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Hyperloop Train, Possible At The Cost Which Looks Impossible

Hyperloop is the giant vacuum tube transportation system which was introduced by entrepreneur Elon Musk to the world two and a half years ago.


The idea of hyperloop is to create a vacuumed tube where capsules would be floating on air, pulling itself by a powerful fan attached to it and getting extra propulsion from electromagnets in the tube’s walls. It is said that it would take 35 minutes to reach Los Angeles from San Francisco, with off ramps at each end loading and unloading pods with 28 seats every two minutes. Although the design was ambitious to the point of being outlandish, none of its components was fundamentally unproven, something often overlooked. But Musk was too busy to devote any time to the Hyperloop as he is busy with his space industry called SpaceX, an automotive company called Tesla Motors, and his other-other company called SolarCity which is an energy industry. He opened sourced the Hyperloop idea to the world and released a 58-page outline of his idea so that anyone can build it.

Is Hyperloop possible?

Many reasons are there to believe that Hyperloop will not exist or is not possible. Jose Gomez-Ibanez, a professor of urban planning and public policy at Harvard says that it gives him pause to think that otherwise intelligent people are buying into this kind of utopian vision. He doesn’t understand where they think they can get their savings—they’re up against the airlines, and airlines don’t need to install hundreds of miles of track. Airlines expend a tremendous amount of energy getting up to 30,000 feet and don’t recapture any of it on the way back down. The low pressure inside Hyperloop Tech’s tubes aims to replicate the atmospheric drag at about 160,000 feet. The company calculates that the magnetic boosts required every 40 miles or so will allow a Hyperloop to be more efficient than rail can be at very high speeds. Let’s check the following video which tries to expose the impossibilities of Hyperloop:

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Terence Hawkes writes that it is possible once a few technical issues are overcome. Will it be practical, safe, and economically viable? There’s a strong doubt. The proposed operating speed is about 600 mph and the pods are to run on air-cushioned skis with a clearance of between 20 to 50 thousands of an inch. With that kind of clearance, there is very little possibility of using the cushion of air to sop up bumps. So that tube will have to be very straight and remain straight despite temperature changes and ground heaving or subsidence. If not, the passengers will be in for an incredibly rough ride. Of course, that rough ride can be reduced by slowing the pod down, but that removes the high-speed advantage of the Hyperloop.

Apart from parts of the prairies, the terrain is not flat. Just look out your window (assuming you are not on the prairies). It rises and falls a lot over a mile. Also, when building the loop, the tubes will have to curve around obstacles like houses and other roads. In an aeroplane, those bumps and curves are not frequent or strong enough to cause major problems. Imagine negotiating lots of slight hills and curves at close to 880 feet per second. At that speed, those hills and curves are going to be like riding a roller coaster. Hyperloop pods are definitely going to need barf bags.


The big problem to overcome is catastrophic tube failure. Say some extremist twit decides to blow up the tube or there is an earthquake. Suddenly there will be a slug of air travelling down the tube towards a pod at pretty close to the speed of sound – a shock wave. The mass of that slug and the force on the pod will vary depending on how far the breach is from the pod. However it will be on the order of 10’s of tonnes and will most likely destroy the pod, or at the very least decelerate it fast enough to splatter its occupants all over the inside of it. But wait, that is not the end of it. That wave will continue down the tube and most likely take out the next pod occupying the tube and so on until all pods and people in the tube area destroyed.

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How long and how much power will it take to drop the air pressure in that long tube to 0.001 bars? With lots of joints, there are most certainly going to be leaks and lots of them. So those are going to have to be massive pumps with big power requirements. Then there is also the little issue of humans needing to relieve themselves. Toilets will definitely be needed.

Fire safety and risks of asphyxia will need to be dealt with. For example, say you are travelling at full speed and an electrical fire breaks out in the pod. Emergency systems will no doubt shut off the air cushion compressors and the pod will stop. But now what? That pod is still inside a tube with air at only 0.001 bars. If you try to get out, you won’t be able to breathe. The pressure is too low. How do you get to the nearest safety hatch in the tube?

18wi9pabavu9wjpgWhat are the costs per mile of building the tubes as compared with say building tracks for the bullet trains? The costs of building those tracks were heavily subsidised by governments. We need to keep in mind that because of the higher speeds involved compared with the bullet trains, curves and rises are going to have to be even more gradual. And that means burrowing through hills and building lots of trestles and bridges at great expense to straighten things out. There will also be the need for expensive expropriations. Who pays?

And the last thing is the nimby factor. Many people don’t want that elevated tube crossing their property or cutting through their park, dropping their property values or ruining their pleasant view out of their window. People will organise and there will be the costs of expensive campaigns to sell the benefits and the costs of environmental studies and, of course, costly lawsuits. So it is likely to be possible to create a hyperloop, but maybe not practical, safe, or cost-effective.

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Source: technologyreview, quora

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