On the Deployment of Hyperloop

I appeared briefly at 13:oo CDT today on CNBC to talk about Hyperloop, which is in the news because one of the Hyperloop companies (Hyperloop One) had a press release yesterday, changed their name, raised a lot of money, and had a seemingly successful test run today.

They asked me some things on the interview, I gave some answers, it’s all sort of a blur.


This is what I intended to say. These were the producer’s preliminary questions (in blockquote) and my preliminary answers (in bullets).

Let’s start with the assumption that the Hyperloop works as advertised.  What are the potential benefits of a technology like this?  Are there any transportation infrastructure projects – for example, Japan’s high-speed rail system – that are analogous to this type of transportation, or have we never really seen anything like this before?

  • I think the best analogy is with the development of the railroads in the first place back in 1825. Hyperloop requires both new tube technology (the track) as well as new vehicles. One question is whether it is a series of isolated runs (like elevators), or a comprehensive network (like roads, rail, or air transportation).

Let’s talk challenges.  What would have to happen for a private company to be able to run a tube from, for example, Los Angeles to San Francisco?  How difficult would it be to add a hyperloop to America’s existing transportation infrastructure?

  • They would need to acquire right-of-way. If it is tunneled this might be easier than at grade or elevated. There are already trains and highways between major US cities, so borrowing right-of-way from highway or rail agencies is probably a good place to start. One of the issues will be curvature though, at high speeds, hyperloops likely will need, or at least want, more gentle curves than automobiles or trains require, and so need land beyond existing rights-of-way. Tunneling is more expensive than elevated or at grade, so this adds costs.

Do you personally see this technology being implemented over the next 20-25 years or not?

  • Major technologies like trains and highways and aviation took decades to reach maturity, nearly a century in the case of rails. While there might be some selected niche lines built over the coming decades, it will not be an important element of the US transport system for decades if ever.