Now that it’s been a few hours, I want to add to Andrew’s post this morning.
Hyperloop suffers from many of the same problems that the monorail did when first proposed. The monorail backers also originally claimed that they would save money by being elevated, only buying land for the pylons. As they found out, people won’t just sell you air rights! And ANY landowner stonewalling would impact the project. He doesn’t get eminent domain, and that alone could kill the project, because dozens or hundreds wouldn’t want it on their property. Even with eminent domain, the land alone could be higher than his claimed total cost. Even the concrete pylons could be that much, not even counting the guideway!
Also like the initial monorail plan, there are no safety mechanisms to speak of. It’s not just the spacing that’s less than half of what it would need to be for an emergency stop, but where’s emergency egress? What happens if the system breaks down and the tube, baking in California sun, starts to heat up? How is it ventilated in an emergency, how does it repressurize, and how do people get down if they’re in a random place in the middle of CA? Answering these questions is difficult and largely not attempted. The monorail would have needed a walkway and regular staircases.
Here’s the kicker, though – Andrew pointed out the low capacity, less than a third of HSR. Even start with Musk’s extremely low-balled estimates – once you make him pay for the land he’d need, or you limit the system to headways where an accident wouldn’t kill the passengers in the next two trains, or you consider the real cost of concrete pylons for an earthquake prone area, this would easily become more expensive per passenger than CAHSR.
This is typical gadgetbahn. Like all gadgetbahn, it’s being presented as an alternative to a real project, diluting support for the real project and turning the burden of proof on its head. Like all gadgetbahn, it requires new technology, so it “could work if we would just try it!” And like all gadgetbahn, a set of its supporters, blinded by technolust and frustrated with reality, will clamor for that test track, often while attacking the real project. This is the beginning of what happened here with the monorail. The hyperloop idea will peel off some of CAHSR’s support, putting HSR at more risk when it’s one of the best ways to build a better future that’s accessible to people who can’t afford $100,000 cars. Fortunately, it’s not getting traction.
It’s possible Musk is simply being foolish, but it’s worth pointing out thaf his supercharger network, where he offers free lifetime charging to Tesla owners, is most developed in California along the CAHSR route. If HSR gains a foothold in CA, he stands to lose a lot of customers – not just there, but across the country, if a national HSR network spreads. Just as other car companies did in the past, it makes sense for him to find ways to dilute support for HSR.