I propose a Manhattan Project level of investment in materials that can stand up to the massive heat and pressure experienced deep below the surface of the earth.

Pump any air out of the tube and drop a maglev vehicle down; the trip between the two cities will take approximately 42 minutes.

Now, where this gets really cool: it's mathematically provable that any straight-line trip between any two pairs of points on the Earth's surface will also take about 42 minutes. So we dig SF and LA to NYC tubes, and SF and LA and NYC to London, and Tokyo to Paris, and what have you. 42 minutes for all these trips.

aw yeah who's cooler than Elon Musk yep it's this guy.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 12:27 AM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


scrump: "A lot of us who, you know, actually live here in California think that the HSR proposal deserves to be crapped on..."

Yeah, I'm not gonna defend California HSR (and, yes, I live in California, and I have taken Amtrak from the Bay Area to Fresno and that's got enough problems that now I just plan on driving instead), it's just that this has all the hallmarks of being a trial run for something like the T. Boone Pickens Isn't Making Enough Money So Let's Subsidize Fracking proposition (I guess that was 2008's Prop 10) that was almost viable a few years ago. We've got a number of publicly financed boondoggles in the $x*1010 to $x*1012 (and up) range, from the Bay Bridge fiasco to HSR to... well...

The point is that this is like a candidate saying "I'm not running for office yet, I'm just trying to figure out if I should". This is putting out a large scale infrastructure spending proposal, with a set of back-of-the-envelope numbers that don't pass the most basic sniff test for even costing the same order of magnitude as what he's claiming, in a state that's known because of the proposition process for making some really stupid direct democracy sorts of decisions.

We need to shut that down hard, because otherwise we're going to end up with a 2.5% Hyperloop sales tax when those dollars could be going to something way more useful.

Let somebody else be the North Haverbrook of this particular Simpsons episode.
posted by straw at 12:31 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


There's this disease where people get the idea that because they're really, really good in one particular domain of human endeavor, they're therefore authorities in all domains of human endeavor. This guy has it, bad.

Engineer's disease. Smart people who are good and knowledgeable about their chosen domain of expertise are vulnerable to thinking that because they're smart enough to see through Discovery Channel level pop science explenations of things outside this domain, they therefore understand this better than the real experts.

This is annoying enough when it's just your cow-orker talking about how evolution is obviously wrong because of "what good is half an eye", more so when the guy catching it is somebody like Musk and people actually have to take his ideas half serious.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:37 AM on August 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


Engineer's disease. Smart people who are good and knowledgeable about their chosen domain of expertise are vulnerable to thinking that because they're smart enough to see through Discovery Channel level pop science explenations of things outside this domain, they therefore understand this better than the real experts.

Of course, Musk already reduced cost to orbit by a lot more than NASA could and also made a good electric car. Say what you like, but he does actually have a record of going into industries and successfully disrupting them in exactly the way you're suggesting is impossible/improbable/hubris.

I'll also note that ad hom is incredibly lazy thinking.
posted by jaduncan at 1:05 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: "I would propose he start by building something instead of getting in the way of legitimate efforts to legitimately build a needed system, which is to say that he'll stop adding to the noise when he starts making something other than noise. Don't hold your breath, though."

I'm not, I'm happy to wait until he launches the world's best heavy lifter next year - I imagine that and the Tesla have tied up his resources at the moment. Meanwhile, I'm not terribly familiar with California politics, but if this 60-page technical outline jeopardizes the existing project, I put it to you that Musk is not your real problem and that your indignation is misplaced.
posted by vanar sena at 1:22 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


So here's what we really do. We dig a tunnel in a direct straight line [...] deep below the surface of the earth.

NUMBY. Not under my back yard.
posted by victory_laser at 1:31 AM on August 13, 2013


This new thing that this guy does in the field he specializes in has at least some merit, therefore this old idea (seriously, vacuum tubes are old tech) that said guy has in a field that he doesn't specialize in is worth listening to, also.

Never mind that:
  1. It's an old idea,
  2. that would cost many trillions of dollars to actually implement.
If you say otherwise, you're making an ad hominem argument.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:01 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


For those ignorant of California politics: you're missing the actual content of this paper and the associated press releases. It dogwhistles like crazy, and it's all about rallying public opinion against HSR. This is the only actual content; everything else about it falls into the category of "fun but unworkable idea that a thousand people have had before," like my idea from upthread about trains that travel on chord lines through the mantle of the earth.

Seriously, can you imagine if highway projects got this level of loud public crankery directed at them?
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:08 AM on August 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


You Can't Tip a Buick: you could have said the same about a Paypal engineer and either electric cars or launchers. Of course he says he can do it cheaper, it's because he hates NASA.

People criticising the numbers based on specifics are contributing something valuable. People criticising it as a conservative plot are not so much. It's out there for peer review; if it's so obviously unrealistic then the high quality response papers will point that out. Maybe they won't even take the 'car maker plot, wake up sheeple' basis for argument.
posted by jaduncan at 2:49 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


People mistaking cynicism for intelligence?
posted by panaceanot at 2:50 AM on August 13, 2013


You Can't Tip a Buick: "For those ignorant of California politics: you're missing the actual content of this paper and the associated press releases."

I've read the paper fairly closely. He mentions the HRT at the start quite a lot and it seems to me that his complaints boil down to it being poor value for money based on his projections. This seems like an acceptable thing to argue about on both sides - there are some criticisms here in the thread that seem perfectly valid.

But when you use terms like "dogwhistle", I'm assuming you mean he has a more sinister personal vendetta against the HRT. Is that true? I'd like to know if there's some other related history which supports that, since I'm not seeing it in the paper itself.
posted by vanar sena at 3:02 AM on August 13, 2013


(Replace HRT with HSR in the above - been spending too much time researching our local BRT)
posted by vanar sena at 3:09 AM on August 13, 2013


The ride is just about long enough to watch a video of a TED talk!
posted by thelonius at 4:15 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Something on the order of $35 a seat. (Rule of thumb guess)

Again, he claims that it would ~$20 a ticket, and would cost on the order of a few billions, not trillions to build.

Is that realistic? My gut reaction is that it couldn't possible be true; that there's no way to have even the vaguest clue for something so radically new and unproven. But if you want to argue specifics about the economic benefit of this, it'd be helpful to have some evidence, rather than just baseless assumptions.

(Again, I do think that this is an egregious and bonkers example of billionaire engineer's disease. The tolerances required are insane and would probably make even the most minor of errors catastrophic. But I don't think that Musk is doing this out of ill will, and I trust that he's at least cognizant of the need for it to be economically viable.)
posted by graphnerd at 4:36 AM on August 13, 2013


I'm in no position to do so as someone who doesn't live in California, but wouldn't it be a valuable exercise to evaluate the idea of raised HSR (which China is doing across the country) as an option for the Californian route? No semi-evacuated tubes... just what seems on paper (napkin?) as a plausible alternative to plowing a trainline through the (understandable) NIMBYs.
posted by panaceanot at 4:48 AM on August 13, 2013


But because a theoretical idea for theoretically transporting people in vacuum tubes, built at a price pulled out of thin air, is not in fact a meaningful contribution to any conversation about high speed rail.

Umm. The price is to build a raised 6' diameter pipeline from LA to SF tracking existing highway infrastructure to get around eminent domain issues, cribbed from the inch/mile price for existing raised oil pipeline, factoring in the differences in construction required for corrosive and toxic oil at high pressure vs. air at low pressure.

I agree that Texas and the Plains States are the right testbeds for this, tho - he needs to link Houston to Dallas to prove this thing works before it will get a sniff anywhere else. Or from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay.
posted by Slap*Happy at 5:15 AM on August 13, 2013


You Can't Tip a Buick: a theoretical idea for theoretically transporting people in vacuum tubes, built at a price pulled out of thin air, is not in fact a meaningful contribution to any conversation about high speed rail.

You Can't Tip a Buick: that would cost many trillions of dollars to actually implement.

What exactly, to the nearest psi, was the air pressure of wherever you pulled that price from?
posted by logopetria at 5:58 AM on August 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


I see that the most important question hasn't been asked yet: can I buy my 'loop tickets with bitcoins?
posted by octobersurprise at 6:40 AM on August 13, 2013


Hyperloop Update: Elon Musk Will Start Developing It Himself. Musk claims a working demo possible in a year, seven years to build the full system for $6 billion.
posted by Nelson at 7:09 AM on August 13, 2013


Popcorn at my place, guys!
posted by entropicamericana at 7:32 AM on August 13, 2013


Musk already reduced cost to orbit by a lot more than NASA could and also made a good electric car.

It always helps when the precursor technology has several decades of expertise and refinement.

I don't know whether this is just engineer-ego hubris or a cleverly disguised con job. I do know that it is wildly naive about building things that cover 300 miles of land versus building them in a factory or hangar: we're talking more like nuclear reactors in terms of the combination of scale and precision here. Not even Elon Musk can magic up thousands of construction workers from his imagination.

And like Nelson said, it's shitting over the HSR project in a way that's both irresponsible and offensive.
posted by holgate at 7:34 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Despite the arrogance and rudeness
I hold with those whose flaw is hubris.
posted by ~ at 7:50 AM on August 13, 2013


we're talking more like nuclear reactors in terms of the combination of scale and precision here

No, we're talking an elevated pipeline, which is a very, very long way from being new, unproven or nuclear-reactor-like in terms of scale and precision.

On the one hand, the diameter will need to be 6'-8' rather than 4'. On the other, it won't be dealing with 85 million gallons of crude going through it every day.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:07 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Yellow card, incomplete compilation of variables involved.

Go back to evidentiary, rerun analysis. Repeat first down.
posted by Slackermagee at 8:07 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


An elevated pipeline with human beings hurtling through it at 800mph. How hard could that be?

Wall Street Journal's article says "He estimates that he could build a prototype in three to four years."
posted by Nelson at 8:22 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Again with the subsidies in that article. I haven't been down to Silicon Valley since 2009, but last time I looked, there was nary a toll road in sight. Where are these Tesla-owned roads that everybody drives his cars on? Let me guess, he built them in less than four years for a tenth of it what it would have cost the government?
posted by entropicamericana at 8:31 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


This thread is absolutely hilarious. Seething engineer hate. AND HE'S A MAN! You know about those male engineers, right? And he's rich, so it must be only useful for the rich. I know rich white male engineers, so I know that this is a ploy to undermine HSR. Obviously it can't work, because I have narrow experience in this type of policy or this type of transit, so I can apply my narrow experience in this new thing; obviously Musk is just suffering Engineer's Disease (yes yes obviously it's Musk with the disease, not me, I've spent an entire 15 seconds thinking about this idea and an entire career in this other area).

We need a whole lot less of traditional US-style transportation design, because US transportation is terrible. We need a whole lot less of traditional style US NIMBYism. We need a whole lot less reactionary and unfounded skepticism by people who have no clue what they're talking about except for distantly related experiences, or no experience at all. We need a whole lot less of intentionally dysfunctional government. We need a whole lot fewer people saying that the government can never work, that we can never ever get together and have nice things, because such anti-government screeds are self-fulfilling and self-destructive.

We need something new, better, more carbon efficient. A pox on the house of everyone who is standing needlessly and selfishly in the way. There are plenty of idiots who doubted Tesla and SpaceX and spouted all sorts of supposedly-sound impossibility arguments based on their experience in this or that. The skepticism here may be thick, but poke at if or a second and it is merely fog, a lightweight and easily dissipated air. Can't anyone cast some real, solid skepticism on this? Am I going to believe the cost estimates of internet-forum-expert who has never built a thing, or the one who's built the first real electric car, turning a profit, in an industry where's supposedly impossible to get a start? Am I going to believe that somehow HSR can get a route going, but it's just impossible for an elevated tube with orders of magnitude less demand for land to get right-of-way?

Each online community seems to have it's own interesting way of heaping doubt and scorn on this. Some are afraid of terrorism. Some are afraid of holding their bladder and bowels for 35 minutes. Some are afraid of not being able to stand for that amount of time, despite most likely driving for a longer time this morning. Some are afraid that an engineer is having ideas. It's this last worldview that's saddest for me, as it's such a misplaced and misguided attitude.

I am excited by the possibility that in 20 years, the world will be more convenient and sustainable in this small way. I think that it's a good thing to explore this direction, and I think that most people would agree with me. If you don't, that's fine, move to the woods and live a less convenient life, or whatever. The world has never been a static place, it has always been changing, and I oppose the reactionary conservatism exhibited in this thread with every fiber of my being, and in every thing I do. The Hyperloop thing may never work out, but what's the point in attempting to heap scorn on it now? Best case, the scorn was deserved, and time was wasted with negative feelings. Worst case, the scorn was undeserved, and time was wasted getting in the way of a significant advancement.
posted by Llama-Lime at 8:47 AM on August 13, 2013 [13 favorites]


twjordan: "Straw men about people shitting their pants on a 35 minute ride"

HYPERPOOP.
posted by gertzedek at 8:52 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


We need a whole lot less of traditional US-style transportation design, because US transportation is terrible.

I don't think anybody here disagrees, least of the all the HyperLoop (Interslice?) detractors.

We need a whole lot less of traditional style US NIMBYism.

See above.

We need a whole lot less reactionary and unfounded skepticism by people who have no clue what they're talking about except for distantly related experiences, or no experience at all.

I know, I wish people would give CA HSR a chance. What? Oh.

We need a whole lot less of intentionally dysfunctional government. We need a whole lot fewer people saying that the government can never work, that we can never ever get together and have nice things, because such anti-government screeds are self-fulfilling and self-destructive.

Agreed.

The skepticism here may be thick, but poke at if or a second and it is merely fog, a lightweight and easily dissipated air.

Many different people in this thread have brought forth a myriad of different reasons why this proposal is ludicrous, many of them more cogent than mine.

Am I going to believe the cost estimates of internet-forum-expert who has never built a thing,

I'm pretty sure there's some real honest-to-good transit engineers here and people who have experience with capital projects, infrastructure, and budgetary analysis. Does this sound like a fully-baked proposal to you:
"It was very much a background task—it was not anybody’s full-time job,” he [Musk] said. “We were just batting it around in the background at SpaceX and Tesla and then in the last few weeks we ended up allocating some full-time days to it."

the one who's built the first real electric car

I'm glad Thomas Davenport is keeping busy and I wish he would share his secret to longevity with us.

Some are afraid that an engineer is having ideas. It's this last worldview that's saddest for me, as it's such a misplaced and misguided attitude.

This is not the case. I bet everyone here loves engineers having ideas. It's when they have bad ideas about things they haven't really studied that people get irked.

We do not need to completely re-invent the wheel when there are perfectly good solutions in place and working in Europe and Asia.

Incidentally, a Google search is seeing a commonly repeated assertion that Tesla and SpaceX, survive on government subsidies to the tune of $465M for Tesla and $278M for SpaceX, for a grand total of $743M or nearly 3/4 of a billion in tax-payer money. I don't know how true that is, but if it is, it should cast serious aspersions on Musk's Randian superhero status and his bashing of HSR subsidies.

Also, won't somebody please think of the rich, white male engineers?
posted by entropicamericana at 9:16 AM on August 13, 2013 [9 favorites]


Nelson: An elevated pipeline with human beings hurtling through it at 800mph. How hard could that be?

Yeah, it's not as if Japan's maglev system is pushing incremental gains up to 300mph over a construction timescale of 20 years.

Llama-Lime: Am I going to believe the cost estimates of internet-forum-expert who has never built a thing

...or the cost estimates of someone who has never done a large-scale transport construction project? As has been pointed out upthread, building cars is a lot easier than building roads, which is why driving your Model Ts looked like this for a while.

(And Tesla's profits are, let's be honest, helped by various bits of creative accountancy.)

I am excited by the possibility that in 20 years, the world will be more convenient and sustainable in this small way.

Oh, go take a ride on a Segway.
posted by holgate at 9:22 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


entropicamericana: "I'm pretty sure there's some real honest-to-good transit engineers here and people who have experience with capital projects, infrastructure, and budgetary analysis."

I dunno man, some of the loudest "engineer's disease" folks here have clearly failed to read the proposal enough to grasp that it's not remotely like the old pneumatic tubes (hint keywords: compressor fan, linear induction). This is not entirely PhD-level discourse going on.

What I still don't get is how a report produced by "very much a background task" can be so influential that it could kill the existing HSR project. What delicate flower is this that 60 pages of Engineer's Disease will cause it to wither away forlorn?
posted by vanar sena at 9:32 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Some are afraid that an engineer is having ideas. It's this last worldview that's saddest for me, as it's such a misplaced and misguided attitude.

Is this deadpan satire or a persecution complex? I can't really tell.
posted by octobersurprise at 9:35 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


There's one solid non-technical reason why "swooping in and reinventing the wheel" sometimes works really well: organizational inertia.

GM and Ford and Toyota could have created the Tesla, they obviously had the engineering know-how and more than enough capital to throw at it. Yet they didn't.

Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Arianespace likewise had access to the same decades of aeronautics research and development that let SpaceX get to orbit for so much less money yet somehow they didn't manage more than incremental improvements.

Dispatching cabs is probably the third or fourth most obvious thing to do with a new communications technology yet it took years of cab companies not doing it before Uber got involved.

Comcast certainly could have given people fiber-like speeds for an order of magnitude less than they charge yet obviously they didn't until Google Fiber forced their hand.

Likewise Sears could have been Amazon, Kodak decided not to pursue their invention of the digital camera, and Xerox decided there was no business in this whole 'personal computer' fad.

In all cases except Comcast I think you can primarily attribute this to organizations getting big and old enough to be basically impossible to change course. There are too many vested interests in the company continuing to make buggy whips that will prevent any kind of change.

In Comcast's case it's because they're assholes in addition to those structural difficulties.

So when some engineer of any gender or ethnicity swoops in and says "the way this billion dollar industry has been doing things for decades is just wrong" they're not saying they've got some super-amazing high tech "only I can do this" type of magic wand, they're saying this is what the incumbent industry would be doing (or at least trying) if they were organizationally capable of it.

Maybe the hyperloop won't work. I don't know enough to do more than a back-of-the-envelope order-of-magnitude estimation that glosses over many difficulties. (It seems broadly similar to the trans-Alaska pipeline, bigger gauge and more expensive land but not in, you know, Alaska. That was built in 2 years for ~$8 billion). But I'm pretty sure that the existing institutions that make decisions on this scale are completely incapable of evaluating any suggestion that's more than incrementally different from what has gone before.
posted by Skorgu at 9:40 AM on August 13, 2013 [8 favorites]


I know rich white male engineers, so I know that this is a ploy to undermine HSR

That's funny, I flagged this as a ploy to undermine HSR based on the very first sentence in Musk's announcement. "When the California “high speed” rail was approved, I was quite disappointed".

As a rich white male engineer myself, I'm trying to figure out why you think it's appropriate to describe Musk's economic status, race, gender, and profession as the reason some of us here are skeptical of the HyperLoop announcement. I guess you're accusing me of racism? Or classism or something? Maybe I'm self-loathing. Or maybe I'm just an engineer who understands the difference between a practical engineering plan and a promising but completely untested idea.
posted by Nelson at 9:52 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Does the Hyperloop even make sense for California?
posted by homunculus at 9:55 AM on August 13, 2013


if you think someone, anyone, can build Hyperloop for $6 billion first you have to explain why the much technically less complex existing high speed rail proposal costs over 10x as much.

Basically, if building Hyperloop from SF to LA costs $6B, a regular train should cost $5B because it's all proven, understood technology, right?
posted by GuyZero at 9:55 AM on August 13, 2013 [5 favorites]


I dunno...the monorail at Disneyland is starting to show it's age...this would make a swell replacement.
posted by littlejohnnyjewel at 9:55 AM on August 13, 2013


What I still don't get is how a report produced by "very much a background task" can be so influential that it could kill the existing HSR project. What delicate flower is this that 60 pages of Engineer's Disease will cause it to wither away forlorn?

It's pretty fucking delicate. I think the people living in a fantasy world are the ones who think that the CA HSR line is actually going to be built. And I say that as an enthusiastically pro-HSR Californian.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:02 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Basically, if building Hyperloop from SF to LA costs $6B, a regular train should cost $5B because it's all proven, understood technology, right?

Well a 2014 Honda Accord costs $39,780 so I expect a 2013 Kenworth T680 to cost $35,000 because it's a year older.
posted by Skorgu at 10:03 AM on August 13, 2013


I bet these guys are screaming inside right now:

Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies
posted by drwelby at 10:11 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


To elaborate on my snarky reply there the hyperloop PDF lists a full, passenger-only capusle as weighting 15,000 kg or ~16 tons.

The lightest TGV train is 415 tons in 10 cars. A structure that can hold 16 tons and a structure that can hold 415 tons might cost slightly different amounts of money, no?
posted by Skorgu at 10:16 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Allright, here's why I'm skeptical of this idea.

1) First, this is brochureware, a completely untried, untested idea to solve a problem whichw e know is hard to solve even with already existing, proven technology. It's not difficult to make vapourware look good, because as long as it only exists on paper you can claim what you like for it, while the flaws in existing technology are well known and quantifiable. We know how much it costs per kilometre to build a high speed railway, because it's been done and even before the first commercially viable route was opened there had been years of trials, dead ends and hard graft making it possible, none of which has yet happened for this series of tubes Musk proposes.

In general, it pays to be skeptical of radical new solutions to old and entrenched problems, especially when proposed by people with no real domain knowledge of that problem. The archives of Popular Mechanics are littered with the corpses of similar big ideas. It's of course no surprise that these ideas keep cropping up, because a cheap technofix that promises to do everything right without side effects is always seductive. Luckily I'm a software tester and is it my job to smash the sweet innocence of over optimistic developers with the harsh reality of the real world, so I'm less susceptible to this.

(There's also the equally seductive myth of the canny outsider who sees what's possible while the experts are bound by what they know is impossible of course.)

2) Second, yes, we do need to look at who proposes this radical new idea. It is a strike against this idea that it's Elon Musk who proposes this and not just because he has no background in public transport, but also because of his track record. Like Steve Jobs, Musk gets far too much credit for ideas that are not nearly as radical as his fans think they are, when in reality they are built on a foundation of hard work by the companies and engineers that came before them.

Musk deserves a lot of kudos for the work he did with SpaceX and Tesla Motors, but both companies offer evolutionary refinements of existing concepts (better, cheaper rockets, better, cheaper, faster electric cars) rather than the radicial innovation they're presented as.

Even if you do believe the Dragon and Falcon rockets, or the Lotus electric care are more innovative than I give them credit for, they are still a far cry from proposing an entirely new, untested transport system as a replacement for the largely proven if far from perfect high speed railways. It is therefore hard to argue his track record shows he could do this when he has never done something like this.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:21 AM on August 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


Forgot to mention: for this sort of radical, new, unproven alternative to an already existing, imperfect technology, it is always claimed that the political or sociological problems of the latter won't affect the former, because of reasons. That in itself is a red flag for me.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:23 AM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


An elevated pipeline with human beings hurtling through it at 800mph. How hard could that be?

Based on the proposed design, probably an order of magnitude easier than 85 million gallons of crude oil on a daily basis - that's 595 tons of viscous, sticky, corrosive, toxic mess.

The tricky bits are the onboard controls on the capsule, which will need to be highly automated. What's being poo-poo'd as impossible - safety and integrity - seems like the easy part. Power distribution, monitoring tunnel integrity and putting in emergency valves at regular intervals to gradually increase the tunnel's air pressure along its length in the event of a breach while communicating a brake command to the capsules, is pretty old-hat stuff. (No, sorry, a breach - even a tunnel sever - is far from instantaneous death for everyone inside.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:23 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


A structure that can hold 16 tons and a structure that can hold 415 tons might cost slightly different amounts of money, no?

A train track is a pile of gravel, a bunch of concrete ties and a couple of steel rails. It supports 415 tons pretty easily.

I can't really give you a complete answer as to why such an amazingly simple structure ends up costing several million dollars a mile to build, but empirically it does. I don't see how making the structure more complex is going to make it cheaper.
posted by GuyZero at 10:23 AM on August 13, 2013


Basically, if building Hyperloop from SF to LA costs $6B, a regular train should cost $5B because it's all proven, understood technology, right?

From drwelby's link, a direct comparison of traditional rail (TR) and evacuated-tube technology (ETT). It's all still spitballing at this stage, as no one has actually built one, but the ET3 folks are estimating order of magnitude or more improvements in cost per passenger. There appears to be, in this sketch at least, if not from Musk, some serious estimating of costs.

Someone actually has to build a test track, however, rather than just sending out pressers or newsletters, before anything more can really be said one way or the other.
posted by bonehead at 10:25 AM on August 13, 2013


Also forgot to mention, a special case for new innovative public transport solutions that's also a warning sign: does it want to disregard all the strengths of existing public transport (transporting many people cheaply) for a sort of pseudo taxi/car system? Like that capsule thingie Seattle was going for?
posted by MartinWisse at 10:26 AM on August 13, 2013


It's all still spitballing at this stage

I'm going to need more than spitballing to accept that it'll cost $1.25M per km for a tube system vs $17M/km for traditional rail.
posted by GuyZero at 10:30 AM on August 13, 2013


that's 595 tons of viscous, sticky, corrosive, toxic mess

How fast does that 595 tons move? Kinetic energy might be a better comparison.

And those pipelines can handle thermal expansion via simple expansion loops, since that fluid can go around corners.
posted by drwelby at 10:30 AM on August 13, 2013


I can't really give you a complete answer as to why such an amazingly simple structure ends up costing several million dollars a mile to build, but empirically it does. I don't see how making the structure more complex is going to make it cheaper.

Respectfully the reason you can't explain why it's so expensive is that you think it's just a pile of gravel and some rails. There's an enormous amount of engineering that goes into supporting the load of hundreds of tons of rail car moving at hundreds of miles an hour day-in and day-out.

Why does it seem so unbelievable that needing to support an order of magnitude less weight might end up reducing construction costs?
posted by Skorgu at 10:33 AM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


So this thing is going to sit on pylons that will be anchored well into the ground in existing ROWs which probably already have existing cables and pipelines routed down them?
posted by drwelby at 10:42 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I can't really give you a complete answer as to why such an amazingly simple structure ends up costing several million dollars a mile to build, but empirically it does.

Trains are very big, very heavy and exert tremendous ground pressure. Tolerances for high-speed rail are measured in tenths of millimeters. It's expensive to put high force and high precision in the same design. The evacuated tube designs (Musk's and ET3's) both greatly reduce the forces involved and also reduce the tolerances needed. That's also why this is only for single capsules weighing a few tonnes. That's where both these sketches get their savings from, less construction and materials required for much lower forces, using mag-lev or pressure to mediate the tolerances.

Notice that they're not talking about handling 250-ton freightcars as rail does. Even high-speed trains are in the 250-400 t range for 300-750 passengers each. These low-number passenger capsules are how both proposals are knocking down the line costs, kind of like the Seattle system mentioned above.
posted by bonehead at 10:46 AM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


What's being poo-poo'd as impossible - safety and integrity - seems like the easy part. Power distribution, monitoring tunnel integrity and putting in emergency valves at regular intervals to gradually increase the tunnel's air pressure along its length in the event of a breach while communicating a brake command to the capsules, is pretty old-hat stuff. (No, sorry, a breach - even a tunnel sever - is far from instantaneous death for everyone inside.)

Its the acquiring of the right-of-way that is the impossible part. What's in it for the locals in whose areas the train will be built? He's just gonna get a right-of-way from farmers and local land owners how? Local governments who have zero incentive to help because the hyperloop only stops in LA and SF? If I was a private land owner, I would pull out every stop to not have this dude build his train on my land. Every stop includes legislative votes against any exercise of eminent domain to acquire any land in the district which my representative represents. Also as Musk pointed out--there is simply no way he can just follow the right of way. It often turns too sharply for the vehicle he designed.

Politics count here. And this is exactly what he ignores.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:55 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


that's 595 tons of viscous, sticky, corrosive, toxic mess

It is also a project that pays for itself in months. They can drive truckloads of cash into an area where they need right-of-way. People sign things over for money. No money? No pipeline.
posted by Ironmouth at 10:56 AM on August 13, 2013


Politics count here. And this is exactly what he ignores.

The idea is run it over the existing highway infrastructure to minimize the need for new rights of way. He doesn't ignore it, the whole idea is (IMO) structured around minimizing this impact.
posted by Skorgu at 11:03 AM on August 13, 2013


The idea is run it over the existing highway infrastructure to minimize the need for new rights of way. He doesn't ignore it, the whole idea is (IMO) structured around minimizing this impact.

Except that he specifically acknowledges that he will have to deviate from the highway. Minimizing is all well and good, but no matter what this project will need to get LOTS of ROWs.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:06 AM on August 13, 2013


Yes, that's why I said minimize and not eliminate. Fewer rights of way mean more flexibility to route around intransigent land owners in addition to just spending less time and money in the larger scope. Additionally pylons and air rights might be an easier sell than a 100' wide, uninterrupted, exclusive-use right of way.
posted by Skorgu at 11:12 AM on August 13, 2013


Right-of-way/Impact/Environmental assessment is absolutely a huge driver here. Even highly experienced companies underestimate this by factors of ten in time and money. Look at how long the Keystone XL pipeline approval is taking. The technical issues there are all solvable. It's all about political, economic and environmental risks.
posted by bonehead at 11:13 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


it only takes one landowner on a critical piece of land to stop an entire 1,000 mile rail project. Or a chunk of environmentally sensitive land in the wrong spot.

Additionally pylons and air rights might be an easier sell than a 100' wide, uninterrupted, exclusive-use right of way.

As if NIMBYs are rational actors and not a) opposed to anything or b) simply attempting to blackmail a huge project in order to get their chunk of all that money.

Plus environmental assessments, which have derailed many, many public works projects in California. They're easy to dismiss until you look at them closely and after looking at a few you basically come to the conclusion that nothing in California bigger than a breadbox will probably get built, ever, on empty land.
posted by GuyZero at 11:15 AM on August 13, 2013


Politics count here. And this is exactly what he ignores.

The idea is run it over the existing highway infrastructure to minimize the need for new rights of way. He doesn't ignore it, the whole idea is (IMO) structured around minimizing this impact.


The road right-of-way turns far too sharply for a machine crusing at 800 MPH. He acknowleged as much in the presentation. Where its straight, yes, he'll use it. But otherwise where's it gonna go? Some farmer's land? A vinter's fields? They are gonna say hell no to just letting some dude with an accent make a shiny new toy on their land.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:33 AM on August 13, 2013


What are the fights like in CA for spot location of big windmills? They're pretty popular along the St. Lawrence, as they provide a fair bit of income to farmers. I imagine the deals the transit people would want to strike are similar.

One contrast between this and rail is also that HS rail needs a wide corridor, as much as half to one mile wide, to properly stabilize the railbed, apparently. If this is really just a matter (still to be proven) of a a few pylons, that's a much smaller footprint.
posted by bonehead at 11:38 AM on August 13, 2013


We dig a tunnel in a direct straight line between LA and SF. I mean, a straight line, rather than one that follows the (curved) surface of the earth. To make this feasible, I propose a Manhattan Project level of investment in materials that can stand up to the massive heat and pressure experienced deep below the surface of the earth.

Yes! It took 20 years to build the Alameda-Weehawken Burrito Tunnel, but we proved it could be done.
posted by jjwiseman at 11:38 AM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


The idea is run it over the existing highway infrastructure to minimize the need for new rights of way. He doesn't ignore it, the whole idea is (IMO) structured around minimizing this impact.

How do you build a pipeline over an incredibly busy freeway without constantly disrupting traffic? What about the other utilities, like telephone and electric power, who also often build in these ROW and who won't want to be disrupted (it's a lot easier to run a cable over a freeway than to weld a pipeline, by the way).


Here's obvious logistical problem number N (is it eight we're up to now?) - where do the cars go? This has nothing to do with technical wizardry, it's a very simple math problem.

The Hyperloop paper suggests 6 million people travelling; let's say it's proportional to population and 4 million live in southern California, 2 million in the Bay. Let's assume a high vehicle occupancy of 1.5 people per vehicle (if an entire family of 5 is travelling, taking the shared car is much cheaper than buying 5 tickets for any shared mode, which is why shared modes like air and rail are dominated by single travellers for short distances). So that's 2.7 million cars; average trip duration is 2 nights, so that's 8 million car-days of parking needed. If there's an even distribution (it's not -- think about Thanksgiving), that's 22,000 cars parked at the station at any one time. Dodger Stadium has a parking capacity of 16,000, for comparison. Here's Dodger Stadium, here's Sylmar, both at the same zoom level. (Keep in mind you need 36% more parking than Dodger Stadium.)

Where do you put this parking lot? Where do you account for the cost of building the multi acre, multi story parking facility?

This is not a problem to the same degree with HSR for several reasons. The first is simply that there are several stations serving a metro area -- I think 6 in LA -- and finding six places that add up to 22K parking stalls is easier than doing it all in one place. (The Fresno HSR station has about 4,000 stalls in the station area plan, for example.) Furthermore, as you have more stations, other modes become easier -- taxi, for instance, is distance based. A taxi from Irvine to Sylmar is on the order of $250 one way, if you can get the cabbie to do it. If there's a station in Anaheim, that is a taxi ride closer to $50, which people might take, if parking is at airport rates. One HSR stop is planned to be at LA Union Station, which is the best connected transit node in southern California. (Which is a lot like being the coolest guy at the comic convention; it used to be a very dubious honour, but is much less dubious these days -- especially after the Regional Connector project brings the rest of the major transit likes to LAUS). For airports, there's a combination of solutions; to start with, there's four or five airports in southern California and three in the Bay so the problem is dispersed; further, there are some transit connections, and finally, some airports are just surrounded by acres of parking; here's LAX at the same scale as above. The difference is that the parking is already there and was built with the airport, and you don't have to buy and bulldoze half a city to put it there.

Just another simple, humble technical problem that isn't high-tech and cool, so is ignored.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:40 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


HS rail needs a wide corridor, as much as half to one mile wide, to properly stabilize the railbed, apparently

What? No. One mile is 5, 280 feet. HSR likes to have 100 feet, but up on the Peninsula, it can squeeze into less than that.

I've ridden HSR in Japan and Spain and I promise you the ROW was nowhere near a mile wide.
posted by ambrosia at 11:43 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


I don't know what more you'd like Ironmouth; you either have 100 right of way problems with HSR or you have, I dunno, 20 with hyperloop. It doesn't have to be zero to be an improvement.
posted by Skorgu at 11:50 AM on August 13, 2013


you either have 100 right of way problems with HSR or you have, I dunno, 20 with hyperloop. It doesn't have to be zero to be an improvement.

You are correct. Musk's proposal posits zero problems.
posted by GuyZero at 11:54 AM on August 13, 2013


(A straight line tunnel between SF & LA would be about 337 miles long, and at its deepest point, about 10 miles south of Coalinga, would be 3.6 miles deep--Only 50% deeper than the deepest mine in the world. We can do this!)
posted by jjwiseman at 11:56 AM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


You're right, the Caltrain ROW proposal seems to be about 120 ft average, not exceeding 300 feet. I'd seen some figures for unconsolidated ground improvements, apparently.
posted by bonehead at 11:56 AM on August 13, 2013


Homeboy Trouble, the problem of all those extra cars actually has a super high-tech and cool solution: Autonomous cars that drive themselves home (eventually they're not personal vehicles at all, everyone just uses the fleet of autonomous taxis).
posted by jjwiseman at 11:58 AM on August 13, 2013


You can also just, you know, have mass transit to the hyperport, and charge enough money for parking that people will use it.
posted by Space Coyote at 12:08 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't know what more you'd like Ironmouth; you either have 100 right of way problems with HSR or you have, I dunno, 20 with hyperloop. It doesn't have to be zero to be an improvement.

This is where the setup counts--HSR stops in places near where the right-of-way goes. Hyperloop does not. This means local business leaders and politicians have an interest in getting the train nearby and can set up land swaps and the like. A nearby train station generates revenue and towns like it. Hyperloop only stops at its terminus. The farther you get from the terminus, the less likely you will get any sort of help. If I own a vinyard 200 miles away from a stop I will sue like crazy to stop someone from forcing me to accept giant pylons on my land. Plus the speed limits the amount of deviations you can have to more easily obtained right-of-way. Somewhere this is going to go over some magnate's land and he's gonna hire a white-shoe law firm to lock the thing up for a decade. And why not? Just because Musk wants a train? The locals have a property and business interest in the land they own.

Mind you, Musk will have no problem plowing through ghettos and lower-middle class subdivisions, and destroying their homes, because those people lack the economic power to fight back (read The Power Broker to learn about the Cross-Bronx expressway). When these things get built, people lose their homes.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:37 PM on August 13, 2013 [6 favorites]


When these things get built, people lose their homes.

They can buy new homes. We're talking about the Central Valley, not the Bronx. Have you ever driven the 5 between LA and SF? There's plenty of land around there to go around.
posted by Aizkolari at 12:47 PM on August 13, 2013


Ironmouth: "his is where the setup counts--HSR stops in places near where the right-of-way goes. Hyperloop does not."

This is only somewhat true. One of the primary ways HSR becomes HS is by eliminating stops. These trains may go very fast, but they take a long time to get up to speed and slow down - in the order of 5-10 minutes to get up to speed from dead stop for the fastest trains, IIRC. Each stop adds significantly to the length of the journey not even taking into account the time spent at the platform. So yeah, whether it's rail or hyperloop, lots and lots of people along the route are going to go without HSR.
posted by vanar sena at 12:54 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


They can buy new homes.

Hey, I don't give a shit about poor rural people either, but you have to understand that this isn't very good politically.
posted by GuyZero at 1:03 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Since we're talking about a hypothetical alternate-universe Musk (hereinafter "AlterMusk") who will do any of this, as opposed to the Musk in our universe who explicitly stated that this is just hypothetical spitballing as opposed to a plan for anything real, I propose that AlterMusk should build his Hyperloop track offshore on pylons that hold it up above the ocean at a height sufficient to avoid giant waves. Why worry about mountains and curves and rights of way when there's a perfectly good body of water right there?
posted by The World Famous at 1:05 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Lest I seem too callous, this is what I'm talking about.

Say the farmhouse under that green arrow has to be moved 1000 feet north to accommodate the Hyperloop as the 5 makes that bend outside of Bakersfield. Are you saying that such a move is an unfair thing to ask of that rural homeowner, assuming they'd be fairly compensated?

It does not seem like such a huge deal to me.
posted by Aizkolari at 1:13 PM on August 13, 2013


This is where the setup counts--HSR stops in places near where the right-of-way goes. Hyperloop does not.

Don't see why it couldn't. Airlocks are a thing... should be able to inject cars into the system from stations along the line.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:20 PM on August 13, 2013


Ironmouth: "his is where the setup counts--HSR stops in places near where the right-of-way goes. Hyperloop does not."

This is only somewhat true. One of the primary ways HSR becomes HS is by eliminating stops. These trains may go very fast, but they take a long time to get up to speed and slow down - in the order of 5-10 minutes to get up to speed from dead stop for the fastest trains, IIRC. Each stop adds significantly to the length of the journey not even taking into account the time spent at the platform. So yeah, whether it's rail or hyperloop, lots and lots of people along the route are going to go without HSR.


I'm not saying HSR will work. But you really can do a lot more on right-of-way when there will be a station nearby. The more stations, the more state legislators have incentive to back the plan. No stops? How are you going to generate the political lift necessary?

One of the biggest issues here is that Musk is characterizing the problems with all of these things as nearly entirely technological. But technology advancement isn't in a vaccum. It follows the least-difficult path around and through practical human problems that lie outside of the purely engineering aspects of the problem--indeed, its advancement is often defined by those human obstacles. Hence our reliance on air and auto. These two methods prevent the fewest short term impediments to development of technology. Long-term, they suck, but capitalism isn't very good at factoring those costs in--or more accurately, it factors them in from the perspective of the individual in a single lifetime and passes on structural costs to others in the future who cannot do anything because they aren't born yet. This is true of both financing and incidental costs related to long-term use.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:23 PM on August 13, 2013 [4 favorites]


(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates: This guy's imagination, confidence, and insight leave me feeling angry and confused. So basically his idea is stupid and I'm glad it won't work. I want to ride in a car everywhere. I like cars and this sounds lame. I hope he just shuts up.
You sound American.

And you will be able to do so, for at least another decade; maybe even two or three.

After that: bikes, boats, or trains.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:00 PM on August 13, 2013


schmod: even conventional, low-speed freight rail would have trouble navigating the curves on most interstates.
Not true. Highway curves are essentially the same as railway curves (source: my current job), and they have to be, because the curve is mandated by the idea of an object with mass M at velocity V travelling a curve of radius R: nothing really differs between trains and cars.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:06 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is only somewhat true. One of the primary ways HSR becomes HS is by eliminating stops. These trains may go very fast, but they take a long time to get up to speed and slow down - in the order of 5-10 minutes to get up to speed from dead stop for the fastest trains, IIRC. Each stop adds significantly to the length of the journey not even taking into account the time spent at the platform. So yeah, whether it's rail or hyperloop, lots and lots of people along the route are going to go without HSR.

About sixty seconds due to braking, and a hundred seconds of additional time due to acceleration, plus whatever dwell time you want -- two minutes is generous at a lower-demand station. So five minutes, not ten. And the neat thing about trains is they don't have to all stop at the same places; the Northeast corridor has a good example with Acela as express and then Northeast Regional service on the same corridor. New York, Newark and Philadelphia get 21 Regional and 16 Acela trains per day; Trenton gets pretty well all the regional but none of the Acela trains; EWR gets six regional trains a day, and Princeton Junction NJ only gets 3 trains. Caltrain is similar; there are local trains that stop 22x and take 1h30 to go from San Jose to SF, and then Baby Bullet semi-express trains that run SJ-SF in 58 minutes and stop 4 times in between; between 6 and 8 AM, 10 trains leave San Jose, major stops like Mountain View or Millbrae have about 7 trains, and minor stops like Belmont or Lawrence only get 2 or 3 trains.

Similarly, in California, there might be an express that stops at SF, San Jose, LAUS and Anaheim and runs in 2 1/2 hours, and a local that stops at all 15 or so stations and takes closer to 3 1/2 -- providing both frequent high speed service between the biggest stops and a slightly slower alternative (that is still much faster than driving). The Hanfords of the world still get high speed, reasonably frequent service, while the bulk of the service is provided at the higher speed. (The actual proposed timetable has something like 10 different service schedules; one that runs locally SF-Gilroy then express to LAUS, one that runs SF express to the San Joaquin Valley locally in the SJV then express to LAUS, one that runs SF and San Jose, then express to Palmdale then locally to Anaheim, etc, etc.)
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 2:14 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


(hereinafter "AlterMusk")

That would be a good name for a fragrance. AlterMusk: Smell the Future.
posted by homunculus at 2:19 PM on August 13, 2013


There seems to be no provision for a bypass track for Hyperloop, so it's not possible to run local and express trains at the same time. The trains are supposed to depart every few minutes so there's not even a buffer of time to have a local drop off. Not to mention the problems if a local train got stuck with an express barrelling down behind it.
posted by GuyZero at 2:21 PM on August 13, 2013


(Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates: This guy's imagination, confidence, and insight leave me feeling angry and confused. So basically his idea is stupid and I'm glad it won't work. I want to ride in a car everywhere. I like cars and this sounds lame. I hope he just shuts up.

This is what we call ad hominem. Avoiding the argument itself and attacking the alleged motive of those who have questions about whether this would work as he says it would.

Sure, he has imagination and confidence. I have no doubt that on another earth, where nobody lived, it would be easy to make.

But here, there are big problems with the proposal. Focusing on the very real points made by some posters is a pretty good idea.

Personally, I was all about this being a great idea when I started reading this thread. But it stuck in my mind that obtaining right of way was going to be really, really hard and that the nature of the way Musk decided he wanted it built made those problems worse.

I'm the farthest thing from a car person. I don't own one. I don't have a drivers' license. But I don't think Musk is really looking at this in an economically feasible way.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:22 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


That would be a good name for a fragrance. AlterMusk: Smell the Future.

Sixty percent of the time it works every time.
posted by The World Famous at 2:27 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


Moving people has always been a problematic thing- jokes about 'self-loading freight' aside. Let's do a little thought experiment.

Elon does have some good ideas: Electricity is our most fungible source of motive power, whether we get it from hydro, solar, atoms, or some other way we haven't yet considered. Also, existing Interstate routes, while attractive, do have some problems in using the medians or airspace above them.

Let's move freight, instead. We Americans move a tremendous amount of freight on the highways- to the tune of keeping about 4 million diesel-powered trucks running every day. That uses (using reasonable averages and estimates):

260,000,000 gallons of diesel fuel every day.
252,000 truck tires every day.
1,000,000 gallons of lubricating oil every day.

That's oceans of the stuff. Well, Olympic-size swimming pools of the stuff, anyway. Wasted, to move our things to us.

Maybe 3D printing will allow us to make our own stuff some day. We're still not going to print Flat Screen TV's or food at home anytime soon.

Freight is also not impatient. We don't need to move it at 600 MPH. A nice solid nonstop 60 MPH would do nicely.

Let's also use proven technology. Steel wheels on steel rails have been around for a century and a half, going on two. The reliability factor on this technology approaches unity.

The existing railroads have about pushed the crewed freight train model to the limit. They have added horsepower and length to trains to the point that single locomotives can exert tractive effort exceeding the tensile strength of steel drawbars. Their model works fine for freight movements in the thousands of tons, but not so well for individual truckloads.

Let's apply another familiar model to the problem.

Lets say you have an Individual Package (Hereinafter 'IP') of freight. It can be any size up to, say, 40 tons. Get your freight down to a station, tender it successfully, and it will be assigned a Transit Control Pass (Hereinafter 'TCP'). The TCP will be encoded with the destination of your IP, (the 'IP Address').

Once your freight is loaded onto an Autonomous Transfer Machine ('ATM'), it will be released onto the Real Network (Which we can call the EitherNet, since it can carry either freight or passengers) and be switched from track to track furthering it to it's destination by computers at each switch that would know which way to send it to get it to it's destination. These 'Routing Computers' or "Routers" should not be too difficult to build.

If only there were some technology in place that we could draw on for this stuff. I bet it would be much cheaper than the pie-in-the-sky stuff Musk is proposing.

Elon, stick to rocket science. This ain't it.
posted by pjern at 2:56 PM on August 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


These 'Routing Computers' or "Routers" should not be too difficult to build.

It'll have a backplane the size of Kansas.
posted by GuyZero at 3:06 PM on August 13, 2013


I'm not sure why you couldn't have stops. Just have on and off ramps.
posted by empath at 4:46 PM on August 13, 2013


How long would the on and off ramps have to be in order to manage the acceleration issues entirely on the ramp to avoid slowing down all the traffic?
posted by The World Famous at 4:59 PM on August 13, 2013


This blog post from a Fresno urban planning blogger is maybe the most thorough debunking I've seen so far, from a transportation point of view.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 7:26 PM on August 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


This blog post from a Fresno urban planning blogger is maybe the most thorough debunking I've seen so far, from a transportation point of view.

Wow. He destroys it in one table, as Musk's train stops 1 hour and 25 minutes by train outside of LA:


HSR between downtown LA and downtown SF: 2 hours, 28 minutes

Hyperloop trip between downtown LA and downtown SF:
1 hour from LA to Sylmar via Metrolink
20 minute transfer
35 minutes to Dublin
20 minute transfer
1 hour 10 minutes from Dublin to SF via BART

Total: 3 hours 25 minutes

Seriously, Musk's maps show it stopping an hour outside of LA.

also amazing:
Amusingly enough, the California HSR budget for the Central Valley is under $10 billion. Ie, in the same ball-park as this proposal. The reason the HSR project is going to cost $60 billion is because it has to face an uncomfortable truth; actually getting to LA and SF is expensive. Very expensive. That's where there's no free land. That's where you have years of property acquisition. In the shorter term, the plan for HSR is to simply share existing tracks, which the Hyperloop can't do.
In other words, it isn't cheaper. It just stops far outside of LA to avoid the cost of land acquisition.

God I hope Space X and Tesla are for real.
posted by Ironmouth at 7:47 PM on August 13, 2013 [7 favorites]


God I hope Space X and Tesla are for real.

I see at least two or three Teslas a day on the street, so I'm pretty sure it's real. Space X seems to aimed at filling a similar niche to what Tesla's doing - i.e. providing a really cool ride for really rich people. Hyperloop strikes me as a similar idea: Super rich people who currently spend a lot of time going back and forth between L.A. and S.F. for meetings would like a super expensive thing to ride for those trips, too.
posted by The World Famous at 8:01 PM on August 13, 2013


Llama-Lime: ". We need a whole lot less of traditional style US NIMBYism"

There are a lot of criticisms of this project in this thread, and none of them are coming from people who are upset that there might be hyperloop passengers passing through their neighborhoods.

I'm an engineer. I'd love for us to build a hyperloop. I'd love for us to dig up the plans for the Morgantown PRT, and put that kind of network in a big city. Let's get some of Google's engineers involved and add some self-driving buses to the mix while we're at it. We need to think big again. Meanwhile, every level-headed politician in California needs to start shouting from the rooftops about how colossally fucked up the state's government is – it's a fixable problem that nobody wants to talk about. I firmly believe that NIMBY problem can (and should) eventually be solved.

I also think that this plan is a load of crap (or at least, the cost estimates are). I don't know what Musk's motives are, and perhaps he's fallen prey to "valleythink," but the proposal is a serious embarrassment to his name.
posted by schmod at 8:03 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


The World Famous: "How long would the on and off ramps have to be in order to manage the acceleration issues entirely on the ramp to avoid slowing down all the traffic?"

More to the point: How would you build a switch to safely divert the pod into the ramp?

Stopping is also another issue. No pod can be within stopping distance of another pod. Timing everything correctly will be tricky.
posted by schmod at 8:09 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Onion: New Super-Fast Transport System Powered By Passengers’ Screams
posted by schmod at 8:10 PM on August 13, 2013 [3 favorites]


Hyperloop strikes me as a similar idea: Super rich people who currently spend a lot of time going back and forth between L.A. and S.F. for meetings would like a super expensive thing to ride for those trips, too.

Rich people fly direct on private planes. Having flown from NY to DC on a friend's slow Piper Comanche, for those with a jet, air travel is not the same thing as it is for you and me.

Plus, if it ends in Syren, this train is of no use to the Elon Musk's of the world.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:13 PM on August 13, 2013 [1 favorite]


Llama-Lime: ". We need a whole lot less of traditional style US NIMBYism

It is terrible NIMBYism to say, "hey, I don't want a giant train thing running through my farm" or "I am not in agreement with your plan to force me through eminent domain, to have my family's home destroyed by your giant concrete pylon holding up a train that you insist needs to be built in my living room."

NIMBY is one thing, but when the thing is plotted to go through your home, that's something completely different.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:16 PM on August 13, 2013 [2 favorites]


One thing that surprises me about how enthusiastic some people here are about this "proposal" is that I expected MeFites to have a better bullshit detector.

Because it is pure, unalloyed bullshit and that should be obvious just from reading the press release.

Musk proposes, as alternative for the HSR currently being build, a completely new, untested, unproved, never before built technology that some way would be better, cheaper and faster than the HSR could ever be. He provides some numbers and assumptions of course to give it a gleam of respectability, but he might as well been talking about how California should get a wizard to build the railway and how much it would cost to feed them, how many segments they could do in a day, etc. If the solution is impossible, the costing details don't matter.

We don't need to go into the details of "hyperloop" or the reality on the ground in California because the mere fact that nothing like it has yet been build or even designed makes it an impossible solution for getting a highspeed public transport system in California.

We know (roughly) what HSR in California will cost because that has been thoroughly researched; even then there are likely to be surprises. With Musk's solution, we don't know anything yet unless we do the same and since we don't even have the technology yet (the easiest part), this is again impossible.

But because it is a somewhat plausible idea and because it's vague enough that Musk can claim whatever he wants for it (only to retreat in "it's just an idea" when challenged) it does make good ammo to try and kill off HSR.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:22 AM on August 14, 2013 [4 favorites]


The Best takedown of Musk's ideas, so far:
It’s possible to discover something new, but people who do almost always realize the context of the discovery. If Musk really found a way to build viaducts for $5 million per kilometer, this is a huge thing for civil engineering in general and he should announce this in the most general context of urban transportation, rather than the niche of intercity transportation. If Musk has experiments showing that it’s possible to have sharper turns or faster deceleration than claimed by Transrapid, then he’s made a major discovery in aviation and should announce it as such. That he thinks it just applies to his project suggests he doesn’t really have any real improvement.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:52 AM on August 14, 2013 [8 favorites]


Oh, here's some anecdotal evidence on HyperLoop from my little piece of cubicle hell. After the puff piece in the daily newspaper, all of my age 50+ coworkers were talking about HyperLoop yesterday in very interested / glowing terms. CAHSR, if mentioned at all, is a "boondoggle" et cetera. I'm in an area of California that would be un-served by either proposal (Calabama). So, yeah, when you start making fantastic, pie-in-the-sky proposals and comparing them against reality, reality tends to come out wanting. Still, you name me an existing major capital project that was undertaken by the government, and I bet I can find opposition to it when it was proposed, and it would all be same thing (nobody would use it, it costs too much, it will never work, it's ugly, etc). I don't care if we're talking about Boulder Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, or even the Interstate Highway System.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:48 AM on August 14, 2013


Someone online said Musk would be better off running the first hyperloop track from LA to Vegas as it's shorter, easier and you could get casinos to subsidize the tickets. That's not a bad idea.
posted by GuyZero at 8:52 AM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


Someone online said Musk would be better off running the first hyperloop track from LA to Vegas as it's shorter, easier and you could get casinos to subsidize the tickets. That's not a bad idea.

Has that person looked at a map? What would the route be? Through the SGV and Inland Empire and then through the Cajon Pass, requiring the expense of all that urban eminent domain? Or North through the San Gabriel Mountains where there is no mountain pass and where a new route would have to be cut and then across U.S. Military land where there's no current freeway?
posted by The World Famous at 9:31 AM on August 14, 2013


entropicamericana: "Still, you name me an existing major capital project that was undertaken by the government, and I bet I can find opposition to it when it was proposed, and it would all be same thing"

Water/sewer infrastructure tends to be fairly uncontroversial, even when it's expensive.
posted by schmod at 10:05 AM on August 14, 2013


entropicamericana: Still, you name me an existing major capital project that was undertaken by the government, and I bet I can find opposition to it when it was proposed, and it would all be same thing (nobody would use it, it costs too much, it will never work, it's ugly, etc). I don't care if we're talking about Boulder Dam, the Golden Gate Bridge, or even the Interstate Highway System.
Noting that every project has its critics is not a defense of any idea ever.

This idea is terribly pie-in-the-sky, as several have noted. Refute that particular criticism, on several of the very real particular aspects that have been made (expense per mile, curve radii, safety issues, tube quality/pressure seal issues, etc...), and you'll be saying something interesting.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:08 AM on August 14, 2013


schmod: Ten seconds at Google gives me this "too expensive." There's no such thing as an uncontroversial proposal.

IAmBroom: Re-read the thread, I am defending CAHSR not HyperLoop. My point is that even the simplest or best ideas can and probably will face vociferous opposition.
posted by entropicamericana at 10:18 AM on August 14, 2013


Ah, my bad, entropicamericana.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:52 AM on August 14, 2013


Water/sewer infrastructure tends to be fairly uncontroversial, even when it's expensive.

The Economist famously opposed bringing sewers to London in the mid-1800s.

Levy's critique works for me, both in the specific detail and the concluding remarks about the long-standing appeal of the rich crank in American culture, and the preference for whiz-bang disruption over the dirty work of iterative improvement. (If the US had not let passenger rail stagnate several decades ago, it would be in a good position to make iterative improvement on existing infrastructure; now it's clawing its way back, and the benefits of piggybacking on other countries' technology are offset by dealing with land use issues.)

One additional point: it seems as if a decade of increasingly powerful online mapping has an odd side-effect, which is to underplay the z-axis. What's largely missing from online maps unless you enable it? Contours, terrain. It's very easy to draw squiggles on a map and have people think it's the territory.
posted by holgate at 12:26 PM on August 14, 2013 [5 favorites]


One additional point: it seems as if a decade of increasingly powerful online mapping has an odd side-effect, which is to underplay the z-axis. What's largely missing from online maps unless you enable it? Contours, terrain. It's very easy to draw squiggles on a map and have people think it's the territory.

Yet another reason to reject building on the imperfect and curved surface of the earth in favor of digging a direct straight line route!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 3:01 PM on August 14, 2013 [2 favorites]


it does make good ammo to try and kill off HSR.

How about: a $60,000,000,000 train in a state in which several bankrupt cities owe more than that to public pension funds.

Train transportation died in the 1960s for a reason: compared to cars, it sucks. Apart from railfans, and rich folk who want the general public to buy them a cushy ride, who'd vote for it if you told them the construction cost to them personally first? $60B/38M = $1500 for every man, woman, child ... and at least 80% of them will never ride it.

The era of megalithic infrastructure is over.
posted by Twang at 11:05 PM on August 14, 2013


A) The tax burden isn't distributed evenly and B) what if you don't own a car? and C) it's only dead in the US.
posted by empath at 11:22 PM on August 14, 2013 [1 favorite]


You heard it here first, kids. The construction and maintenance of roads is free.
posted by entropicamericana at 11:44 PM on August 14, 2013 [9 favorites]


You can go to LA from San Francisco in 30 minutes, but why?

Mars Saxman : Maybe you are a wealthy entrepreneur with one business in Palo Alto and another business in Hawthorne, and you have to commute back and forth several times a week, and you're tired of wasting such a substantial amount of your life dealing with airports?

The HRS is being built for rich guys who don't know how to teleconference?

Seriously, though, the issue of congestion isn't primarily in the I-5 corridor. For example, the HSR doesn't suggest a way for the streets of SF or LA to handle the traffic glut or parking spaces implied by the arrival of all those wealthy entreps bringing their cars with them. Or the transportation needs of the folks who wish to leave their cars in the parking lot at the terminals where they board the HSR. Or the pickup and drop-off zones your cousins will use when the take you to the station. Or the security process (and expense) involved in making sure nobody brings explosives to the tubes. If you think the wait at SFO and LAX is bad, think about multiplying that by whatever factor the HSR is supposed to increase the traffic flow now. Land use estimation in the city can be calibrated in dollars per square inch. In this case, you have to displace something now in use to accommodate the terminals and their peripheral support systems...Not just ticket booths, but public restrooms and waiting areas, plus probably a dozen other things I've not come up with right off the top of my head (plumbing, for example).

If you use BART or it's cousin, the Fresno Area Rapid Transit System, as models, you can see that you gain only by replacing surface traffic with some public mode of travel, not adding to the traffic already borne by surface streets and freeways. The notion of pumping more people per hour into the cities seems justified only by the result of getting more people per hour into the cities. No thought at all seems to have been given to the results of the project.

I guess a lot of wealthy entreps out there would like to be able to commute from SF to LA--hell, you could live in your condo in the city and check on your surfboard factory workers in Anaheim, and get back home in time for the sunset. When I say a lot, of course I mean, let's say, one out of every 20,000 dwellers in the city would need to do this. The tax base in general (supported by the rest of the citizens) would underwrite it for youse guys. Oh, wait, it would be supported through bonds, right?

I'm seeing geekoidal wet-dreaming on steroids. I would rather put my tax money into the Space Elevator. I would definitely buy a ticket to ride on that thing, eat lunch in zero-G, then paraglide back home.
posted by mule98J at 12:38 AM on August 15, 2013


mule98J: "The notion of pumping more people per hour into the cities seems justified only by the result of getting more people per hour into the cities. No thought at all seems to have been given to the results of the project."

Mass transit has an effect in both directions. As I understand it, one of the goals of the California HSR is to allow businesses to move operations to smaller cities along the route, making the train a decentralizing force. This was the goal in China too, and it seems to be working as intended there so far.
posted by vanar sena at 3:24 AM on August 15, 2013


The HRS is being built for rich guys who don't know how to teleconference?

No, that's the hyperloop. The HSR is more sensible, stopping at various cities in between SF and LA.
posted by MartinWisse at 3:54 AM on August 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hyperloop heat balance: an engineer with some thermal expertise casts a skeptical eye on heat management.
posted by Nelson at 7:13 AM on August 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


mule98J: "Seriously, though, the issue of congestion isn't primarily in the I-5 corridor. For example, the HSR doesn't suggest a way for the streets of SF or LA to handle the traffic glut or parking spaces implied by the arrival of all those wealthy entreps bringing their cars with them. "

Name one station on the Northeast Corridor where this is a real problem.

SF and LA both legitimately need better regional and local public transportation (with TOD to go along with it), but that's not much of an argument against HSR.

Ironically, LA seems to be moving in the right direction, while SF actually seems to be regressing to sprawl-inducing, car-dependent planning. BART is particularly problematic, because it hasn't induced development around its stations or encouraged more sustainable patterns of land use and commuting. In order to be successful, transit needs to be coupled with good urban planning and redevelopment. It's delusional to think that CAHSR or any local transit investment in California will be successful, unless the state's land use patterns start to change drastically.

As much as the proponents of CAHSR and the Hyperloop want to argue that their respective plans will leave most communities undisturbed, this is actually a pretty terrible goal to boast about. Communities need to be disturbed, and start rethinking the low-density single-use planning models that have forced so many of their residents to have insane commutes in the first place.

BART was the rail equivalent of the interstate system. It only enabled longer and longer commutes, and never integrated itself into the communities that it passed through.

(The DC Metro's Orange line through Arlington County is a stark counterexample, where a massive transit investment and good local planning enabled the creation of an entirely new urban area, and allowed the DC region to grow tremendously with minimal impact on road traffic.)
posted by schmod at 7:30 AM on August 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Remember, kids, "train transportation is dead."
posted by entropicamericana at 7:57 AM on August 15, 2013


I've seen a critique that Hyperloop will be overly claustrophobic without windows. Here's my solution. Periodically run a Google Streetview -esque video camera cluster down the outside of the pipe. Store the video-panorama on the capsules, to be shown on the passenger displays. Key the position of the video to the actual position of the capsule (it would be played back much faster than it was recorded). Give passengers a little joystick to look around with. There you have it - a tube with a view.

On the whole though, I'm reserving judgement on the Hyperloop concept. It's interesting, but probably too facile. I've been following developments in another transportation miracle: "Personal Rapid Transit" for fifteen years, without much progress. It's hard to deploy a technology when the unit cost is in the billions, and the number of potential buyers can be counted on one hand.
posted by Popular Ethics at 10:22 AM on August 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just because Musk wants to juxtapose this with the HSR doesn't mean it needs to be this way. Luckily we're still not at the point where the margin for error in our transportation infrastructure decisions is too slight to allow for some failure along the way.

I was just in the LA area visiting family last week. I enjoy San Francisco much more and really would have liked to make a day trip up there. To have been able to do that for maybe as much as it would cost me in gas and in less time than it would take me to drive to the beach? Yeah, I'd have gone for that in a heartbeat.

As part of that same trip I was trapped in Las Vegas to LA traffic on a Sunday afternoon/evening. You can't tell me folks would rather waste that four+ hours sitting creeping along a freeway--especially since Vegas doesn't require a lot of driving once you get there. Something like this could put a pretty big dent in the regional travel problems that fall into that range of too far to comfortably drive and too short to justify air travel.

So yeah, pie in the sky brochureware that it is, I think it lays out an idea that is sufficiently disruptive as to encourage some further investigation. That Musk purposely sets it up against California's HSR is unfortunate. I've been a firm believer that rail is the answer to travel beyond local commuting. If we could do it cheaper and faster, what's not to like about that?
posted by Fezboy! at 10:30 AM on August 15, 2013


Homeboy Trouble's link is honestly a must read. Comparing Musk's proposal and HSR is not comparing apples to apples. THEY DON'T GO TO THE SAME DESTINATIONS! The price saving would evaporate if the Hyperloop tried to get into downtown LA or downtown SF like HSR does (and like it needs to).
posted by Defenestrator at 3:18 PM on August 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


FezBoy: There's been a long-running effort to build a high speed rail line from Las Vegas to near LA, but apparently it fairly recently got killed by congress. Thanks, Paul Ryan!

I'm still not sure what the benefit of developing a radically new technology is, given that everything is vastly cheaper and gets built vastly faster when you can use already-designed equipment, and given that even high-speed-in-name-only lines like Acela are fast enough to compete with air travel.

There's no way that Musk's intervention here will result in anything getting built faster (not surprising, given that he made said intervention in order to help stop CAHSR). All he's accomplished is making people who aren't paying attention think that the reason America doesn't have high speed rail yet is a problem with the technology.

A parable. You're an office worker. You're sitting around at work, probably wasting time on Metafilter or something, when your boss storms in with a sheaf of papers on quantum computing, of all things. "Quantum computing is great!", he shouts, while he grabs the nearest laptop and flings it out the nearest window. "Screw these old fashioned regular computers! Let's drop everything we're doing now and work on quantum computing research instead!"
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 4:01 PM on August 16, 2013


You're sitting around at work, probably wasting time on Metafilter or something, when your boss storms in with a sheaf of papers on quantum computing, of all things. "Quantum computing is great!", he shouts, while he grabs the nearest laptop and flings it out the nearest window. "Screw these old fashioned regular computers! Let's drop everything we're doing now and work on quantum computing research instead!"

That sounds pretty great, actually.
posted by The World Famous at 4:03 PM on August 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


Real life steampunk: When New York had the original Hyperloop
posted by homunculus at 11:27 AM on August 17, 2013


I very much understand where you're coming from, YCTaB. Yet it doesn't need to be and either/or. We're not at the point where any misspent iota of capital dooms us to a future of walking hither and yon.

A counter parable:
You're a software engineer. You're sitting around at work, probably wasting time on Metafilter or something, when your boss IMs you links to documentation on the performance gains offered by a new DAO framework. "NHibernate is great!", she shouts, while she branches the existing repository and starts writing users stories to port existing code. "Let's continue providing our customers the current level of performance while we try integrating this new technology into our future releases!"

This is way more analogous to what I was getting at with my previous comment. While Musk sets this in opposition to CAHSR, we don't need to. So, yes, let's do CAHSR. Now. Please. At the same time, let's not dismiss this proposal outright and look at developing something with the potential for disruptive technology in future middle-distance travel projects.

It should also be noted that very little of this is new technology. It's the combination of existing technology and the potential for this combination to pay off in dramatic ways that is appealing. IANAE but it doesn't seem impossible to model this out and develop it incrementally.
posted by Fezboy! at 3:44 PM on August 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


In other news: You Can Now Drive a Tesla from Vancouver to LA Without Stopping for Longer Than 30 Minutes
posted by homunculus at 3:18 PM on August 30, 2013


Looking at that map, I'm a little surprised that there's not one in Oregon. I assume there are plenty of places to charge up in Oregon that just don't happen to be Tesla brand Superchargers.
posted by The World Famous at 3:38 PM on August 30, 2013


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