Travel from Pittsburgh to Columbus, Ohio, in 15 minutes? | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Ed Blazina at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes: “Travel from Pittsburgh to Columbus, Ohio, in 15 minutes?” Yes dear reader, the Hyperloop publicity machine is out in full force.

The technology is based on a simple concept of sharply reducing drag on a moving vehicle, said Kaveh Hosseini, lead aerodynamicist at Hyperloop One.

Pods that could hold 20 to 40 people or carry freight are placed in a tube with air pressure 1/1000th of the normal rate. Using a quick jolt of magnetic energy to begin moving, the pods travel on a cushion of air at speeds Mr. Hosseini estimated could be 15 percent to 30 percent faster than jet travel.

Pods could be designed with individual seats or stations for businessmen or families traveling together. The speed of the pods mean they could leave every few minutes, almost creating an on-demand travel system that would make it possible to live in Columbus and commute to work daily in Pittsburgh, 185 miles away.

David Levinson, a professor of civil engineering at the Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute at the University of Minnesota, called the idea “just silly” and potentially dangerous if it moves ahead too quickly. He said the technology is less developed than the ill-fated maglev system proposed here in the 1990s.

“People don’t want to be hurled at 700 mph… People aren’t made to move at that rate,” he said. “It might be OK for freight, but I’m doubtful.” By comparison, he noted, it took the aviation industry several decades to develop after the Wright brothers made their demonstration flight near Kitty Hawk, N.C., in 1903.

Mr. Hosseini disagreed, saying access to computers, simulation and optimization software and advanced manufacturing techniques sharply reduce extended field tests. “Something that used to take weeks of trials and field tests can be optimized with the push of a button,” he said.

Obviously I know people have traveled faster than 700 mph. The point was more about the proposed acceleration and deceleration of 5 m/s. I can’t imagine freight needs to move that fast. In any case, no one believes that simulation substitutes for field tests.

[Also the Intelligent Transportation Systems Institute hasn’t existed for a few years, but I guess the website is still up.]

But let them get a test track going and test actual people inside their vehicle, before they start proposing actual services, much less networks. They are definitely putting the cart before the horse, and only agencies with money to burn should be talking about this.

For better critiques see Alon Levy at Pedestrian Observations.