The stories about it seem unreal—a train going 700 miles an hour—but this story from the New York Times takes a look at it.
Last month, at an M.I.T. conference on the future of suburbia, I met a senior-level executive from Hyperloop Technologies. (Hyperloop is a speculative high-speed transportation system that proposes to use passenger and cargo capsules inside a reduced-pressure tube that aims to reach a top speed of 700 miles per hour.) Why put your energies in something that still feels like science fiction? I asked him. Why not invest time, money and ingenuity in high-speed rail? (I live in California; I want to see high-speed rail happen.)
Our conversation veered into a surprising direction, much like the proposed curve of a Hyperloop track. He told me about how he and his wife had made the decision not to be together but to share custody of their children and continue to live under the same roof. I looked at him quizzically.
The structure of marriage, he continued, didn’t work for him; it was an outdated institution. High-speed rail, he said, was also an outdated institution, so why should we continue to invest in trains?
And so, according to his analogy, one might fairly describe Hyperloop as transportation’s new girlfriend: mysterious, unencumbered, exciting, expensive. A wild card with potential. But does she have long-term potential? That remains to be seen.
I went to Las Vegas recently to view the first test of Hyperloop. As someone who experiences aging infrastructure daily and desires something better, I was ready to be convinced of the feasibility and future of this idea, which has become one of the purest expressions of techno-optimism.
First, a little background. In 2013, Elon Musk, he of Tesla and space exploration fame, floated a 58-page outline presenting Hyperloop as an alternative to California’s high-speed rail (though in fact the idea has existed since the 1800s — Google it). A smart but busy man, Mr. Musk announced that he wanted to make Hyperloop a sort of open-source Manhattan Project for high-speed transportation, since he didn’t have the time to pursue it himself.
Several separate entities have since been formed to explore the possibilities. The event I attended was presented by Hyperloop Technologies, a group inspired by but not affiliated with Mr. Musk (though riding on his name recognition and involving several of his former employees). Hyperloop Technologies and its competitors are working to develop a structure to move passengers and cargo between two points safely, efficiently and sustainably. And quickly: Mr. Musk’s initial dream was to propel passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in about a half an hour (Amtrak takes 12 hours; flight time is an hour).