Imagine traveling from Washington, D.C. to New York City in 29 minutes, not by airplane but in a large underground tube, sucked along at up to 700 mph. That’s Elon Musk’s vision for Hyperloop. But to me, it’s more hype than loop.
Elon Musk is, as one commentator put it, “the PT Barnum of technology.” He’s all PR and publicity, hyperbole and exaggeration. Case in point, Musk’s recent tweet that he’d been given “verbal approval” to build his super-train in the Northeast.
First off, there is no such thing as “verbal approval” in a project this massive requiring hundreds of permits from dozens of state, federal and local agencies, none of which have been filed.
Musk’s green-lighting of his own project probably came from some Trump administration official who said “Cool idea, Elon,” and Musk was off to the races… and Twitter.
What exactly is a Hyperloop? Good question, as not even a prototype has been built, let alone tested. But think of it as a big tube with a vacuum inside, hurtling pods along using linear induction motors at up to 760 mph. Sounds interesting, at least in concept.
But the devil’s in the details, ie the engineering and testing, which is just getting underway in the Nevada desert. In one trial a test sled was accelerated from 0 to 110 mph in one second, exerting an astronaut-level 2.5 G force. Buckle up, folks.
I can’t wait for the human testing. Can you imagine a 29 minute, 700 mph ride through an underground tube. Even if you’re not claustrophobic, what if something goes wrong? How do you get out?
We’ve already had horrendous fires in the 31-mile-long Chunnel under the English Channel, let alone a 225-mile underground tube between NYC and DC. And wouldn’t Hyperloop be a tempting target for terrorists?
Clearly, the Hyperloop is decades away from being feasible, not to mention being put into construction mode. Yet, Musk insists boring can get underway this year and he asks, in his tweets, for his true believers to lobby lawmakers and regulators for the necessary approvals. (PS: Musk also owns the company that will build the tunnels.)
Some estimate an above-ground Hyperloop would cost $200 million a mile to build (not counting the cost of the land). But using a tunnel boring machine and going underground, who knows the cost or construction time. Just for the feds to rebuild the two Civil War-era rail tunnels (3.6 miles) in Baltimore will cost $4.5 billion.
So where’s the money going to come from? The Trump administration can’t commit to rebuilding the Hudson River Amtrak tunnels, let alone take a flyer on this pipe-dream.
Elon Musk is estimated to be worth over $17 billion, money he earned by starting PayPal. But he’s been plowing most of his fortune into projects like Tesla and Space X which, admittedly, have been hugely successful, if expensive.
So don’t write Musk off as some faker or phony. Just be skeptical of his Trump-like over promising and sketchy details. I’ll believe Hyperloop when I see it. But I don’t think I’ll be riding it.
Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media. Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.