Will Hyperloop Disrupt Airlines, High-Speed Rail And Trucking Industry?

Construction of a test track for the Hyperloop high-speed transportation network may begin next month (El Nino willing) in a farm field in Kings County and threatens to derail California’s high-speed rail program and may be very disruptive to the trucking industry.

Proposed Hyperloop test circuit in Kings County

First conceived by entrepreneur Elon Musk, a full-sized prototype of the system, which would see passengers propelled in capsules at speeds of up to 760 miles per hour through a network of tubes and tunnels.

“It is the closest thing to tele-transportation,” Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) chief operating officer Bibop Gabriele Gresta told reporters during an event titled “Transport to the Future” in London in October.

“It will change completely humanity,” he added.

According to Gresta, work on the $150 million test track covering a five-mile stretch in Quay Valley – a proposed solar-powered city in Kings County—will begin in 2016. The prototype will take 32 months to complete and will transport 10 million passengers over the duration of its testing process.

“This five-mile stretch will allow us to completely test the technology, from the boarding process to the safety procedures – really everything except top speed,” said Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of Hyperloop.

Before it is rolled out across the rest of California and the US, certain permitting issues will need to be overcome with local authorities, Ahlborn added.

While the prototype will be located along part of the proposed Los Angeles and San Francisco route, Gresta believes that the first full Hyperloop system will not be built in America.

“There are other countries that are in a more advanced discussion phase and they have the political will, the lack of infrastructure, a high density of population and less regulatory problems to make it happen,” he said.

The system is designed to be earthquake and weather resistant, with each pylon capable of supporting seven passenger Hyperloop tubes and one for security purposes – transporting an estimated 3,400 passengers per hour, and 24 million people each year.

How Testing Phase Will Work

Passengers will travel in computer-automated capsules, drawn by powerful vacuums and magnets, through an elevated tube at speeds of up to 160 miles per hour. At least for now, the test system will be a tourist attraction for Quay Valley, until the company can overcome resistance from the state which is still backing high-speed (200 mph) rail.

Empty capsules will be tested at its full potential of 760 miles per hour – close to the speed of sound.

“We will crush every record on the ground,” said Gresta.

Elon Musk, the founder of electric car company Tesla Motors, PayPal and the space exploration company SpaceX, first unveiled the concept for Hyperloop in 2013. The initial scheme proposed covering a 400-mile route between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes, providing a quicker and cheaper alternative to road, rail and air travel in the future.

Musk is not financially involved in Hyperloop and has said he would like to sponsor competitive versions of the pod cars through a national student competition. SpaceX will construct a one-mile test track adjacent to its Hawthorne, Calif., headquarters. Teams will be able to test their human-scale pods during a competition weekend at the track, currently targeted for Summer 2016. The knowledge gained here will continue to be open-sourced.

Disruption Factor

“You can substitute the entire flight industry from Los Angeles to San Francisco with one tube, four times,” added Gresta. “Now if this will not disrupt the air industry I don’t know what will.”

While he didn’t mention the state’s high-speed rail program specifically, he did discuss the difference between Hyperloop’s financing and state-run programs. The service will be powered by renewable energy, with a surplus of solar, wind and kinetic power sold back to the grid to make the service profitable.

“It will consume less electricity than we produce. We can resell electricity,” said Gresta. “In this model it will allow us to recoup the entire investment in six to eight years depending on where you build it.”

“We’re able to do something that is not subsidized by the state. This is super important because 100 per cent of high-speed rail in the planet is subsidized by the state.”

And Trucking?

When not in use for passenger service, the tube system could be used for high-value, time-sensitive shipments like computer parts, jewelry and human organs needed for transplants. As the system is rolled out nationwide (yes, they have plans for that) the capacity to haul stuff will expand exponentially.

The company says as it expands capacity it will sell pods for other companies to use within their system—it could be trucking companies looking to speed up their deliveries!

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