Hyperloop: Future or fantasy?

Posted: January 20, 2018 by oldbrew in innovation, Travel

Hype or hope? BBC reporter Rory Cellan-Jones visits Virgin Hyperloop One’s test track near Las Vegas.

So, here’s the plan – we’re going to load you into a pod, and then shoot you at 700 mph (1,123 km/h) through a vacuum, taking you to your destination in minutes rather than hours.

That is the rather unlikely pitch of Hyperloop One.

But the remarkable thing that struck me on a recent trip to the project’s test site in Nevada was that nobody thought it was, well, remarkable.

The Hyperloop idea, first floated by Tesla’s Elon Musk, has sparked a number of projects keen to demonstrate that putting a maglev train in a vacuum tube can deliver the revolutionary transport system of the future.

Maglev – or magnetic levitation – trains, which use magnets to lift a train above rails, reducing friction and increasing possible speeds, are already in operation. One takes passengers from Shanghai to its airport at 270 mph (430 km/h).

But of the plans to put make a maglev even faster by putting it in a vacuum tube, Hyperloop One – or as we must now call it following Sir Richard Branson’s investment, Virgin Hyperloop One – is the most advanced.

Arriving on the site in the desert 40 miles north of Las Vegas, you can immediately see this is a costly operation to run.

A 500m (1,640ft) test track, or Devloop, has been constructed and a workforce of 300, including 200 high-calibre engineers, has been assembled.

They have run a number of tests, propelling a pod through the tube at speeds of up 387km/h (240mph).

So far, however, they have not put people on board.

Leading the engineering team is a fast-talking space scientist Anita Sengupta, recruited from Nasa where she helped develop the Mars Curiosity rover.

Having worked on what she describes as the “challenging engineering problem” of landing vehicles on other planets, she brushes aside my doubts about whether this earthbound project is realistic.

She gestures towards the white pipe snaking across the desert: “It’s a realistic project because you can look around and see our development test tube.”

She says the technology has already been proven and dismisses my suggestion that people might be cautious about climbing aboard.

Continued here.

  1. pochas94 says:

    If they’re going to do this in Los Angeles, it’ll have to be earthquake proof.

  2. Saighdear says:

    huh even school physics F=ma etc – what are the “G” forces -more than we can stand at such speeds – go look at how aircraft need to decelerate before landing ( horiz. & vert. ). Are these Engineers as good as their Clim. scientists ?

  3. oldbrew says:

    During phase two of testing, the duration of the longest test has been 10.6 seconds, with the top speed of 192mph (310kmh) – or 86 metres per second. The maximum distance travelled is 436 metres, with a peak acceleration of 1.48 Gs – equal to 0 to 60mph in 1.85 seconds.


  4. A C Osborn says:

    One minor point “The Hyperloop idea, first floated by Tesla’s Elon Musk” is complete bullshit.
    The idea has been in Science Fiction books for at least 20 or 30 years.
    In fact if you have on end on a mountain slope and able to open you have an object heading for space.
    Which is another version from Science Fiction for boosting payloads to space.

  5. Robert Tamm says:

    Not Elon Musk´s idea originally. I first came across it in a book by SF:s grand old man Robert Heinlein written in the thirties. The name of the book eludes me now, but after that was used in countless other books by many authors. But I think that this idea of a superfast train in a tube like many other SF inventions actually originates with Jules Verne and developed by others.

  6. JB says:

    Aside from the value of the learning curve, it is very unlikely to produce a return on the investment. Another mass transit idea that requires the planet’s environment to remain constant. The capital expenditure alone confines the users thereof to a small economic class. Its likely to go the way of the SST.

    If I were to consider a ride on the confounded thing I would want to know beforehand what failure modes there are and survival prospects. I see this as another project that’s destined to go ff the rails….

  7. I seem to remember I K Brunel tried it on his Cornish railway. He was a genius and learned from his mistake. The Bearded Wonder is clearly not a genius….

  8. Bitter@twisted says:

    Anything to do with Musk is likely to be another subsidy plea.
    The man is a scamster and Tesla is an Enron waiting to happen.

  9. oldbrew says:

    The California bullet train is costing $84 million per mile, and that’s on a flat valley section.


    Here’s one of the interview Q’s:
    Q. The High-Speed Rail Authority was established 23 years ago. During that time China has built 16,000 miles of high-speed rail. We are still working on the first 119 miles. What are we doing wrong?

  10. michael hart says:

    “Are these Engineers as good as their Clim. scientists ?”

    Yup. That kinda sums it up.
    They are way short of the speeds they talk about, and if they ever came close to those speeds they would start to learn about what happens when there are small pieces of grit hitting the vehicle at such speeds, never mind the spanner that the engineer forgot to remove from the ‘perfectly constructed’ rails. lol. It would be like we get to watch skylab’s reentry to the atmosphere every day.

    When some thing only has a “high probability” of success at each of several dependent sequential steps, then it will still probably fail I.e. 0.9 multiplied by 0.9 multiplied by 0.9 multiplied by 0.9 only equals “~0.66%” (plausible, but too high a probability of failure for an engineering project.

    But 0.1 multiplied by 0.1 multiplied by 0.1 multiplied by 0.1 only equals “0.0001%” (utterly implausible, guaranteed failure), typifies a “low probability” of success, like hyper-loop. The hyper-loop falls into the absolutely guaranteed-failure bracket. Although I disagree with many of his Global-warming rants, Trump, and Brexit, the youtuber Thunderfoot has done some good videos correctly ridiculing the hyperloop twaddle.

  11. ivan says:

    ‘A Transatlantic Tunnel: Hurrah’ by Harry Harrison (1972) is the best SF example of what this hyperloop could be if they ever get it built and work the bugs out.

    A lot of the problems they appear to have are caused by very short acceleration times on their very short test system. In reality I would hope that the full length track would allow acceleration forces about the same as a sports car with a corresponding period for deceleration.

  12. Graeme No.3 says:

    Was that the vacuum type which had a vogue in the seventies after the price of oil jumped? Evacuating the tube about halfway produced long acceleration and slowdown times (in theory as none were built). They were also meant to go straight across the curvature of the Earth getting gravity involved as well. One of the first, but not the last, impractical “green” ideas that never happened that I came across.

  13. RexAlan says:

    The Hyperloop: BUSTED!

    You wouldn’t get me in one in a pink fit.

  14. stpaulchuck says:

    what could possibly go wrong with a train moving at 700 mph? Hmmm, let me think. Perhaps a bomb set to go off just a bit before the train arrives at that point? Or a set of them along the route to screw up the vacuum? Etc., etc.

  15. Ewing Caldwell. says:

    I don’t think I would ever use one of these, not while it’s powered by windmills and PVs …

  16. BoyfromTottenham says:

    Stpaulchuck – Darn, you must be a shill for the railways, ICE car manufacturers or the aviation industry, bringing up all those negative ideas. Musk is a pure genius, and his hyperloop thingy is the way of the future and must be subsidised while all other inferior forms of transport must be taxed to the point of bankruptcy because (whatever). /sarc off

  17. The Shanghai maglev only reaches a peak speed of 432 km/hr for one or two minutes. The trains in opposite direction can only pass each other at around 340 km/hr or else they could blow it each other off the track. When they do pass one notices the shock wave and the rocking of the carriage. Then at the start the trains need to gather speed which is designed to be a lower change of speed than a high speed lift. At the end the train has to slow to a stop. Thus the average speed is around 300 km/hr. The trip takes 7.5 minutes to and from the airport. The top speed of the train on a single run is well over 500 km/hr. putting a wall between the tracks would speed up the trip but the tracks are the same as the normal rail system. The interesting thing was,( when I went on it) there were few passengers and most of these were tourists doing the two way trip. The train does not go to the city centre but finishes on a separate platform away from other platforms at a suburban station. Security for boarding is similar to the airport. The Chinese do not follow PC they would stop anyone with the wrong appearance or documents boarding. One needs a bus to get to your hotel. It is easier for tour groups with their luggage to take a bus between the airport and their hotel. One presumes the same applies for a majority of Chinese travelers except for a few business types who only have a brief case.
    luggage is a consideration for any train system. That is something the airports have thought through.

  18. Stephen Richards says:

    TGV reached 574Kms. Musk is trying to keep his empire afloat, that’s all. Like the stupid battery lorry

  19. Phoenix44 says:

    People will only pay a small amount for a small amount of time saved – note, measure it in actual time rather than percentages, as beloved by the bogus calculations of congestion charging and HS2.

    Thus I would pay nothing to save five minutes from almost any journey time, and very little to save even 30 minutes if the journey time was otherwise a couple of hours.

  20. oldbrew says:

    Projected journey times in the UK include Edinburgh to London in 50 minutes.


    Cost to build?

  21. John Silver says:

    I’m just waiting for the TGV sabotage.
    Japan is a homogenous country.

  22. Russ Wood says:

    There’s an acceleration OF acceleration problem – it’s called “rate of onset”. The writer G Harry Stine had an article in Analog in 1976 “Detesters, Phasers and Dean Drives”. You should be able to find the whole article somewhere on the ‘Web. But it was a problem that Harry faced when running paper through a compression roller. Could be that the dv/dt**2 could make the whole thing impractical for people?

  23. stewgreen says:

    I’m used to hearing Rory CJ being a Musk fanboy
    But before Xmas his prog was hyping Musk’s electric truck,
    ..the female journo DARED to mention that Musk is failing to deliver the new Tesla model at anywhere near scheduled numbers.
    In this new article Rory loses the fanboyism

    She predicts that the project will have passed through safety certification
    and be ready to launch a commercial operation by 2021,
    which seems insanely optimistic.

    I travelled from LA to SanFran in 1988 on the Green Tortoise overnight bus, where all the seats had been removed and the floor covered with mattresses
    .. We stopped at Big Sur at dawn to swim and watch the dolphins.
    Why would I bother spending an hour or 2 on the hyperloop system and then sleeping in a bed ?