Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Hyperloop: Does Pneumatic Tube Transport have a Future in California?


Interest continues to grow in a rapid transit technology that would propel cylindrical-shaped high speed passenger pods through a network of vacuum tubes by using compressed air. One such project that has been making the news recently has been the Hyperloop. Supporters have been selling the concept to the public, possibly prematurely.

Proponents hope that the negative news of the statewide California High Speed Rail Authority can bring good tidings to their efforts. Entrepreneur Elon Musk envisions transport-sized pneumatic tubes that would serve the I-5 Freeway corridor linking passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes. Future conceptual Hyperloop branches would extend east to Las Vegas and south to San Diego through the Inland Empire. Interestingly enough, no stops were conceived anywhere in the Inland Empire. As presented now, the pod "trains" are very small in size. Passengers would be seated single file in a reclined position.

The concept is still very premature to support and positively no public money should be thrown at the Hyperloop just yet. The technology certainly should be evolved into a more mature state and tested well before developing the tubes along a major transportation corridor such as the I-5.

The technology certainly deserves to be improved by innovators in the private sector and constructive criticism will be necessary for that to happen. Please keep in mind that when aviation transport was being created, many ideas including the airplane were once heavily dissented in the public square of debate. Hard working groups matured the pipe dream concepts into an industrial victory for air travel. The same history can repeat itself for pneumatic tube transport as the technology is already being used to quickly transport documents, money and small objects in large buildings.

The Hyperloop has a way to go before it can be supported as presented. Entrepreneurs and private investors should continue to work on maturing these vacuum tubes and get its costs down. The pod sizes should be at least as tall and wide as a passenger van. Proponents should test the technology on private property paid for by private dollars and use the facts to evolve it. The government should stay out of the business financially until pneumatic tube transport can be proven to safely move people quickly and efficiently beyond reasonable doubt. At that point, government officials can then begin debating the incorporation of the technology into public works infrastructure.

The best equipment and technology for use in mass transit infrastructure is determined after unbiased research and study. The Transit Coalition has strong concerns in starting with a technology or type of transportation vehicle and then working backwards to justify a predetermined conclusion.

Pneumatic tube transport needs to be created and innovated the right way as it could have a future in mass transportation.

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