City Journal Summer 2014

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Tom Gray
From “High Speed” to Hyper « Back to Story

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I am quite sure that that I have read about at least one proposal very like the "new" transportation system that Elon Musk is talking about. It was a long time ago, -- maybe 30 years? Maybe 50? (I'm 88 but my memory for things I read then is still good.) There were similar drawings and it certainly had the same promises with respect to speed. I am sure that I have not made this up.

Please find those references, -- it would be delightful to see if the plan has changed much. It may have failed then because the materials did not exist then, but they may be around now.
So I'm sitting there hunched over in my hyperloop capsule that is dead stopped somewhere in the Central Valley, getting hotter and hotter in the summer sun as I wonder about where the next fresh air is going to come from -- and really wishing I was ten feet away, sitting on the ground looking up at the stupid tube instead of trapped in it. Oh, and the guy scrunched in a couple of feet behind me has to pee, and had planned to do it when we arrived on time in LA. Which we aren't.
Jonathan -- there are a number of pretty obvious differences between the situation here in CA and that back East, which make a high-speed train much less attractive, less economical, and hence less viable in CA.

Among these are the typical travel patterns (SoCal/NorCal and very little in between), the distances between the regions (500+ miles), the distances from the proposed station and where travelers live (e.g. downtown LA and the West Side), and of course the cost.

Then there is the NIMBY factor (here in the SF Peninsula as one example), refined to a new art form by well intentioned but often naive Liberals.

Oh, and hasn't Amtrak been losing money for decades? And I could be wrong, but IIRC far more people back East travel via air than train.

Perhaps the people of California aren't as stupid as you think they are (at least some of them).

FWIW, I've found that it's usually a good idea to first spend a little time thinking about whether there is a obvious answer that one can figure out in a minute or two, rather than simply assuming that people "are just so stupid"...
California's high-speed train debacle (or "high" speed train, as may be the case) is part of the general inability to build any large project in the USA on a reasonable schedule or at a reasonable cost. Things which might have been built in less than half the time and a fraction of the cost fifty years ago now can be built only as decades-long projects at fantastic cost- if, indeed, they can be built at all.

Which is independent of the wisdom of building this elaborate rail system at all, yet nonetheless part of the reason why it is failing.

As for the hyperloop, while it's refreshing to see big, bold thinking again, the project as described seems unfeasable for a great many reasons (which have been described in detail elsewhere on the Web). At the least, there is entirely too much credibility about the possibilities of it.
I can't understand why the people of California are just so stupid. You see the wonders train travel has made on the east coast, maybe not high speed rail but train travel has become a way of life for most people here. And also has completed with the airlines of the region, and has been victorious. You guys don't know what you guys have, take it. We would have already a HSR rail line but we have no space.
The misnamed "bullet train" is far worse than mentioned here. Case in point -- the article talks about the cost raising from $38 billion to $68 billion. But that's assuming an apples-to-apples project. Instead, the new, improved HSR does not service areas south of LA at ALL, contrary to what was originally promised. Also the new train will be far slower than promised, and the cost per ticket continues to shoot through the roof.
There is nothing utopian about high speed rail. Its been operating in Japan for 50 years - fast and efficient transportation for their entire country, and has been a huge success. Its been operating all over France for 30 years, also a huge success day in and day out. Its been operating in 20 other countries, also a huge success. How on earth is that utopian?
This hyperloop is utopian. Thinking we can still run America with oil over $100 per barrel is utopian. Thinking we can continue to load the atmosphere with tons of carbon and all the earth systems will continue to function in our favor is utopian. We need to get real! Building CA high speed rail is the smartest thing we can do as a nation and get America moving into the 21st century before we sink.
Oh my. Let's: (1) build a rigid airtight tube from San Francisco to LA on (2) a very, very stable (therefore very,very expensive) set of tracks and (3)throw in the operating costs of (a)creating a partial vacuum in the tube, (b)maintaining the tube and tracks in an earthquake prone area and (c) providing the necessary electrical power and personnel to keep the whole thing running.

Try to imagine the ticket price that will fully amortize the investment. Just kidding. Instead try imagine the the subsidy necessary to induce anyone other than Al Gore and a few other extremely wealthy people to ride on the thing. Musk has been a rent seeker at the Federal trough since PayPal. No doubt such a thing can be build and Musk can build it if you pay enough for it. But why?
As somebody who claims no expertise whatsoever in transportation systems, I still think that there are bits of truth in most of the comments so far posted. On the one hand, it sounds like California's rail project has been (or is turning into) a farce. Its cost has risen exponentially, but it continues to drag along siphoning billions of taxpayer dollars from other uses and benefitting only the construction unions. (We have a similar situation in the state where I live, except here millions of dollars are given to road construction companies to patch up our seemingly endless highway system.) On the other hand, although Mike's boosterism for California's project may color his judgment, he's correct when he says that this country needs better forms of transportation. We have too many cars on our roads, thereby creating too much congestion and pollution. We have too many planes flying our skies, thereby creating delays and frustration for travelers. If rail (good, high-speed, safe, cost-effective, rail) can be created, then what's the harm? Sure, the oil companies won't like it. But since when have the oil companies cared about anybody's but their own best interests? Will there always exist, in any major project like high-speed rail, the potential for corruption and graft? Undoubtedly. But the potential for corruption and graft exists just as much with governments continuously hiring road construction companies to tear up and re-build long segments of highways. Whether high-speed rail is feasible for either short or long distances may, at this time, be the biggest unknown. But since when do Americans (entrepreneurs that so many of us claim to be) shy away from the unknown? If some mix of public and private investment can create a viable high-speed rail system in this country, then I don't see why the project shouldn't be attempted. I've observed much greater wastes of taxpayer dollars in my time on this planet.
Today, thousands will enter aluminum tubes for travel between LA and SF at 500 mph. How logical is it to spend $X billion to make that 700 mph? To save 15 minutes? Let's be realistic. For such relatively short-haul trips the majority of trip time, whether by air or hyperloop, is at the origin and destination: Travel to and from the "port" (air or hyper); parking; check-in; luggage checking; SECURITY procedures; boarding queues; etc.

Even doubling the "linehaul" speed of Hperloop would be of dubious value in such a short corridor.
It would be amusing if both rail systems were seen through to completion. Then Mike's utopianism could be put to the test, and we would see if this was really the best use of California's enormous debt.
Slightly more reality based (and speaking as a conservative, skh, the argumentum ad hominem is past its sell-by date): http://pedestrianobservations.wordpress.com/2013/08/13/loopy-ideas-are-fine-if-youre-an-entrepreneur/
Ah, the whine of dystopian wannabe planners is reflected in Mike's plaintive wail, below. He, like Thomas Friedman, thinks that China is a role model to emulate, without any first-hand knowledge of the topic. That's not unusual for leftist tools that have an elevated opinion of their (lowly) intelligence and stunted worldviews.
I would guess that the California "bullet train" will never regularly ply its route at the announced speed.

The unannounced goal of those pushing the project is probably today's spending, rather than tomorrow's transportation. By the time the project is visibly and irrevocably a failure, they will have advanced their political careers enough that they pay no personal or political price for its failure.

California's bullet train is state of the art in the world of OPERATIONAL high speed rail systems. In the world of fantasy, there is always a better mousetrap, most of which remain in fantasy.

I'd much rather see my state invest in a proven system - like what China is building 10,000 miles of, along with 20 other countries that already have such systems operating today - than try to create something out of a slick rendering that's decades from a workable, proven system. The state would spend billions on test tracks in Utah, and we'd still be stuck in traffic and/or airport hell.

We need fast transport today, and should be speeding up the California bullet train project by putting some big money behind it and stop throwing obstacles in its way. We are the last nation on earth without high speed rail! California's bullet train is being built to the highest, most advanced global standards today.
Great piece ! If California will not take the offered gift, someone else hopefully will. I think Elon Musk is aware that a prototype would really speed up interest... and possibly even avoid the museum train project.