Elon Musk’s hyperloop

by on August 14, 2013 at 5:27 am in Economics, Science, Uncategorized | Permalink

I cannot speak to the technical issues (a very critical and very interesting take is here) but I wonder where the real gain is (there is a Musk pdf overview of the hyperloop here).  You can already fly LA to San Francisco in about an hour.  Is saving that time so important, noting that in the best case scenario the hyperloop still takes 35 minutes?

You might object that such a plane trip takes far more than an hour, all things considered.  But a hyperloop trip also will involve getting to the station, parking, waiting for departure, and perhaps TSA security as well.  What is supposed to be the net time gain, all things considered?  It would be cheaper to let up on the TSA procedures a bit, and even if we don’t do that surely there is no “regulatory arbitrage” case per se for building a hyperloop (“the TSA won’t budge, so I have this new and easy-to-implement idea…”).

Flying is carbon-negative, but of course building and running a hyperloop would be too.  In any case, it is hard to believe that a hyperloop is the marginally cost effective way to reduce carbon emissions, compared to say shutting down some more dirty coal or pricing traffic congestion.

How about putting working wireless, or maybe cable TV, into all LA to SF plane flights?  That would make time in the plane a lot more like time on the couch and in essence lower the time cost of flying.  We could even teach people to read books or let them keep their Kindles on during take-off, a rumored change which may even be in the works.

In other words, the whole Hyperloop thing seems to me like a publicity stunt.  I’m still waiting on that 24-7 Kindle access thing.

The binding constraint for a lot of transport improvements is getting the land rights (can it all be on top of I-5?  how much do pylons cost?) and overcoming local opposition.  I say the hyperloop proposal only makes that harder.

When it comes to transportation at least, There is a Great Stagnation.

p.s. under the counterfactual where the thing is built, what would the price be?  Here is some skepticism from Brad Plumer.

Arjun August 14, 2013 at 5:58 am

Isn’t the main attraction the price? An airplane ticket, 1-way, between SF and LA is around $100; a Hyperloop ticket would apparently cost around $20-40. That, plus the reduced transit time, makes it seem like there is potential for real gains (assuming of course that the absurd initial cost estimates aren’t as absurd as they seem).

Rahul August 14, 2013 at 6:21 am

The key phrase is “would apparently cost”.

No way. It won’t cost $20-$40.

These projections are always rosy. Especially for unproven, novel technology. Even for something as conventional as a railway line or a bridge you have to look hard to find one whose costs match planner projections.

Finch August 14, 2013 at 9:48 am

I would completely dismiss the idea, were it not Musk. SpaceX is an amazing accomplishment. And while I’m very skeptical of electric cars, the Tesla Model S is a very nice car, especially if you ignore the fact that it’s electric.

What I think kills the idea is the same thing that will kill all other forms of collective transportation: the driverless car. The future is individual transport that takes you from door to door, not from some inconvenient collective transportation center to another, all the while jostling with the masses.

Z August 14, 2013 at 10:45 am

I tend to agree with you on giving the guy the benefit of the doubt. Unlike a lot of these guys pitching futuristic stuff, he has a record of success. That said, his record is in proven, time tested fields. Paypal was the application of existing technology to an existing enterprise. It is the same as mixing chocolate and peanut butter for the first time. A nice innovation, but not on the same level as the invention of peanut butter. The same is true of SpaceX. The hard work was done. Musk stripped out the waste.

You can go either way on that score. The fact that his next big thing is basically combining a pneumatic tube and a train has me thinking maybe he has swung and missed on this new combination of existing technology. This does not rise to the Segway level of innovation.

dan1111 August 14, 2013 at 11:43 am

Hmmm…if the train doesn’t pan out, maybe they can use the tube as a Segway track.

Rahul August 14, 2013 at 12:32 pm

One of my red flags is a proposal that spectacularly promises the stars without anything by way of a pilot / prototype / test project.

I’d be a lot more convinced if he’d even made a test rig, scale down model or some loop track perhaps. In the absence of any of that I file this under idle speculation.

Andrew' August 14, 2013 at 1:30 pm

The problem is scale. It seems pretty obvious that it will work, but it has to be enormous to work economically. The fully realized technology is basically teleporting across the globe, but teleporting a few blocks isn’t practical.

dan1111 August 14, 2013 at 11:41 am

Certainly SpaceX is an impressive success, but it is based on decades-old rocket technology.

The Tesla may make nice cars, but they haven’t broken any new technological ground–their innovation was packaging an electric drivetrain in a luxury car.

Musk is surely a talented businessman, he has no track record of making revolutionary technology a reality. And this idea seems like an obvious loser.

Finch August 14, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Bill Gates didn’t invent the computer either. The major government contractors spent trillions over decades while conspicuously failing to lower launch costs or increase safety or reliability. Musk comes in and does it on a shoestring. What he’s done is radically different from what came before. Similar things could be said about Tesla. There is nothing stopping GM from building cars like that, except that they are GM. I’m not saying I guarantee success for SpaceX or Tesla, far from it. SpaceX is in constant danger of being legislated out of business by powerful political foes, and electric cars don’t make a lot of sense. I’m just saying we shouldn’t underestimate how different these firms are from their old-school competitors.

The one technical positive I can think for the Hyperloop is that it can contain (eliminate?) the noise of supersonic travel, which would be a big win as that’s one of the legitimate problems with supersonic planes. SF LA may not be a long enough distance for this to matter.

dan1111 August 14, 2013 at 2:19 pm

@Finch, I’m not sure what the point is with Bill Gates. Microsoft hasn’t developed a single significant technological innovation. They succeeded by revolutionizing the business side of selling software. So if Bill Gates proposed this, I wouldn’t be any more optimistic.

Has SpaceX really dramatically reduced the costs of launching rockets? According to this Wikipedia chart, so far they have had higher launch costs than the Russian Proton-M rocket:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_orbital_launch_systems

Development costs are hard to compare, since they are building on previous development work done by government programs. I wouldn’t be surprised if their costs are far lower than an organization like NASA. But is that technological innovation or managerial innovation? In any case, it is orders of magnitude away from the kind of innovation needed to develop a completely new form of transportation AND install an operational line at a cost far lower than just building a high speed rail line.

Dan Weber August 14, 2013 at 4:30 pm

Can you actually get a Proton launch for $85 million?

Even NASA says it would have cost billions for them to do what Musk has done.

This quote sums up a lot of how SpaceX has changed things so much from the old way of aerospace:

Mueller recalls asking a vendor for an estimate on a particular engine valve. “They came back [requesting] like a year and a half in development and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Just way out of whack. And we’re like, ‘No, we need it by this summer, for much, much less money.’ They go, ‘Good luck with that,’ and kind of smirked and left.” Mueller’s people made the valve themselves, and by summer they had qualified it for use with cryogenic propellants.

“That vendor, they iced us for a couple of months,” Mueller says, “and then they called us back: ‘Hey, we’re willing to do that valve. You guys want to talk about it?’ And we’re like, ‘No, we’re done.’ He goes, ‘What do you mean you’re done?’ ‘We qualified it. We’re done.’ And there was just silence at the end of the line. They were in shock.” That scenario has been repeated to the point where, Mueller says, “we passionately avoid space vendors.”

Ricardo August 15, 2013 at 2:53 am

Musk has a contract with NASA for 12 launches to low earth orbit worth $1.6 billion. That is $133 million per launch to carry ~20,000 pounds at a cost of over $6,000 per pound. That’s lower than the conventional estimate of $10,000 per pound but this is an incremental improvement, not a revolutionary change. Musk is claiming he can get launch costs down to $500 per pound but it will be years before anyone can definitely say that SpaceX has found a profitable, sustainable way to bring launch costs down by so much.

The fact that SpaceX is competing with other firms and helping to drive down costs is surely a good thing. But claims about how transformative and revolutionary the company is are, so far, based more on SpaceX’s and Musk’s PR efforts than on solid empirical data.

Finch August 15, 2013 at 8:44 am

@Ricardo
If you know anything at all about it, you know that calling that contract “launch costs” is seriously misleading. SpaceX developed and operated a new spacecraft for it and jumped through NASA’s competition filters, er, compliance processes to operate with ISS. This isn’t the same thing as launching a satellite. Also, as a point of comparison, how long does it take SLS/Orion to blow through $1.6B? How’s their progress been lately?

We’ve all mentally calibrated our sense of large scale engineering difficulty based on how long it takes our political superiors to provide us with shiny baubles, not based on how hard it is to actually do things.

The Hyperloop is a fricking monorail. Elon Musk could build it in a cave with a box of scrap. The question is whether he’ll be politically and regulatoraly allowed to (there’s a lot of backyards involved), and whether it makes any sense in the face of the coming competition.

Scott August 14, 2013 at 11:51 am

While I believe the driverless car will revolutionize transportation, it will lack the speed necessary to make longer trips more attractive. Miami to NYC could be a daytrip with a hyperloop, not so much with a driverless car.

Dan Weber August 14, 2013 at 12:58 pm

With the driverless car, you could start your trip at 10pm, go to sleep, and wake up when you get there.

On the other hand, Musk’s “drive right onto the hyperloop” idea could work wonders. You drive to DC and then take the East Coast hyperloop the rest of the way to NYC at 600mph.

Where did Musk get his projected ridership numbers? This is an economics blog, so we should be looking at those.

Rahul August 14, 2013 at 4:21 pm

At least with driver-less cars, by the time news got out Google already had well working prototypes.

The point that annoys me about Musk’s idea is that he’s tooting his horn so loudly when the only thing he has is a report and some cool drawings.

Dan Weber August 14, 2013 at 5:02 pm

He’s said he doesn’t have time to build this right now. It would take too much of his attention. You’d need to wait to TSLA or SpaceX to have an exit event, and for SpaceX the exit event is him going to Mars.

John Schilling August 14, 2013 at 12:16 pm

Musk’s unambiguous successes have come in essentially unregulated industries. E-commerce before the bureaucrats really understood what that meant, and commercial spaceflight where there is essentially a one-stop shopping regulatory regime under the auspices of the industry-friendly FAA AST. He’s proven he can accomplish great things at almost unbelievably low cost, if you basically toss him out in the desert with a pile of cash and no strings attached.

Could Musk make a working hyperloop between, say, Barstow and Yuma if he had six billion dollars for the project? Possibly, though I expect it would still take longer and cost more than he expects. And so what? There’s plenty of people who could build a conventional high-speed rail line between Barstow and Yuma for six billion, if they were daft enough to want to.

Between LA and SF, and with public financing given that he doesn’t actually have a spare six billion, Musk would run into all of the obstacles that are driving the cost of California’s current high-speed rail program upwards of sixty billion dollars. These are not technical obstacles, nothing in the Hyperloop proposal even acknowledges the existence of these obstacles, and nothing in Musk’s past hints at his being the guy to overcome these obstacles where everyone else has failed.

Steve Sailer August 14, 2013 at 6:05 pm

Right. The problems driving up the cost of the high speed rail boondoggle in California — environmental, geographic, seismic, political, and real estate — would drive up the cost of a California hyperloop. It makes more sense to build one between Dallas and Houston across flat land in a state with less regulation.

Andrew' August 14, 2013 at 6:34 am

Technically, I wouldn’t build a tube transport on such a short distance. So, first thought is that it is mainly a proof-of-concept, so direct comparisons may be mostly irrelevant. Returns on the travel margin are correlated to cost, but the returns to imagination are highly skewed.

Steven Kopits August 14, 2013 at 9:09 am

I actually find the hyperloop concept quite intriguing.

Because speeds are very high, it’s competitiveness will be greatest at long distances, eg, LA to Beijing. It will not be competitive at intercity distances, although as A’ notes, you’d need a proof of concept.

The economics of such a venture are intriguing. I would imagine a LA-Seattle-Vancouver–Tokyo / Seoul–Beijing loop would cost somewhere between $0.5-1.0 trillion.

But what volumes it could take! You could put 5,000 passengers on a single train, in theory. Also, you could easily put cargo through the system. The limiting factor is the distance between trains, not their length. So, let’s say you could run a train every 15 min in each direction. That’s 200 trains per day, round numbers.

Let’s say we move 20,000 passengers each way, and 10,000 containers of freight. Figure $1,000 / passenger and container, or, let’s say, $60 million per day in revenue, of which $50 million is available to cover fixed costs (eg. project development and construction). That’s about $18 bn in revenues. Figure a 20x multiple, and you have a budget of $400 bn, if I’m being a bit generous.

It’ll cost twice that, putting the consortium governments $400 bn in the hole. Take $200 bn as the US share. Considering all the stupid stuff we waste money on, this actually doesn’t seem that bad to me. $200 bn is maybe six months in Iraq and Afghanistan.

I’d rather have the tunnel.

Dan Weber August 14, 2013 at 1:00 pm

You will get better results in debates if you don’t compare the price against the Iraq war. By that logic we should be funding zillions of 10-figure projects since they are all cheaper than that.

I’m sure there are people who want to go from LA to Beijing, but enough to justify whatever a hyperloop there would cost?

Andrew' August 14, 2013 at 1:31 pm

He won me over, in the sense that I was very close to pre-agreement that the only audacious capital aggregation schemes the government can manage these days range from ideas that are horrible to horrific.

Steven Kopits August 14, 2013 at 4:05 pm

Of course, Dan, there are many questions and potential deal killers. But for a change, we have an idea here that expands our possibilities and promises to give us something we don’t have today.

Consider:

- No Concorde anymore. We fly slower than we did in 1990–and it takes longer to get through the airport.
- There are 16% fewer US commercial airline departures today than there were in 2005
- High oil prices make automobile travel less viable. In the last three months, we drove 1.4% less than during the same period in 2005.
- Maersk’s new mega container ship will steam more slowly than the clipper ships did.
- With renewable power, the idea is to make us pay much more for what we used to pay less.
- And it’s the same for oil. From 1998 to 2005, we were able to increase the oil supply by 8.6 mbpd with $1.5 trillion in upstream spend (on oil and gas exploration and production). In the next seven years, to 2012, we were able to increase the oil supply by 4.1 mbpd for $3.5 trillion in upstream spend. (The GDP of Germany is $3.5 trillion–and notice how all the numbers keep coming back to 2005.)

This is not the story of The Great Stagnation. This is a story of Outright Decline.

So here we have Elon Musk with a vision, good or bad, but a vision. And that vision suggests a way forward to a capability we have not had before, to a society of enhanced possibilities. I understand all the problems, all the caveats, all the deal killers.

But I, for one, want to move forward. And we’re not going to have any more oil to do that. So whatever we do, it’s going to have to be something different and more clever. Musk has put an idea on the table: the notion that we can do better. That’s important, regardless how the vision turns out.

Nate August 17, 2013 at 1:49 pm

It’s a great vision, and the California line is just the proof of concept. Also, something like this is the only viable way to get out to the space elevator platform in the middle of the ocean.

Steven Kopits August 14, 2013 at 9:33 am

I actually find the hyperloop concept quite intriguing.

As it emphasizes high speeds, it will be competitive only at long distances (1,000+ miles), although A’ is correct in saying that it needs a proof of concept. I think a loop might have the following route: LA – Seattle – Vancouver – Tokyo / Seoul – Beijing.

I believe the costs for a large system would run in the $0.5-1.0 trillion (yes, trillion) range.

But what volumes it could move! The limiting factor is the distance between trains, not the length of the trains themselves. A single train could carry 5,000 people, in principle. In addition, the system could carry freight, as the fixed costs are very high, but the variable costs are theoretically low.

Now if we assume departures every 15 min in each direction, moving 20,000 people and 10,000 containers of freight each way at $1,000 per, then that implies $60 million of daily revenue, of which perhaps $50 million could cover fixed costs (project development and construction). That’s about $18 bn per year, and if I allow a (rather generous) 20x multiple, then the total project cost could be $400 bn.

Of course, the total bill would likely be twice that, putting the sponsor governments $400 bn in the hole, and let’s allocate $200 bn of that to the US. That’s about what we would spend in six months in Iraq and Afghanistan, and arguably we didn’t get much return on that investment.

Personally, I’d rather have the tunnel.

The PolyCapitalist August 14, 2013 at 7:57 am

Yes, one of the main attractions of the Hyperloop is price. But the second is that it will solar-powered.

While as Tyler points out building the hyperloop may be carbon negative, shifting people from burning fossil fuels either driving or flying SF-LA to hyperlooping will be a net-carbon positive change.

sam August 14, 2013 at 8:28 am

Even if it only costs $20 per head doesn’t mean it will be priced $20 per head. Where are the competing hyperloops to drive P down to MC? More than likely the novelty and convenience of the hyperloop, plus the wealthy LA/SanFran populations would lead to a lot of demand and mark-up just to keep the lines short. I could even imagine the ticket price surpassing airfare in the short-term simply because of how cool the thing would be to ride.

Dan Weber August 14, 2013 at 1:06 pm

If the price is marked up to “keep the lines short” then that would the project has been remarkably successful: more people want to take it then it can handle.

Musk assumed 15 million trips a year, which means cars leaving every 90 seconds or so during daylight hours. Is that number realistic? If that number is wrong, it’s wrong because he won’t be able to attract that much throughput, not because it’s too popular.

Andrew' August 14, 2013 at 6:29 am

Hilarious. I was going to make a comment on previous thread about how even though Rand’s supermen were a literary device, we have them today except that planes, trains and automobiles are more romantic than on-line shopping carts. Well, hush my mouth.

anon August 14, 2013 at 11:48 am

+1

Captive audience for an hour – it will be ad supported.

anon August 14, 2013 at 11:49 am

+1

Users will be captive audience – ad supported.

anon August 14, 2013 at 12:29 pm

+1

Hmm, captive audience. I see it being ad supported.

Andrew` August 14, 2013 at 2:27 pm

Had just that thought. You want windows so you have to have LCD tunnel walls.

albert magnus August 14, 2013 at 6:30 am

The land rights are the obvious killer of all these ideas since high-speed rail would work just fine if it could be built. Have economists and legal scholars looked at land rights and come up with any innovative ideas?

Ted M August 14, 2013 at 8:18 am

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eminent_domain

Of course, this is politically costly, hence negotiation over land rights.

MD2 August 14, 2013 at 8:47 am

The idea is to build it mainly along the I-5 corridor so that land rights issues will be minimized. I’ll admit that I don’t know how feasible that is physically or legally, but Musk at least did think about that.

Steve Sailer August 14, 2013 at 6:09 pm

The I-5 corridor north of Los Angeles to Bakersfield is like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Flat, straight routes like Chicago to St. Louis or Dallas to Houston sounds a lot more feasible.

Doug M August 14, 2013 at 8:35 pm

under the grapevine, only along I 5 between Bakersfield and Pleasanton.

Dan Weber August 14, 2013 at 1:10 pm

He also is building on pylons, which (he says) reduce the land infringement. It will probably still take courts and legislatures to dictate how much a pylon in your field is worth.

The pylon construction and installation is about half the total cost, so it’s not like he’s ignored that.

dan1111 August 14, 2013 at 3:15 pm

Yeah, he’s definitely taken the time to wave his hand at that problem.

Ashok Rao August 14, 2013 at 6:39 am

Detroit can become a cheap-housing suburb of Chicago. That’s the real plus.

(A daily, air-commute would be hugely carbon-intensive and unaffordable for the group of people I have in mind.)

The graph on page nine of the official proposal suggests the Hyperloop saves a lot of energy per passenger – which means if we institute a national Hyperloop system we can save quite a bit of carbon.

Its Achilles’ Heel will be land rights and eminent domain.

Andrew' August 14, 2013 at 7:12 am

That’s why it should be positioned at the lowest bidder. And Musk or whoever should stipulate no eminent domain.

Connor August 14, 2013 at 9:39 am

I don’t know if national system is order, I think more so for close proximity cities.

In his proposal he doesn’t see it beneficial to build hyperloop for trips that would be over an hour as he believes supersonic air transportation is on its way, and would eliminate the need for those hyperloop trips.

EnerGeoPolitics August 14, 2013 at 3:14 pm

and everyone living in between the big cities can just go fuck themselves

Rahul August 14, 2013 at 4:23 pm

Someone needs to maintain the tubes and paint the pylons…..

RM August 14, 2013 at 6:53 am

Wireless on a one-hour flight is not all that helpful. Even if they relax their restrictions about “it is now ok to use your electronic devices”, safety and practical concerns will prevent people from using laptops and tablets during takeoffs and landings, killing 15 minutes on either side: a flying device is hazardous and often you still need someplace to rest your device.

(Not that I believe that the hyperloop will happen anytime soon.)

Nick Zbinden August 14, 2013 at 9:09 am

I really fucking hate these ‘its not ok to use electronic devieces’-shit. I fligh a lot and I dont require to use my fucking laptop but I just want to listen to some music, I would fall asleep befor takeoff. If these electronic devieces could really bring down a plane they would take them away, its just regulatroy bullshit.

Fortunatly I have long hair I can hide the cable and the earpiece behind the hair but thats a bother.

Alex' August 14, 2013 at 10:17 am

When they tell me to turn off my phone, I just put it to sleep. I haven’t crashed a single plane yet.

Crap, now the NSA knows.

Finch August 14, 2013 at 1:14 pm

The NSA already knew.

I think we’ve long passed the point where you should have a reasonable expectation of privacy when you are in the _presence_ of smartphones or other computers, much less while actively using them.

AlexP August 14, 2013 at 3:40 pm

The issue with having headphones in during takeoff and landing – as I understand it – is to do with safety. These are the times that an accident is most likely to happen, and they’d like you to be able to hear and respond to instructions in the case of such an event.

I don’t think anyone really believes wireless communication can interfere with an aircraft’s shielded systems that operate on aviation frequencies.

Doug M August 14, 2013 at 8:41 pm

The original ban on cell phones in airplanes was to protect the cell phone network. A phone call at altitude would be picked up at multiple towers and put a much heavier load on the system than a call at ground level.

The reason it is still there is that it upsets your neighbors if you are jabbering away the whole flight.

It never had anything to do with avionics.

Rahul August 15, 2013 at 4:04 am

“The original ban on cell phones in airplanes was to protect the cell phone network.”

Do you have a source for that? I always assumed that was myth.

Andrew' August 14, 2013 at 7:06 am

The great stagnation in travel is because the next technological step change is the evacuated tube and we can’t get there from here. But maybe we can get there from where Musk will get us.

Air sucks because the obvious bottlenecks make people not care about all the ancillary suckitude. With so few pilots qualified to fly ever larger aluminum cans that have to take ever more people to make economic sense it’s a wonder we do it at all. I don’t, but that’s because of the TSA.

Andrew' August 14, 2013 at 7:18 am

Thus far all the critiques are inane: “politics is hard,” “cost might be 45% over just like every other projected budget” (yeah, but that is just like every other projected budget, “all-elevated is bad” (okay, so don’t elevate it all, you only elevate to alleviate the politics problem, etc.), “engineering is hard”, flying is okay ;)

mofo. August 14, 2013 at 9:17 am

Not like your brilliantly witty quip ‘Air sucks’. We cant all be so eloquent, Shakespeare..

Andrew' August 14, 2013 at 9:24 am

I should specify that while air travel sucks, air is awesome. There is a crap ton of nothing up there.

boris August 14, 2013 at 7:30 am

When it comes to transportation there is a Great Stagnation – except that there is incredible innovation taking place by vehicle manufacturers in the area of driverless cars. Lincoln has a 2014 model that steers and adjusts speeds autonomously, and the Volvo S60 will be autonomous up to 30mph.

Technological advancements that change the world do not always take place where we expect them to.

Larry August 15, 2013 at 1:29 am

That’s a big appeal of Hyperloop. It is a nice innovation. Linear induction, partial evacuation and air cushions are all well-understood. The combination is the good part!

As for me, I’m fantasizing about a Google/Tesla combo that will allow my next car to be a robo-driving electric!

Andrew` August 14, 2013 at 7:39 am

Hard to fly into buildings…not that that will actually matter.

RZ0 August 14, 2013 at 7:44 am

JTA: As a new technology, hyperloop would be particularly vulnerable to the terrorist threat.

Nick Zbinden August 14, 2013 at 9:13 am

On that matter hyperloop seam to be much better then anything else. You have small cars, if you take a bomb and blow it up, how many people can you kill? Not that many, at least if the system is smart enougth not to shoot the next car into the explotion.

A train is much worse, if you derail it (and thats not that hard) I kill a shitload of people.

Hazel Meade August 14, 2013 at 7:51 am

I fail to see why the rail line or hyperloop couldn’t lease the land from the owners for a fee.
Why does it need to be eminent domained?

Ok in some places there are buildings that need to be demolished, but near cities you should be able to work with the local government to run it along a highway or existing railway path. Aren’t there plenty of defunct old rail lines that could be repurposed?

Dylan August 14, 2013 at 8:07 am

“I fail to see why the rail line or hyperloop couldn’t lease the land from the owners for a fee.
Why does it need to be eminent domained?”

I fail to see why the rail line or hyperloop couldn’t buy the land from the owners for a fee. Why does it need to be eminenet domained? Hold outs and hold ups, the same as it ever was.

Dylan August 14, 2013 at 8:12 am

A lease doesn’t solve any problems that a direct purchase wouldn’t. You still will have hold outs (people that won’t lease and are on the path) and hold ups (people using their key location to demand a lease rate much higher than the market rate).

High speed rail needs to run straighter than old rail lines and we want it to have stations in places those old lines don’t go.

Andrew' August 14, 2013 at 9:06 am

I have the solution. Giving me a large grant is what Elon Musk SHOULD be doing instead ;)

JohnJac August 14, 2013 at 7:54 am

Another source of time savings is the fact a pod is always leaving and thus there is no scheduling.

Andrew' August 14, 2013 at 9:19 am

And can be pre-loaded…not to mention loaded onto airplanes.

jb August 14, 2013 at 5:46 pm

I am surprised Tyler didn’t mention this. The proposal has a pod leaving every 10-15 minutes. Major airlines have flights leaving every 60-90 minutes, with the concatenate schedule of all airlines resulting in a flight leaving every 20-30 minutes. If you are airline agnostic, then the additional time savings is limited. However, for high frequency travelers (i.e. commuters) airline preference likely plays a larger role; a savvy traveler will limit their flights to single/few airline(s) so as to concentrate their perks (miles, lounge access, priority boarding, etc).

Dan Weber August 14, 2013 at 6:02 pm

Musk had departures every 90 seconds or so during peak times. I’m skeptical there is that much demand, but what’s the current daily traffic between SF and LA?

Jim August 14, 2013 at 8:10 am

Tyler,
Doesn’t your line of argument apply all the more to the high speed rail project?

HL seems clearly better than that at least, especially in the prestige department.

ChrisA August 14, 2013 at 8:19 pm

This is the main issue. We don’t have to debate the worthiness of a high speed link between LA and SF, they are already building one. The question is; “what is the best technology to use for such a link?”. Musk has done the Californian tax payers a huge favor by pointing out a potentially cheaper alternative. Given his prestige surely they will have to look seriously at this, and maybe, with luck, the whole thing will be forgotten.

JJ August 14, 2013 at 8:17 am

This is an R&D cost for the NY-LA hyperloop.

Squarely Rooted August 14, 2013 at 8:23 am

The back end of air travel is also time consuming, and airports are land-intensive and tend to be far from urban cores. Hyperloop stations can deposit you in city centers.

To the extent hyperloop replaces mid-haul flights, it would probably have the same effect that replacing short-haul flights with HSR would have – increasing the proportion of long-haul flights (especially those over oceans) thus allowing a higher share of air travel to be dedicated to air travel’s least substitutable advantage.

ChrisA August 14, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Your argument may have been true a few decades ago, but nowadays business and urban sprawl means that most travelers will be continuing their journey by car after arrival. So the advantage of a central location is much less. What percentage of people currently arriving at LAX end their journey withing walking distance of central LA?

Alexei Sadeski August 15, 2013 at 12:45 am

Airports are land intensive? Compared to what??

John Mansfield August 14, 2013 at 8:25 am

The word “automatically” appears to many times in the white paper. There’s this sense that things that are too expensive will at last be cheap enough to do because somehow we’ll figure out how to live like the Jetsons and just push buttons, and good things will happen automatically.

Nick Zbinden August 14, 2013 at 9:17 am

If we can get cars to drive savly alnogside with humans it should not be that hard to have a automatic hyperloop system. I mean there are tons of metros that run automaticlly, just fine.

The hyperloop is even simpler, there are only two stations and there are is nothing crossing.

John Mansfield August 14, 2013 at 10:04 am

I’m not refering to the computerized coordination nearly so much as sentences like “The water and steam tanks will be changed automatically at each stop.” Forgetting the peculiar steam tank idea for the present, the way an empty tank is dealt with in the real world is that some person connects a hose to it, opens a valve, closes the valve when the tank is full, and disconnects the hose. In Jetson dreams though, an empty tank is “automatically” changed for a quarter-ton full tank. There seems to be a lot of that with every material handling issue.

x August 14, 2013 at 12:56 pm

Uh?

You just build a robotic arm that swaps it, or you dock a rotating cylinder of tanks to it and rotate it.

Employing someone to connect hoses to tanks all day is nuts.

Would you perform such a menial job? Would you even be able to do so?

Rahul August 14, 2013 at 1:53 pm

Why not employ a robot to connect hoses all day?

Dan Weber August 14, 2013 at 1:13 pm

If you let the California Steam Tank Replacement Union get their fingers into the pie, the hyperloop is dead.

Dan Abrams August 14, 2013 at 8:27 am

Well, the hyperloop doesn’t eliminate the security checks and the commute to the departure station, it does make them substantially more convenient.

The commute to the station probably isn’t a big deal in a sprawling, suburban city like Los Angeles or Atlanta, but in a city with a centralized, walkable city center like San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Boston, or Washington DC, it’s a big deal. Anyone along the Amtrak corridor can tell you that overall travel time from NY to DC is less on the train than in a plane, because you get in a few blocks from your office at Penn Station and get out a short walk from your destination at Union Station. Commuting out to JFK, or god forbid, Newark, is a nightmare for the majority of NYC residents. Getting to penn station or grand central is much easier, even for those coming from the suburbs, often.

Additionally, the nature of the TSA screening on these things doesn’t have to be as vigorous. Planes can be either destroyed or hijacked (and flown into buildings). Hyperloop capsules can only be destroyed. Much of the current TSA work is about finding small items which can be used to hijack planes, like box cutters or knives. TSA on the hyperloop will only have to look for explosives, which will reduce the intrusiveness of security. Also, if the station is limited to only a few routes, as it sounds like hyperloop will be, the number of passengers waiting in line at TSA will be smaller. The Amtrak area of penn station serves far fewer people than Newark airport at any given time, even though more people take Amtrak to Washington or Boston than fly (in my experience).

There’s a third advantage for travel time: the hyperloop capsules leave in a steady stream, rather than simply departing three hundred passengers all at once. Users will undoubtedly queue up in one line, kind of like getting on a roller coaster, and simply wait for their capsule to depart. Users for whom time is more important than money will surely be able to pay for first class, the main benefit of which will be a shorter line. It takes 30 excruciating minutes to board an airplane (and fifteen to deplane). Not to mention that having everybody leave at once means that everybody arrives to check in around the same time, and to go through security at the same time, causing temporary lines at those areas of the airport, which may be alleviated if instead it’s a steady stream of people arriving.

Nick Zbinden August 14, 2013 at 9:23 am

Not from america os bear with me.

Do the TSA check everybody on every train like system in america? If not why would they need to check people going into the hyperloop. Ever single metro car or train is a better target then the hyperloop if you want to kill people.

So why would there be any hold up what so ever?

Also it seams to most efficent system would be to just have a line you can wait in, or more realistcly draw a ticket with a number on it. And for those who pay a lot, they could get a ticket that says, you a have a reserved seat in pod X, that leaves at 12:30.

Adam August 14, 2013 at 11:20 am

No, TSA does not screen every train passenger.

Komori August 15, 2013 at 10:25 am

Not yet, but they’re trying to expand. And not just to cover rail travel, either, but bus and subway travel as well. Not to mention sporting events and concerts. Search for VIPR if you’re curious. There’s no way the TSA would let any new transportation slip past their control, so they’d definitely be in on this one.

Slocum August 14, 2013 at 9:45 am

“Additionally, the nature of the TSA screening on these things doesn’t have to be as vigorous.”

I would say that the reverse is true — blow up one capsule, and you’ve not only destroyed that one capsule, but have also likely done major damage to the system which will be inoperable for an extended period of time (BTW–what happens to the other capsules en-route if there’s a huge breach in the tube and pressure is lost?). And, of course, a hyperloop system (unlike aircraft after takeoff) is vulnerable to ground-based attacks — what happens if you take out a pylon with a bomb (or just a heavy, high-speed truck)?

Not to mention that flying hijacked aircraft into buildings is no longer a plausible attack mode post 9/11 (we have both secure cockpit doors and passengers who will not quietly during a hijacking). But the most vulnerable point in our public transportation system are crowded stations and airports. There’s nothing at all to prevent someone from towing a 200# IED in a wheelie bag into the middle of a crowded security checkpoint area and detonating it. That this doesn’t happen is an indication that terrorist organizations lack the means to carry out even such simple, low-tech attacks in the U.S. Which means what the TSA is doing now is all pointless security theater. And I don’t think there’s any reason to believe that the TSA bureaucracy won’t jump at the chance to ‘expand their empire by getting heavily with any shiny, new high-speed rail transport system. In fact, they’re not waiting for new systems to come on line:

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/06/us/tsa-expands-duties-beyond-airport-security.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

MD2 August 14, 2013 at 10:33 am

“what happens if you take out a pylon with a bomb (or just a heavy, high-speed truck)?”

The same exact thing that happens if you take out any bridge pylon with a bomb or heavy truck – people die. Thing is, that doesn’t happen to any of our literally tens of thousands of unprotected bridge pylons on any given day, so maybe we shouldn’t cancel plans for a transportation system because a bad guy could do something bad once.

Slocum August 14, 2013 at 12:58 pm

No. But nor should we proceed with plans for an incredibly expensive new transportation system based on the unfounded expectation that it will be more time efficient because the TSA will leave us alone at the stations. They won’t. If we build it, the TSA will surely come.

MD2 August 14, 2013 at 2:28 pm

“If we build it, the TSA will surely come.”

You’re going to need to show me an Amtrak station that has TSA security lines for all, or even most, passengers. Trains are completely unprotected and we’re still at more risk from conductor error than people who want to blow them up.

You’ve also reduced your argument from “it’ll get blown up” to “TSA will show up.” Keep reaching.

Slocum August 14, 2013 at 3:37 pm

If you’ll glance up to the previous post, you’ll see a link to a Times story about Amtrak getting involved in train stations. When (more like if) any true high-speed rail systems are brought on line, the TSA surely will have time (and every incentive) to get fully up to speed. What reason would the TSA have for NOT pushing state-of-the-art, airport-style screening for a glamorous, high-profile new LA-to-SF bullet train? After all, if they didn’t do it, more people might get the dangerous (to the agency) idea that such screening isn’t needed at airports either.

bex August 14, 2013 at 4:04 pm

I thought of this too… the timing of it would be difficult: mainly because its had to hit a target moving at 800 miles per hour in an opaque tube. Musk mentioned that it would have an “emergency brake,” so as long as it can stop in under a minute you’re unlikely to harm more than the 14 people in one tube.

Regarding the damage to the tube itself: Musk mentioned that the tubes would be pre-fabricated sections… so they could probably fix it in a matter of hours or days. Truck or helicopter in a segment from a local warehouse, detach the old one, attach the new one.

Alex' August 14, 2013 at 10:19 am

You’re relying on the TSA to sensible.

Andrew' August 14, 2013 at 12:05 pm

The TSA justification for being is only the externality, mainly the flying into buildings which was made illegitimate before mid-morning on 9/11 as the heroes of Flight 93 fully internalized that externality by making that terrorist strategy obsolete.

That being said, whatever security the tubes want the tubes are pretty much free to implement, but they would likely find the right recipe.

But I put this under Alex’ comment because reason is illegal.

Zach August 14, 2013 at 8:27 am

Everyone should read this Pedestrian Observations evisceration of the proposal that Tyler linked. It identifies multiple fatal flaws with the proposal. The most salient to me are the issues with extreme g-forces placed on passengers, as well as safety (it does not seem crazy to me that building an elevated tube on pylons at long intervals might be accomplished much more cheaply than conventional viaduct construction).

aaron August 14, 2013 at 9:23 am

“There is a crossing of the San Francisco Bay, but there’s no mention of the high cost of bridging over or tunneling under the Bay”

Consider that California just spent more than $6 billion to build a bridge 3/4 of the way across the bay.

Dan Weber August 14, 2013 at 1:17 pm

Tunneling cost has $600 million allocated to it.

Maybe this idea won’t work, but “it must suck because it hasn’t pre-addressed the questions that thousands of people have” doesn’t seem quite fair.

Of course, the most likely way Musk is wrong will be on cost.

William McGreevey August 14, 2013 at 8:42 am

It’s just one more ‘romance of the rails’ story. No romance in better bus service, let alone bikes and walking. I see no evidence that benefits would repay costs in this case or, for that matter, in any high-speed rail investments. ‘Marginal’ improvements in pedestrian (pun fully intended) modes of transport will yield a much better b/c ratio.

Carl15 August 14, 2013 at 8:43 am

I’m not sure how often you take the train, but it is much more convenient to take the train than to fly. Train stations are located in city centers, not way out in the suburbs. The security at train stations is far less than at airports (I’m not sure why you would expect TSA-level security at the Hyperloop station when there is nothing close in existing train stations). Boarding a train is much easier than boarding a plane. Trains also allow passengers more room to stretch out and the safety procedures are less stressful. Trains almost always leave on time and planes are frequently delayed.

If I could get places on a train as fast as on a plane, I’d never fly again.

John Schilling August 14, 2013 at 11:49 am

Musk’s hyperloop proposal, if you read the details, specifically calls for TSA-level security, and it puts the “Los Angeles” station in Sylmar, which is farther out in the suburbs than any of LA’s commecial airports. There seems to be some ambiguity over where the “San Francisco” station is going to be as well, but there’s nothing in the budget to cover downtown right-of-way and infrastructure construction.

And these seem inherent weaknesses of the concept. Trains are preferred terrorist targets in every country where they are a preferred transportation method, and the hyperloop architecture is particularly vulnerable given its speed and its dependence on an evacuated tube. A suicide bomber could kill about as many people blowing a hyperloop car as he could a typical airliner, so the security requirements will be similar.

Meanwhile, hyperloop requires dedicated infrastructure that can’t be shared with conventional light rail or other mass transit systems, and would be prohibitively expensive to build from scratch in any existing city. Successful high-speed rail systems almost always run on standard-gauge track so that when the high-speed line inevitably comes to an end somewhere out in the suburbs, the train can seamlessly switch onto existing track and proceed downtown at reduced speed. Maybe five or ten minutes of extra travel time because those last few miles are spent at 30-40 mph rather than 200, but the passengers don’t have to get out of their seats so they don’t generally notice. And if you do have to lay new track, you can share the cost with intracity light rail projects aimed at the same market.

With hyperloop, you really do have to drive (or take a bus or regular train) out to the suburbs, park, haul your luggage to the counter, wait in line, check in, go through TSA-level screening, wait for the train, take your 35-minute ride to “Los Angeles”, then collect your luggage and find yourself standing in the lobby of a station way out in the middle of nowhere and facing essentially a repeat of the whole process to get where you actually want to go.

In general, when you are building new transport infrastructure, back-compatibility with existing infrastructure is a huge advantage, and extreme skepticism ought to be given to anything that doesn’t almost seamlessly integrate with the trillions of dollars worth of stuff you have built so far.

Dan Weber August 14, 2013 at 1:19 pm

A suicide bomber could kill about as many people blowing a hyperloop car as he could a typical airliner, so the security requirements will be similar.

In the passenger version, each car holds 28 people. It would suck to be one of those 28 people, or have to wait for the repair of the tube before the next car can go through, but that’s below average for flight capacity.

John Schilling August 14, 2013 at 3:51 pm

And if you have a hyperloop running only a single car at a time, through an uninhabited desert, then you’d be right that only twenty-eight lives would be at risk (from a single bomber, at least).

The proposal is for a two-way track positioned above a heavily-travelled freeway, with twenty-ton capsules running at about Mach one in both directions every thirty seconds in peak hours. If you can’t figure out how to kill at least a hundred people with one briefcase-sized bomb, well, we can hope all future terrorists are at least as unimaginative as you but I’m not counting on it.

Dan Weber August 15, 2013 at 11:14 am

I guess if terrorists are magical destroyers of anything you don’t want built, that works out well. How do you feel about the XL pipeline? Terrorists (both the third-world kind and our home-grown environmental wackadoos) don’t like it and will blow it up, or something, so we better not build it. I guess.

Even if the hyperloop designers tried to do so, it would be very hard to make this thing into a missile launcher. People have proposed using magnetic launch from evacuated tubes to get things into space, and the problem is always hitting the atmosphere at the end of the pipe, even the thin atmosphere at the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Even if you could somehow burst the pipe and launch one car, the in-rushing atmosphere would take the wind out of the sails of any following cars, which have 20 miles to stop.

But those same terrorists who made the capsules from 4 tons into 20 tons could probably hack into the design documents and make it do that. Somehow. They must have harnessed the power of imagination. We better surrender right now.

John Schilling August 15, 2013 at 4:19 pm

If I had said one damn thing about turning a hyperloop into a missile launcher, you might have had something resembling a point. I didn’t, so you don’t.

The system as described is exceedingly vulnerable to terrorism, such that TSA-level security procedures would certainly be necessary and may not even be adequate. Terrorists cannot magically destroy anything, but they can easily destroy this thing. They can destroy it whether or not you or I want it built, and they can do so in a way that affects more than just the passengers in one capsule. Without any sort of missile launcher being involved.

Note that, among many other problems, in high-traffic operation the distance between capsules is proposed to be shorter than the stopping distance of a capsule.

Dan Weber August 16, 2013 at 12:12 pm

Note that, among many other problems, in high-traffic operation the distance between capsules is proposed to be shorter than the stopping
distance of a capsule.

Just in case any one else is reading, this is entirely made up, just like the thing about the capsules weighing 20 tons was entirely made up.

But I’ve been accused of not having a good imagination.

Therapsid August 14, 2013 at 8:43 am

The Hyperloop would be about twice as fast in travel time and probably faster than that in total and Tyler’s saying why bother? TGS mentality in a nutshell.

The Erie canal or steamboat would never have been built with this kind of mindset. Connect this post to Edmund Phelp’s new book – we’ve lost the culture of dynamism that made capitalism work.

Ryan August 14, 2013 at 12:27 pm

The ironic part is the name of this blog in relation to what is discussed.

Ryan August 14, 2013 at 12:30 pm

This may appear twice:
The most ironic part is the name of this blog in relation to what is discussed here.

NPW August 14, 2013 at 8:44 am

SF to LA may not be much of an improvement, but NY to SEA would be. The impracticallity is tied to land rights, not the tech. The basic ideas for the tech have been around since the 1920′s. The necessary improvements to build it today vs then are materials.

In the end it is science fiction, not due to the science, but the fiction that people will cooperate for the common good.

Dan Weber August 14, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Annually, how many people want to take the tube from NYC to SEA versus taking an airline flight?

As Musk points out, it is much less radical to just let supersonic aircraft fly at very high altitudes.

The Anti-Gnostic August 14, 2013 at 8:48 am

Flying is carbon-negative,

Whatever you need to tell yourself…

RPLong August 14, 2013 at 8:51 am

People have been talking about this for decades. I remember my 6th grade teacher telling us about something called “plane-tran,” a high-speed train that promises to carry travelers from LA to NYC in just 3-4 hours. I hear about this idea in some form or another every five years or so. I won’t say it’s never going to happen, but the fact that the technology has existed for decades and yet has never proven to be commercially viable should clue people in after a while.

The only way to make this happen is to get governments to pay for it.

The real issue is over-regulation of the aviation industry. Deregulate air travel, and watch it quickly overtake this dumb super-train idea.

Eric August 14, 2013 at 8:55 am

I guess the main draw is that the hyperloop is supposed to transport vehicles as well. If you could drive into a pod, be shot to the other end and then drive off again, not leaving your vehicle, the time savings would be huge compared to air travel.

nash August 14, 2013 at 8:55 am

How can you read that and not think of the Simpsons’ Monorail?

RPLong August 14, 2013 at 1:31 pm

haha +1

That is exactly what I thought of.

Nick Zbinden August 14, 2013 at 9:03 am

Thats the exact point I made. Lots of people same to have some problem with flying, and think trains or hyperloop somehow better. Probebly because it does not there is no need to burn stuff.

I would say letting down fligh securty (note not actual securty just shitty fake feel good security) and having efficent airports would actually bring down travle time a lot. I dont know about america, I fligh from Basel to Berlin a lot and the ticked is depending on season and such somewhere between 30 and 70 bugs, more often closer to 30.

So for the moment it seams that airplanes are simple the most efficent.

Taking away TSA is of course politicly impossible, so it might be that hyperloop makes more sence. A Railway has of course benefits over it, you can easly use it for transportation of heavy things and such.

But then again lets assume you can build Hyperloop for 10-20 Billion (he clames 7 but lets but politics into play) and the train will cost 70 Billion (lets say 100 if you asusme politcs) it probebly makes more sence to build a hyperloop. Or fucking build two Hyperloops next to each other, and build it in a way that you can add more if you feel like it.

Ignacio Concha August 14, 2013 at 9:11 am

I like Mathew Yglesia’s solution for faster rail travel:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2013/08/12/radically_faster_nyc_dc_transportation.html

Ignacio Concha August 14, 2013 at 9:57 am

**Yglesias’

Ricardo August 15, 2013 at 5:53 pm

Strictly speaking, “Yglesias’s” (Strunk and White)

Urso August 14, 2013 at 2:06 pm

My standing criticism of Yg is that he acts as though he’s unaware that there is anyone in the country who lives anyone other than NYC or Washington. Here he basically comes out and says that out loud.

Mark August 14, 2013 at 9:12 am

My hope is that interest in this FUDs the existing, already problematic HSR project in California. I’d much rather explore the possibilities of this tech in a prototype and give more time for driverless cars to develop.

BenK August 14, 2013 at 9:19 am

The ‘Human Transit’ blog and book can help with this. Speed is much less important that frequency, wait, and the last mile. It seems that any bidirectional train solution gains over planes on all three, potentially. Airports are large, isolated. Flight paths saturate quickly. And so on…

babar August 14, 2013 at 9:23 am

why are there two cities in the first place?

Steven Kopits August 14, 2013 at 9:36 am

I actually find the hyperloop concept quite intriguing.

As it emphasizes high speeds, it will be competitive only at long distances (1,000+ miles), although A’ is correct in saying that it needs a proof of concept. I think a loop might have the following route: LA – Seattle – Vancouver – Tokyo / Seoul – Beijing.

I believe the costs for a large system would run in the $0.5-1.0 trillion (yes, trillion) range.

But what volumes it could move! The limiting factor is the distance between trains, not the length of the trains themselves. A single train could carry 5,000 people, in principle. In addition, the system could carry freight, as the fixed costs are very high, but the variable costs are theoretically low.

Now if we assume departures every 15 min in each direction, moving 20,000 people and 10,000 containers of freight each way at $1,000 per, then that implies $60 million of daily revenue, of which perhaps $50 million could cover fixed costs (project development and construction). That’s about $18 bn per year, and if I allow a (rather generous) 20x multiple, then the total project cost could be $400 bn.

Of course, the total bill would likely be twice that, putting the sponsor governments $400 bn in the hole, and let’s allocate $200 bn of that to the US. That’s about what we would spend in six months in Iraq and Afghanistan, and arguably we didn’t get much return on that investment.

Personally, I’d rather have the tunnel.

Morgan Warstler August 14, 2013 at 9:43 am

Most of the take down is just an argument that it is better built in Texas.

L. F. File August 14, 2013 at 9:45 am

High speed rail cannot be profitable. By the time it is built to the extent required for profitability – and can start paying off it’s debts – it will not be able to compete with self-drive vehicles. A hyperloop would have a chance at least of being efficient enough to compete with self-drive on some routes.

Ahhh, Let’s just let China do it!

lff

Therapsid August 14, 2013 at 10:00 am

The SF/LA route on the Hyperloop would be almost twice as fast as by plane and probably significantly faster in total travel time and Tyler is saying why bother. The TGS mentality in a nutshell.

Connect this post with the one publicizing Edmund Phelp’s new book – we have lost the culture of dynamism that made innovation possible.

paul August 14, 2013 at 10:05 am

TSA isn’t the only added cost of airports. Congestion is the biggest- which is why LA to San Francisco flights depart every hour, whereas subway trains which hold the same number of more people depart every couple of minutes. There’s also a legacy culture of expecting airlines to handle your heavy baggage, which significantly slows arrival and departure. And the carbon is not a small deal.

While the first hyperloop will be costly, keep in mind that innovation is most dramatic in the early days of a technology. The hyperloop 20 years out could be orders of magnitude more energy efficient than airlines, and there’s no reason to think it couldn’t be as smooth as getting on and off of the subway.

A single pair of tubes is a pretty big bottleneck though. An attack on one of the tubes could shut down the hyperloop for weeks and likely bankrupt an operator.

Bryan Willman August 14, 2013 at 10:27 am

@Finch has it, but doesn’t mention the biggest issue: Scheduling.

You get to an airport 15 minutes late, and even in a heavily served market like LA to SF you face a disproportionate delay, especially if the next few flights are booked. Your auto-driving car leaves your house 15 minutes late, and you may or may not be 30 minutes late at the other end depending on congestion patterns, and you might be only 15 minutes late.

What’s more, regardless of what work facilities are on the plane, the time in parking garages, shuttle buses, and standing in the TSA line is ALWAYS WASTED TIME.

AND – if you could do the work via the web, why are you flying to the other city in the first place?

Musk’s scheme is likely too costly, but driverless cars will likely be a HUGE hit on runs like “metro seattle to metro portland” (which is already faster by car than by plane in net time consumed.)

Rahul August 14, 2013 at 1:56 pm

Scheduling comes with its downside too: With a single tube, no overtaking scheme if any one of your 40-or so pods has a hiccup, off goes your entire schedule.

I’d be curious to know how long it takes their pumps to bring down the ~500 mile tube to 1 torr from atmospheric pressure.

Rob Kinyon August 14, 2013 at 10:27 am

It seems that your argument boils down to “This is just a marginal improvement over what we already have, so why bother?”

Except, it’s not just a marginal improvement. it’s a massive improvement. Maybe not over the LA-SF route, but over the Boston-NYC-DC route or the Chicago-Detroit-Buffalo-Albany-Boston route. Or the Portland-Seattle-Vancouver route.

You know, everywhere that high-speed rail has been proposed and has languished. If Musk is 100% off in his projections, it’s still 80% cheaper and will take 80% less time than building the equivalent high-speed rail.

I’m good with that.

Albert Ling August 14, 2013 at 10:27 am

Elon Musk is a tech version of Eike Batista, they even look similar…
I suggest shorting Tesla and the Hyperloop

Andrew' August 14, 2013 at 1:33 pm

That can be BOTH great advice while also thinking it a wonderful technology and a successful product, a law what Warren Buffett always says about airlines.

Adam August 14, 2013 at 11:15 am

Okay, but in the real world we aren’t going to be letting up on TSA, and even if we did, the logistics of getting your bags and yourself on the plane and into the air are such that it takes awhile.

Meanwhile, you can arrive at train station five minutes before departure and still get on your train.

To me, the better question about the hyperloop is whether any of the fancy new tech is needed. If you can get a perfectly straight right of way, you can build existing HSR technology and get most if not all of the time saving, I think.

Andrew' August 14, 2013 at 12:07 pm

There is no justification for the TSA. The justification is you can fly planes into buildings, although that is no longer legitimate.

I wouldn’t bet in favor of reason with regards the TSA, particulary short-term. But I also wouldn’t bet against logic.

Phip August 14, 2013 at 11:54 am

You drop casually, “Flying is carbon-negative…” What? That’s news to me.

bex August 14, 2013 at 4:28 pm

[[citation_needed]]

tt August 14, 2013 at 12:03 pm

not really a fan of the ‘hyperloop’ but,
i think you need to verify the reality of
“you can fly LA to San Francisco in about an hour”
(ie include all the other hassles TSA,delays,traffic)

Techreseller August 14, 2013 at 12:24 pm

Same reason I take Amtrak to New York from Washington DC. Very very few weather delays. Can show up at station and get a train within 1 hour. Fly to New York. Weather delays, TSA hassle, runway delays, who the hell knows why delays.

L. F. File August 14, 2013 at 4:05 pm

And more to come unless viable competition starts alleviating some of the demand.

lff

JasonL August 14, 2013 at 12:35 pm

Dunno about the need being met here, the technical feasibility or the cost, but I’ll admit to being ready to see some moonshots that might pan out and drive some innovation. I kinda don’t really like the form of criticism that goes “disruptive innovation is fine for silicon valley but transportation is different so just build high speed rail”. Eh. I guess planes, trains, and automobiles forever then?

SS August 14, 2013 at 2:24 pm

I understand wonkblog etc. panning this due to mood affiliation (how dare Musk impugn HSR?) but would Tyler come against this? Is it due to mood affiliation in turn? In general, perhaps it is due to inertial comments such as these that is responsible for the great stagnation? (What no instantaneous teleportation? No beans for you!)

Why this is an improvement over air travel: (a) the operational costs would be lower than airlines, and increasingly so given the presumably rising costs of jet fuel, and importantly (b) it takes less (even if *only* by a factor of two) time than air travel!

SS August 14, 2013 at 2:29 pm

If there is one place where there is no great stagnation, it is in mood affiliation.

From Wonkblog, from TC.

/very saddened

Max August 14, 2013 at 2:38 pm

This strikes me as exceptionally shallow thinking. The problem with airlines is not that airports are a pain, or that we are not comfortable enough in flight, or we don’t have 24-7 Kindles. The problem is that, in order to realize the performance benefits of low air resistance, an airplane (however many tons of metal and other crap that represents) must be lifted about thirty thousand feet into the air before it even begins to make serious horizontal progress towards its destination. When it arrives the entire process must be reversed. All of this takes an enormous amount of liquid fuel and contributes immense amounts of carbon emissions to the atmosphere. This is not a sustainable model for long distance, high speed transport of human beings long into the future. I believe that the emphasis should be on finding a better way to accomplish this objective that doesn’t have such extreme environmental negatives. This is the context in which the hyperloop should be evaluated.

Doug M August 14, 2013 at 8:53 pm

You get the energy back in decent that it took you to get to 30,000 feet.

The energy you do not get back is the force of drag exerted on the plane during flight — which is as you point out why planes fly at ceiling altitude.

In the theory of the hyperloop — then tube is partially evacuated — reducing aerodynamic drag.

But planes require drag to to stay airborne. Lift is drag. Flying will never be particularly energy efficient.

Adam August 15, 2013 at 11:05 am

“You get the energy back in decent that it took you to get to 30,000 feet.”

Which would be great if you then didn’t have to stop to let passengers off.

Chet August 14, 2013 at 2:42 pm

You can already fly LA to San Francisco in about an hour.

What? No, come on. Wheels up to wheels down might be “about an hour.” But to “fly between LA and San Francisco” requires 3-4 hours (or more) of:
1) Travel from the city to the airport
2) Security screening and lines
3) Waiting at the departure gate
4) Time-consuming plane boarding
5) Actual wheels-up travel
6) Collection of baggage
7) Travel from airport to city

“Hyperloop”-style transit from city center-to-city center would be a substantial improvement. And as a mode of transportation hopefully coming online after we’ve collectively calmed down about 9/11 (whose disasters are likely to be limited to a section of tube, and not photogenically spread out over an Iowa cornfield) it’s not likely it would be subject to the same level of useless, time-consuming security screening.

HeyMikey August 14, 2013 at 2:49 pm

The technical and financial questions are complex, but the policy answer is simple: build a test loop that’s 20 to 50 miles long. See how hard it is to work out the initial bugs.

Start at a logical point in LA and build north, or in San Francisco and build south. Surely it can be made to work; the only question is at what cost.

If the cost per mile proves higher than the bullet train, then it’s no tremendous loss–the number of miles is low, and they can put the new bullet train terminal at the end of the hyperloop. But if the cost per mile proves lower than the bullet train, then they can proceed with the hyperloop. Compared to current bullet train plan, there’s very little downside and great potential upside.

This seems like a policy no-brainer.

Dan Weber August 14, 2013 at 4:34 pm

That seems the worst way to do it. You don’t want a half-finished infrastructure project hanging around.

If a test system is demanded, build it someplace where land isn’t so precious.

EnerGeoPolitics August 14, 2013 at 2:51 pm

Other than PayPal, Musk makes money three ways: hyping up his companies to inflate the stock price (Tesla), landing government contracts (SpaceX), and trading carbon credits (Tesla and Solar City). Hyperloop nets him all three at once.

the idea that Musk is an innovator is bullshit, too. He did not invent PayPal, he merged with another company that already had the system. The supposedly “game changing” Tesla is entirely comprised of off-the-shelf technology, as are the products of SolarCity and SpaceX. Even Hyperloop is a warmed over version of a project Ernst Frankel developed 20 years ago. At most, Musk has been a resuscitator, not an innovator.

HeyMikey August 14, 2013 at 3:49 pm

You give the Tesla Model S far too little credit. It was Automobile Magazine’s 2013 Automobile of the Year; Motor Trend 2013 Car of the Year; Yahoo! Autos 2013 Car of the Year; 2013 AutoGuide.com Reader’s Choice Car of the Year; and the highest-scoring car in the history of Consumer Reports (99 of 100). The typical electric car is slow, small, and has a range of 100 miles or less per charge; the Tesla S is big, fast, and has a range of 200 to 265 miles. The technology may be “off the shelf,” but the results are undeniable.

EnerGeoPolitics August 15, 2013 at 6:21 pm

The Model S is high tech three card monte – first of all, if you drive it fast and hard, its range drops precipitously. Second, the version that can go ~265 on a charge can only go in Musk approved directions, because you can’t turn around and get back home without one of the very few Tesla charging stations along the way. Third, the “high range” model will only be produced and sold in limited numbers. The real Model S – the one that might be a moderately high volume seller – is the low range model. When all is said and done, the Model S is just another short range urban commuter car for all except the handful who can afford to spend $100K on a toy. People are going to *think* that they are purchasing a high tech wunderkar that can do all the things that their ICE can do, but that card is actually being snuck up Musk’s sleeve as the affordable models hit the showroom floors.

ohwilleke August 14, 2013 at 2:59 pm

The basic idea of the hyperloop (i.e. a train inside a vacuum tube) has been kicking around since at least the 1970s and discussed in magazines like Popular Science with speeds as great as 14,000 mph sometimes alleged to be possible, allowing a NYC to LA trip in fifteen minutes or so (all with surprisingly modest electric power consumption that could eventually have a renewable source).

From an engineering perspective, the concept is all about minimizing friction. The laws of physics say that it necessarily costs energy to speed up or to slow down, but most of the energy use in all modern forms of transportation is involved in overcoming friction (from wheels to the surface, air resistance, water resistance) rather than speeding up or slowing down.

Of course, this would cost boatloads of money and as the demise of Trans-Atlantic Concorde service demonstrated, the commercial demand for faster than a commercial jet transportation is pretty thin. A NYC to LA commercial jet flight takes 5-6 hours of airtime (plus 2-3 hours of point to point) and it is hard to justify the cost of making the trip more quickly, especially when all transportation competes with Skype that allows instant cheap videoconferencing with widely available hardware, and lots of really urgent business that might be able to pay the freight doesn’t actually require a physical presence.

The impact of low volume demand is much greater for a train where the economies of scale are obvious. Most of the cost goes to one time infrastructure costs and to indivisible system-wide maintenance costs; so price per trip is directly proportional to total traffic volume. Even if they system could capture 95% of existing NYC to LA traffic and dramatically increase the total amount of traffic between the two points, it would be hard to justify the immense cost. In contrast, the cost of supersonic jet service can be scaled quite finely to demand by buying only as many supersonic jets as you can keep full and incurring only modest supersonic jet specific infrastructure costs. (AMTRAK outside the NE Corridor which piggybacks on freight rail infrastructure has economics more like aircraft than dedicated high speed passenger rail.)

In the case of issues like security and baggage and boarding and getting to and from final destinations from passenger gates, which can easily add 2-3 hours to even a very efficient travelers trip, technologies like high speed rail systems that manage to reduce that 2-3 hours (e.g. by going directly from downtown to downtown instead of to and from airports in the distant suburbs, and by regulatory arbitrage) gain a real edge in medium distant trips (like LA to San Francisco), but the edge is very modest compared to the benefit for long trips even if the train is actually going a bit faster than the plane. On an NYC to LA trip going 700 mph by train v. 600 mph by plane saves a couple hours at best (if non-stop, which is unlikely), while costing hundreds of billions if not trillions of dollars more.

Incidentally, in military applications, a handful of additional bases globally from which forces can be deployed is dramatically cheaper than that hypersonic transport planes for all but 1 in a million person skills and skills those systems are sold on (like special forces teams) are usually far from being 1 in a million person skills – hypersonic transports, if you needed them would make more sense for specialists surgeons and nuclear power plant repairmen or obscure spare parts, than for combat soldiers.

Steven Kopits August 14, 2013 at 4:16 pm

It’s a price / value proposition. Here’s a quick rule of thumb: If you earn $120,000, then you will value a minute of your time at about $1. So if you save 4 hours, then you should value that at $240.

Now, if you’re going to China, and you can save, say, 8 hours door-to-door, then you’d be willing to pay a premium of $480 compared to flying. If you have a $250,000 income (and a lot of people traveling regularly to China do), then the value premium would be about $1,000.

ohwilleke August 14, 2013 at 7:18 pm

Frequency has to be considered as well. Saving a few hours on a trip planned a month or two in advance is more comfortable.

But, the really premium priced reason to use high speed transportation is that there is an unanticipated emergency going on somewhat that urgently requires the personal presence of the traveler. A somewhat slower commercial jet trip may meet this person’s needs better than faster means of transportation if the faster means of transportation doesn’t have its next departure for several hours, destroying the benefit of the faster trip. Put another way, the cost of a premium priced fastest available trip determined the dollar threshold of “an emergency.” Maybe a premium priced fastest available trip costs $10,000. If you are an executive of a large multinational company whose urgent problems at your pay grade are typically $1,000,000+ problems, you will routinely fly executives to the scene by the fastest means available. If you are a small businessman whose urgent problems usually are $1,000 issues, you won’t. The lower the price, the more people will use the service.

bex August 14, 2013 at 4:40 pm

I always thought there would be a market for SLOWER air travel. I’m in Seattle and sometimes need to go to the East coast. I’d love to get to Atlanta on a red eye that took 6 hours rather than 4 hours so I could get a decent night’s sleep!

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