By now, anybody with an interest in technology has read about it. As an idea, it is thought-provoking (see the excellent Ars Technica breakdown of the Hyperloop idea at This Site).
Elon Musk has done this before, turning the idea of the electric car into a viable company that appears destined to be a force in the vehicle market for the rest of this century. So while the idea seems fanciful, I don’t feel it can be ignored.
There is, however, the question of feasibility exists and there are some significant drawbacks. Here are some of the issues that immediately came to mind:
- The $6 Billion dollar pricetag is impossible. In saying that, I am referring to the cost of the idea from study, to planning, to engineering, and construction. The out of control costs related to the California High Speed Rail.
- Project show that we have limited ability to truly project current and future costs for such large projects.
- One of the ideas from the project was to use the Interstate 5 right of way to control costs. While this seems reasonable on it’s face, it ignores the significant engineering costs related to property easements, underground cabling and piping, aqueducts, rivers, and a whole assortment of
other issues. Significant rules for keeping lanes open during construction are required because the freeway is part of the Dwight D. Eisenhower System of Interstate and Defense Highways. Even after using available Interstate 5 easements, significant Eminent Domain would be required, a process that often ends up in litigation.
- The Environmental Impact Report (EIR) would be a massive regulatory undertaking, something that would take years to complete for the entire line of the Hyperloop. The Diablo Range Crossing for the California High Speed Rail Project is an example of just how difficult it is to build these projects quickly while respecting State and Federal enviromental laws.
- The fantastic speeds being reported only relate to “flat” areas of the Central Valley. The speed of the Hyperloop through communities and mountain ranges will be much slower.
- Another item missed in a lot of articles is the fact that this is a one-way, non-stop ticket. Need to stop in between? Not going to happen. You have Los Angeles. You have San Francisco. And you have a number of pneumatic tubes in between.
This is not a crackpot idea. I distinctly remember my parents using pnuematic tubing at the drive-through lane at the bank. It is well thought out, well conceived, and a provocative idea. However, it is just not a realistic or feasible idea.
I suspect this is one reason that Musk open-sourced the project. He is a great entrepreneur, and if this project was feasible, I suspect he would have moved forward with it himself.
I would just give pause, and hope everybody doesn’t get their hopes up, because this project will not be built in our lifetimes.
T.M. Schultze is a San Diego-based photographer, traveller, and writer. He writes, photographs, and draws things of the outdoors that have inspired humans for thousands of years. He co-authored the Photographer’s Guide to Joshua Tree Park which can be purchased here.