Hyperloop Prospects Darken | Planetizen blogs


If you watched The Pentaverate, a made-for-Netflix miniseries created by Mike Myers, you might think the hyperloop is still a viable option for quickly moving people and goods over great distances. The series, based on a concept briefly discussed in a scene from the 1993 film So I married an ax murderer, relies on the use of a transit system called “The Musk” in a clear nod to the hyperloop. The show tries so hard to make the hyperloop futuristic that the soundtrack even includes theme music created by 1990s electronic music duo Orbital whenever characters ride The Musk across the Atlantic Ocean. .

Turns out, the hyperloop fits well with pop culture moments that have come and gone.

The hyperloop has had its detractors since Elon Musk first floated the idea in 2012, but it’s also received a lot of support from seemingly authoritative science and exploration media, like Discovery Channel, for example, and Smithsonian Magazine.

The idea of ​​using pneumatic tubes for super-fast transportation isn’t new, despite the fact that futuristic plating ideas tend to pick up steam when Elon Musk reuses them. The idea has actually been around since the 17th century, including a proposal that nearly gained legislative support in New York City in the mid-19th century.

While the media, Musk’s own use of social media and a few high-profile tests, including a Virgin Hyperloop test that carried human cargo at 107 miles per hour, gave the impression that it was perhaps of a new generation of engineers and “inventors”. ” had figured out how to take the idea from concept to reality – news in recent times has been more typical of centuries of experience. Virgin Hyperloop, the same company that conducted the first test with humans on board, laid off nearly half of its staff earlier this year and announced a shift to freight, not human, transportation. A New York Times article with the resounding headline “Is Hyperloop Doomed?” indicates that the idea is still primarily an aspiration.

The New York Times article sums up the hyperloop narrative perfectly by quoting the planning faculty at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“Time and time again, you see technological innovations attracting a lot of investment, and you can make a lot of money during the hype cycle,” said Juan Matute, deputy director of the Institute of Transportation Studies at the University of California at Los Angeles. However, the technology does not anticipate the significant technical challenges associated with creating an entirely new infrastructure. “Then the interest wanes,” Mr Matute said.

Hyperloop’s interests are declining all over the world, from France to the United States to India, although a few laggards remain hopeful. “Hyperloop TT, based in Los Angeles, had as recently as 2019 promoted its work to build a system in the United Arab Emirates, but has moved on to other projects, said Andrés De León, its managing director. “, writes Eric A. Taub in the same New York Times article. “Its most advanced U.S. project in development is planned for the Great Lakes region, where the company is seeking private funding to conduct a two-year environmental study before attempting to build the road.”

If the hyperloop is doomed as the article suggests, it will be too late for the many states and local governments that have put their skin in the hyperloop game, including the states of Colorado, Texas, Illinois and Ohio, to recover taxpayers’ money, so the whole episode is far from innocent. All that wasted breath on the hyperloop could have been spent on public transit, for example, with its many environmental, social and economic benefits. Transit agencies across the country are in dire need of long-term funding solutions to deal with operator shortages and service reductions. Cities across the country are in dire need of the zoning reforms and development investments that make public transit possible.

Meanwhile, passengers transiting through North America’s most populous city can expect a train to arrive in two to five minutes. (Image by Aberu.Go via Shutterstock)

As the hyperloop seemingly heads for a very different role in the future than that envisioned by Musk and other boosters, the willingness of politicians and pop culture to uncritically buy the hype will continue to create hurdles. for actionable and proven solutions for the most persistent and difficult challenges of contemporary life.

Still, some skeptics of hyperloop technology quoted in the New York Times article say the idea is worth pursuing, both as a source of usable lessons and a cautionary tale. “Hyperloop is a great project for students [….] You train very good engineers by working on this,” says Carlo van de Weijer, director of smart mobility at Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands. »

“Nice” is a generous way to describe the hyperloop’s contribution to the transportation planning discussion. The following sentence from van de Weijer is much more revealing: “Hyperloop does not solve an important problem that justifies it. Although small test tracks may be built, there won’t be a hyperloop system built that carries cargo or passengers – or I’ll eat a tractor.”

If only we could get Mike Myers, Discovery Channel, and Smithsonian Magazine to ignore shiny objects and imagine the kind of world that relies on real, available solutions, we might actually get somewhere.


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