The Hyperloop: Is the future of travel here?

The biggest bit of news firing up travel junkies lately is the recent release of plans for a five-mile Hyperloop test track in Quay Valley, California.

Inspired by Elon Musk’s plans for a Hyperloop track in Texas, the California version will eventually cost $100 million to build and will run in a loop around… not much, really.  Think back to those pneumatic tubes that sent orders from one department to another, in companies, and banks.  Now imagine people in a “pod”, being rocketed through one of those tubes at a speed of 600 MPH.  That’s the Hyperloop and it is inching closer to reality.

Before we start getting too excited, let’s put the brakes on Hyperloop hype.

Plans are to build a functional town around the Hyperloop, but the immediate small scale of this initial prototype, coupled with the extremely high cost for such a small test track, shows that if the Hyperloop is to have any impact on travel, it will need to deal with a few scalability issues.  At an estimated cost of $20,000 per mile for the California test loop, prices will have to drop dramatically for the Hyperloop to have a chance of being a full scale solution in our future.

But let’s assume for a moment they are able to scale in such a way that the cost of five miles of Hyperloop track eventually dips below $100 million. Let’s assume that the Hyperloop does manage to get off the ground and become a viable means of travel. What impact will this have?

You’ll be able to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in under 40 minutes, something that can take up to seven hours of driving time today.  It will be faster than a plane, too, without all of those TSA hassles…or will it?

Immediately, you’re going to see concerns pop up around security. You can keep an airplane relatively secure by screening everyone who goes onboard and keeping a watchful eye on our airports. Can you do the same for a massive section of pneumatic tube in the middle of nowhere? It seems like it would be fairly easy for a saboteur to take out a section of Hyperloop track running through central California or an Iowa cornfield. And while you could make the same argument that train tracks are unsecured, trains aren’t traveling at 600 mph. One well-timed explosive and you would have a pretty hard time stopping a car full of passengers from firing out of a section of broken tube.

But let’s not assume the worst case scenario. Maybe a combination of electronic fail safes and remote surveillance cameras can protect hundreds of miles of unsecured tubes running across the country. Maybe they can make the Hyperloop safe.

If that’s the case, the biggest impact is going to be on small, regional airlines. As the Hyperloop scales up from a nine-figure, five-mile test track, its first growth will come in short, regional routes. Until transcontinental Hyperloop travel becomes reality, those short jaunts up and down the coast will become solely the province of the tubes. Who’s going to hop on a two-hour puddle jumper, with all the down time in between, when you can get on the Hyperloop and be there in minutes?

There will be massive political and financial discussions over this new mode of travel.  Will the airlines enlist the help of government to block this?  Will the traveler, fed up with airline pricing, back a taxpayer funded travel option that could dramatically impact domestic air travel at some point?

These are all good questions to ponder as we consider the innovation and growth in travel ahead.

Where do you stand?  Would you back a referendum to fund this mode of travel out of your tax dollars?  Sound off in the comments below and share to see what your friends think of this idea.

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