The 500 mph Commute

The 500 mph Commute

Getting from one place to another quickly has always been an objective of mankind. We have gone from our feet to horses, from horses to trains, from trains to planes and everything in-between. But what next? Some people suggest that when we move to autonomous vehicles we will be able to increase the speeds limits on our roads. However, this is a long way off and doesn’t alleviate the issue of traffic.

Once again Elon Musk is at the forefront of tackling todays problems. His suggestion of a Hyperloop transportation system to connect major cities is often dismissed as a fantastical idea and one that will cost far too much to ever be viable. But just how expensive is too much? Elon estimates that a route from Los Angeles to the Bay Area would cost about $11.5 million per mile. Many agree this is probably a little optimistic, with Hyperloop One estimating their planned route from Abu Dhabi to Dubai will cost $52 million per mile. This might sound like a lot, but it is nothing in comparison to the $141.74 million per mile (£104.8M) price tag the UK is going to pay for its planned high-speed rail, HS2. Not only is the proposed hyperloop cheaper but it also has the potential to be faster with estimated top speeds exceeding 700 mph, smashing HS2’s 224 mph top speed. Again, these estimations may be alittle optimistic, but the is promise. Last month a team of German students set a new hyperloop record of 201 mph, hinting at the potential of the technology.

There is no doubt that the west is lagging far behind when it comes to super-fast public transport. It’s not a small disparity either, and the differences are laughable. Currently the USA has a measly 362km of high speed rail in comparison to China’s near 24,000km. To put into perspective, the subsequent 16 countries’ networks only adds up to about 13,500km. Japan, in second place with about 3000km, are already testing new designs powered by electromagnets and boasting top speeds of over 370 mph.

There are a couple of variances between bullet trains and hyperloops that I should point out. The first and foremost, is the environment in which they operate. Hyperloops achieve their incredible speeds and efficiency by operating in a vacuum. This obviously means that not only do you have to build a track, but you must encase it with an air tight seal, a potential cause for major concern when it comes to maintenance. The second is capacity, bullet trains are normally about 400m long and can carry over 1,000 passengers per train. Hyperloops on the other hand, will only carry a few dozen passengers per capsule, resulting in the need for a much higher frequency for network to carry the same volume.

As the economic and environmental pressures start to build in the west, we will be forced to follow the east’s lead and adopt efficient high-speed transport. I am confident in the potential of hyperloop technology and have faith that it will deliver on many of its promises. I can see there is even a possibility, given enough incentive and investment, that hyperloops will surpass rail as the choice for high speed transport.

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