Hayabusa-bullet-train
Modern HSR in Japan

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.

71 Replies to “A Trip Around the Gadgetbahn Loop”

  1. Or he is just bad at estimating costs. I could be wrong, but it is quite possible that he imagined his electric car would be a lot cheaper to make right now. After all, no one had built that many cutting edge electric vehicles before, so it stands to reason (in his head) that after a few years the cost would go way down (like computer chips). Unfortunately, he was wrong. The cars are still ridiculously expensive. The good news for him is that there is no shortage of really rich people willing to spend money on expensive items.

    1. Possibly, but why discount his financial motive when so many other car companies have tried similar things in the past?

      1. Because by attributing to malice was can easily be explained by naïveté, you are revealing your *own* agenda.

      2. What a horrifying agenda, to question the motives of smart people doing apparently stupid things when they have a financial stake in a competitor! Heavens to betsy!

      3. He is rich, not smart. OK, he is probably smart, but he is not that smart. He is not a professor of engineering, nor does he have a PhD from MIT. He has a couple bachelor’s degrees from Penn, one in Physics and one in economics. Big deal. You and I have probably worked with people way smarter than him, but their grandiose plans (space elevators!) don’t get nearly as much press as this guys.

        The reason is obvious (as stated in an earlier article). Rich guys are assumed to be smart, so their ideas are therefore brilliant. This idea is nothing new. Neither is an electric car, for that matter. Which gets me to what this really is: a great businessman. He is savvy, and capable of getting people to invest in his ideas, even if they sound kind of bad when you really do the research (like an electric car). Musk deserves credit for keeping his car company going, but lets not fool ourselves. No other car company is slapping its forehead saying “Damn, why didn’t we think of that!” because Tesla has lost money, and only sold their cars in a niche market. In other words, despite the “success” of Tesla, it really wouldn’t have been a great investment for any other company.

        It is pretty common for big businessmen to have grandiose visions and an overly large sense of self. This fits in really nicely with that idea. I don’t think the guy has a sinister plan to make CHSR fail so he can sell more of his cars. He just thinks his idea is brilliant and he is the one to make it happen. Personally, I hope he tries, but somewhere else. My idea is Las Vegas to L. A., where (if I’m not mistaken) they cancelled the rail plan. If it works there and his numbers pan out (against all odds). then we can talk L. A. to San Fransisco. If it fails, then at least we might learn something. I’m all for rich guys investing in stuff that might end up benefiting us in the long run (which is why I don’t mind Tesla) but let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that he is some brilliant engineer who took his idea and built something truly special from it.

      4. Ben, you’re doing a great job coming off as a rank amateur and thus harming the very cause you wish to help.

      5. Ross, I’m realizing finally that nobody’s actually read his paper, just the reporting on his paper. If you read his paper, my post will make more sense. He specifically is advocating for not doing HSR.

        And Kyle, you can do better than that. Attacking me personally is way beneath you. I’m just pointing out the clear competition – HSR will have a financial impact on him. If you look at his supercharger page it gets even more obvious, because HSR will cannibalize from a loss leader.

      6. Elon Musk is TERRIBLE at estimating costs. There are at least two documented instances where he got costs badly wrong at Tesla Motors alone, one at SpaceX, and one at Solar City. Luckily, all of those were small enough that his companies just raised prices to compensate for the bad estimation of costs, and the demand was such that the customers just paid the higher prices.

        The “hyperloop” should embarass him because he’s off by a factor of TEN on civil engineering costs.

        The fact is, CAHSR presents no risk to Tesla’s business model. (I do not know whether Musk has figured this out, of course.) Tesla is selling cars from the top end of the market down, and obviously the top end of the market is the most likely to buy cars even if they don’t need ’em, same as it was in the 20s. Furthermore, even with “Superchargers”, the weak point of electric cars is long-distance travel, due to slow recharging, and like other cars, the need to drive them; they are not really in competition with intercity rail at all.

        Electric cars don’t really compete with urban rail either (due to urban traffic congestion), and so perhaps the only passenger rail categories which they do compete are suburban, and rural inter-town, rail; the latter of these is practically a dead category anyway and the former is not very lively either.

    2. I expect he thought the Falcon 9 would cost less than it turned out to as well. You would think that the experience of going through the test cycle of building a technology that is well understood compared to his new concept would have led to a little more caution in coming up with his cost estimates.

      1. Yeah, he claimed SpaceX would be doing things about an order of magnitude more efficiently than they are. He’s just a software engineer muddling in the real world. Fortunately electric cars were a niche where he found a high-end market, but they aren’t really dropping below that. A Model S with the same range as the original Roadster is more expensive now than the Roadster started.

      2. “A Model S with the same range as the original Roadster is more expensive now than the Roadster started.”

        The Roadster’s costs were underestimated and the first few were being sold below cost (did I mention Musk has a record of underestimating costs?), while the Model S is being sold with a 25% gross profit margin in order to recover factory setup costs. Of course it’s more expensive.

        “Yeah, he claimed SpaceX would be doing things about an order of magnitude more efficiently than they are.”
        He is bad with costs, isn’t he?

        The business model of SpaceX is to replace extremely expensive electromechanical control devices in rocketry with modern electronics. This *does* make the SpaceX designs cheaper than conventional government designs which were almost all developed before cheap electronics (the last conventional government designs were the Russian Proton rocket and the Russian space shuttle in the 1980s, and they never got very far due to the collapse of the USSR). Despite this genuine and major cost advantage, Musk managed to underestimate the costs. He does that.

        The business model of Tesla Motors was even simpler; almost a no-brainer. Electric cars are solved technology, but GM decided to crush the EV-1, and the same with the other establishment carmakers When people held candelight vigils for the EV-1, it became obvious that there was a large, unserved market. Every successful car company in the 1890-1940 period (except Volkswagen) started at the top of the market (to pay off capital and R&D costs) and worked its way down, so that’s Tesla’s business model.

        The Tesla business model is going as planned, basically: the car’s price is 25% gross profit, being used to pay for R&D and capital, and 25% batteries. The batteries will get cheaper as battery tech improves and the gross profit margin will be cut after the setup costs are paid for. And you’ll be left with a company making high-end luxury cars, but in the price range of Audi or Lexus, not where it is now. Since I don’t believe there is going to be a low-end automobile market in 20 years (with current economic trends, who can afford a car except the wealthy?) this seems like a fine business model.

        The Superchargers are a very expensive loss leader. They’re valuable for marketing because they alleviate range anxiety and let people know that they can take road trips in electric cars. But y’know what? *Superchargers don’t scale*. If too many people are using them, they get overwhelmed very quickly. Tesla doesn’t actually want lots and lots of people using them; Tesla would much rather that people knew they were there and didn’t use them. The business model for Tesla depends on people using other methods to take most of their intercity trips.

    3. Originally there was a company called A123, which was supposed to developed an advanced battery that would be light and store enough electricity to make a working battery car.

      They failed. There is no such battery, but Tesla kept marching on in the hope, that maybe, someday, there would be. To work around having a low storage battery, he’s come up with what seem like impractical ideas like swapping the couple of hundred pound batteries out for a refuel.

      You’re analysis of the hyperloop as a linear charging station could be correct, although I’ve also read that Musk and Tesla have no intention of funding or building they thing, so they are just throwing it out there. For what purpose? I say FUD to give him some kind of technological stature, enough to gloss over the latent issues with not actually having a working automobile (cf. Preston Tucker).

      Meanwhile for some reason Musk also has it in for fuel cells (calling them “fool cells”). That is harder to understand as simply offering it as an option would give him a solution that has longer range.

      I have to conclude that Musk is in deep with some big players, the same ones who have been pushing batteries all along. These would be those who want to keep the grid as centralized as possible with people only feeding off its centralized generators with renewables adding in only as supplements. This is in contrast to the new topologies of generation and storage of green energy that England and Germany are embarking on.

      1. Thanks to Government funded boondoggles by Dow Constantine, who somehow mysteriously found hundreds of thousands to support battery cars.

      2. To be fair, the battery swap stations are not impractical pie-in-the-sky dreams. There are prototypes, they work, and the swap only takes about half as long as it takes to pump a tank of gas into a competitor’s $100,000 gasoline fueled luxury sedan.

        It’s fully automated, and his proposed price is about $100 a swap. Which lines up pretty nicely with the cost of a full tank of premium in a top-of-the-line Audi.

        As for impractical, I have a hard time imagining a hydrogen infrastructure being built out faster than a handful of automated battery swap & supercharger stations being strategically placed on major interstate routes. All those need is an electric hookup and the land footprint of your common Jiffy Lube.

        Has Audi announced an operating range for their Fuel-cell A7 yet? Better or worse than the Model S?

      3. What, someone’s actually trying to make a fuel cell car again? Fat chance of it being affordable.

      4. FWIW, my father and his business partner have developed a battery design (not a chemical battery) which can be produced on existing equipment and has 100x the energy density of existing batteries. The design has been vetted by multiple quantum physicists.

        We need a few million bucks and an honest businessman in order to build prototypes. The latter is proving to be the really hard part!

        Batteries will not be a problem in 20 years.

      5. Ben Schiendelman says:
        August 17, 2013 at 10:00 pm
        What, someone’s actually trying to make a fuel cell car again? Fat chance of it being affordable.

        Exposed.

      6. @Nathanael:

        We need a few million bucks and an honest businessman in order to build prototypes.

        Where in Nigeria should I send the money order?

      7. Nope, it’s not capacitors either.

        We’ve had such frustration with the business world. Everyone is out to cheat you, nobody gives a flying **** about the social value of the product.

        My priority at this point is just to get the underlying math published; then eventually, some day, someone will build the batteries.

  2. The nearly $100 billion it is going to cost to build HSR between LA and San Francisco could have benefited far more people by improving the transit systems within those two areas, leaving the hundreds of miles of open space between them to the airlines (and buses, for people traveling on the cheap). The reason is simple. The average resident of LA and San Francisco makes trips between neighborhoods in their local region every day, while trips between those two regions are largely once-a-year vacation trips. Yes, there are plenty of business travels who need to make the trip more frequently than that, but those are small minority of the total population and, as videoconferencing technologies get better and cheaper, they will become an even smaller minority.

    1. I don’t understand why the assumption of competition. The last major CA highway package was $220 billion. If you need $100 billion to improve all the transit systems in LA and SF, help get it.

      And videoconferencing is available, in HD, to everyone with a decent laptop. Nobody even uses the fancy video rooms available at Microsoft for group conferences. The reason isn’t the technology. It’s that things you can transmit on a camera represent a tiny portion of the information exchanged during human interaction. You don’t take your laptop to get dinner with your team. We evolved to interact in ways that our technology doesn’t duplicate, and won’t anytime soon.

      1. Video conferencing is available today, and I have used it. However, even with the resources available to a large company like Microsoft, I haven’t been too impressed. We waste a lot more time than you might think fighting with the technology just to give remote participants basic video and audio.

        You are absolutely correct that, even when the video and audio is working, the experience is not nearly as good as face to face. Network latency, tiny laptop screens, limited quality of video and audio feeds, and the lack of ability for something as simple as a whiteboard to work with both local and remote participants together all play a role.

        However, in the long run, most of these limitations are simply the state of current technology (or at least current technology that’s cheaper than flying people around to meet face to face), not inherent limitations of video conferencing in general.

        Perhaps someday in the future, video conferencing will become a full virtual reality experience, where everyone sees each other in the same a virtual room, wearing business suits when, in reality, everyone is working from a separate home office, wearing pajamas.

        Obviously, the need for travel between LA and San Francisco is never going to go away, but the number of people that will need to regularly make the trip – especially among business travelers – should fall with time, as collaborating over the internet becomes easier and easier.

        Assumption of competition – if we were talking about a couple billion dollars, I would say ok, but $100 billion is a lot of money. To put this into perspective, the operating budget for the entire state in 2011, according to Wikipedia, was $127 billion in 2011. This is well beyond the point where can’t just raise taxes to pay for it and call it good – you have to make choices about priorities. And, unless we believe that transit is such a big priority that it deserves state money on the order of public education, there simply isn’t enough money to go around to make all the improvements we need to local and regional transit in urban areas and to do the HSR project.

      2. Couldn’t your argument from optimism about technology reducing the need for physical co-presence counsel against major investments in regional transit as well? It works just as well as an argument that trips between Silicon Valley and San Francisco, or Irvine and Los Angeles, as it does against SF/LA trips.

      3. asdf, people have been claiming for my entire adult life that travel demand was going to fall “very soon” and that videoconferencing would solve everything. The people who stick with those claims are crazy. Don’t be one.

        Yes, $100 million is a lot of money. That’s why I made the point that CA spent $220B in one shot on road expansion without anyone even noticing. The operating budget is not the capital budget.

    2. The SF-LA air route is pretty saturated. Flights typically leave every half hour for the multiple airports in each city…….and those flights are mostly full. Then there is I-5 between the cities. Driving I-5 one can find lots of congestion at varying points along the way. In other words, if ever there was a place in the US where HSR is needed, CA is that place.

      1. Um…of all my trips to SF, I have yet to see I-5 within SF. You have to fight East Bay traffic over the Altamont to reach I-5 near Tracy. The most direct route to LA is the curvy PCH & US 101 through the coastal hills.

    3. Part of the plan is to connect the “hundreds of miles of open space” to the major cities with reliable, fast transit. Sitting a car, waiting in traffic to get thru the mountains to LA is not my idea of fun Building new freeways thru the mountains and into the city would cost $$$$$ more than HSR.

    4. Trains use less energy than cars or airplanes. We should have invested in transit infrastructure as much as in freeways and airports, but we didn’t, so we have to make up for it now. Otherwise we’re condemning ourselves to a high energy-using future forever, with all the insecurity (e.g., oil imports) and dangers (e.g., nuclear meltdowns and waste escape) and inequality (e.g., poor people without cars) that go along with it. At one time the US had the most extensive and advanced passenger rail network and urban transit systems in the world. If we had kept moderninzing it and extending it rather than letting it decay, we’d have as good a network as Germany has, or maybe even better.

    5. I agree that it is probably a better investment to bolster the transit networks (and zoning/density) in the major California cities so people can get to trains and have somewhere to go when they arrive. If the line between SD-LA-SF could run at an average 100 MPH with limited stops and no freight traffic, it would be competitive with the hassle of the airport dance. They can worry about getting it up to 200 MPH later, especially if they get the RoW settled.

  3. I really think Elon’s battery-car customers can afford, timewise and moneywise, to use both their cars and high-speed rail, depending on which is easier for each particular trip. Even a superdesigned non-fossil fuel car still handles like a stuck cow in blocked traffic, except less greenhouse emissions than the cow.

    Also, I’m sure Elon has crossed the English Channel on rail once or twice, and noticed the train cars designed for passengers’ automobiles. His real self-interest, both economic and PR, would be to lobby heavily for “Chunnel” mode- of course, with plug-ins for his cars.

    Or if he really wanted to get personal, demand that the steel-wheeled car-haulers be reserved for electric vehicles only.

    My suspicion is some billionaire friend located bought him the only copy left in the world of the science-for-boys magazine I subscribed to in junior high in 1957. The magazine also featured proof that the ideal aerodynamic shape for an automobile looked exactly like the latest model Prius.

    Holy Zow!!! Elon. You’re giving evidence that your battery cars give off force-fields that cause time warps!

    Mark Dublin

    1. “I really think Elon’s battery-car customers can afford, timewise and moneywise, to use both their cars and high-speed rail, depending on which is easier for each particular trip.”

      Yes. We can. :-)

      “Even a superdesigned non-fossil fuel car still handles like a stuck cow in blocked traffic, except less greenhouse emissions than the cow.”
      Yes.

      “Also, I’m sure Elon has crossed the English Channel on rail once or twice, and noticed the train cars designed for passengers’ automobiles. His real self-interest, both economic and PR, would be to lobby heavily for “Chunnel” mode- of course, with plug-ins for his cars.”
      Yes. Having plugins for cars on trains would be relatively straightforward.

      “Or if he really wanted to get personal, demand that the steel-wheeled car-haulers be reserved for electric vehicles only.”
      This would avoid a large number of nasty fire risks and air quality issues related to having gasoline on cars in trains going through tunnels.

  4. 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.

    I think this is extremely paranoid. HSR is opening for at least a decacde, and for the full line 16 years if it opens on time. By then, Tesla will either have succeeded or busted on its own.

    1. Silly moo, this is called advocacy journalism! Cast aspersions then drive off into the sunset!

      STB’s Pulitzer awaits!

    2. Did you guys miss the entire history of the auto industry or something? I’m pointing out a behavior with dozens, if not hundreds, of historical analogues.

      1. Historical analogues don’t drive human intentions. “business secrets of the pharaohs” is not a real book.

      2. The same financial motives that have driven human intentions in the past drive human intentions now. It’s even the same industry. Gadgetbahnen are often funded by highway interests, and used to be by car companies. That’s why you saw the big PRT push here in 2007-2008, and it’s why the EV1 existed. They say: “Hey look, there’ll be something cool in the future that makes your lifestyle OK, don’t change your habits!” We just haven’t had a technocrat running a car company in a good 70 years, so the ideas haven’t been that grandiose.

        Musk’s whole paper, like even the first page of text, is about *not doing HSR*. It’s a direct attack. Maybe nobody’s read it? I should be happy about that, at least.

      3. There’s no great insight to saying “it’s a direct attack”, Musk has said so himself in the quotation I put into my post.

        The question is why is he attacking HSR? I think “financial” is a pretty hard to believe one.

      4. I believe the financial angle is exactly why Musk is taking on CHSR head-on. It is not necessarily personal greed. It is the realization that the CHSR is a direct threat to the economic viability of his dream line.

        Imagine if the monorail campaign were led by an eccentric multimillionaire engineer rather than a cadre of politically savvy activists. The eccentric millionaire might have noticed the much higher potential ridership serving Capitol Hill and UW, and sought to impede Link’s construction. The monorail supporters knew better, so they picked routes further down the priority list, only to eventually have the financing sabotaged by a certain current candidate for mayor, who excluded new cars from the tab in the creating legislation.

        Take as another case eccentric, and politically unskilled, millionaire Chris Hansen, who is seeking to bring an NBA franchise to Seattle, under his ownership. Failing to get organized labor behind the effort was a novel mistake in the world of professional sports entrepreneurs trying to make a fortune with the help of a local government. Then, just lask week, Hansen was revealed as the $100,000 donor to a petition effort to force a vote on Sacramento’s plan to build a new arena for the Kings. Whatever his motivations, it was an absolutely stupid thing to do, if one is trying to convince the collective NBA franchise owners to allow him to join their elite club.

        Likewise, Musk’s attack on CHSR is a stupid approach to getting a pilot hyperlink corridor built. Don’t compete with something already being built. Go somewhere that actually wants your help, by which I mean help building a transportation line, not help shutting one down.

        LA to Vegas may seem frivolous, but it would be the first step in LA to NY. Think about the politics, Elon.

  5. Sorry, Ben. I don’t typically believe “11-dimensional chess” theories of politics, and I don’t believe the “11-dimensional chess” idea here either. People are just not that devious. Musk is a geek with a penchant for grandiosity. He (like everyone else) is frustrated with the staggering cost of CA HSR. His mind goes immediately to grandiose technical solutions, and he has the money and connections to get pretty drawings done and get his ideas into the press.

    Does he own a car company? Of course. But if his focal point were trying to kill HSR to benefit his car company, he wouldn’t do it by concocting a pneumatic transit scheme. He’d do it by making the same arguments all the other HSR opponents make, focused on cost and on the supposed un-American-ness of mass transit. He’d do it, in other words, by trying to sell his products — just like GM did in the ’50s, when they 1) advertised so well that the car went through the most glamorous period in its history and 2) sold buses to municipalities everywhere.

    This is about Elon Musk, not about trying to sneakily kill CA HSR.

    1. Musk’s paper is festooned with reasons we should do his crazy idea instead of HSR. Did no one read it?

      1. We read it, but unlike you we’re not starting from the position that we need to assassinate his character.

      2. I’m not sure there’s anyone else here that thinks pointing out a financial motivation is character assassination. :)

      3. That doesn’t mean his motivation for trying to substitute his project for CA HSR is actually to drive people into the arms of Superchargers.

  6. I’ll also bet Larry Ellison was the one who gave him the magazine, and probably also dared him to go public with the idea- which I think the Paris postal service was using all over the city in the days of beautiful mechanical things made out of brass.

    Think “Steam-Punk” without the zombies.

    Incidentally, I remember that in the article about automotive aerodynamics, they noted that the ideal shape for a car would be a teardrop- necessitating a long, fragile, and automotively useless point on the end, far beyond the rear wheels. Though maybe it could discourage tailgating.

    But Dr. Wunnibald Kamm, in Germany, discovered with wind-tunnel tests that if you identify the point toward the rear of the car where turbulence starts to form in the airstream, and cut the model so as to leave a flat surface, the airstream shapes the turbulence itself into a cone-shaped mass of air that acts exactly like a pointed tail.

    Cosmetic streamlining only made the car perform worse- but in those days, only European sissies were interested. The six-passenger Citroen ID 19 we owned in Africain 1967 got over thirty to the gallon, and could do sixty on African roads without even gathering dust on the rear window.

    But at the average vehicle speed for museums and car shows, a lot of non-aerodynamic machinery still looks magnificent.

    Mark

  7. These STB posts do seem rather paranoid reactions to a tech idea that wasn’t really presented as a complete concept or system ready for implementation. One factor missing re: cost estimates was the idea that the system could be built along existing interstate rights-of-way, thereby obviating the need to acquire more land use rights. Capacity issues are valid, as are all of the other unaddressed issues associated with the idea…but that’s just the sort of discussions this “leak” will generate. Since Musk isn’t claiming IPR (yet), anyone can take the idea, address the issues noted here, make improvements, and perhaps someday present a lower-cost alternative to HSR.

    People here have fallen into the binary trap, i.e. it has to be either HSR or the hyperloop. Keep planning for HSR, but don’t discount the possibility that the loop might be a better solution (for use elsewhere, perhaps). It’s certainly not very productive to poo-poo what could end up being a better solution right when it leaves the starting gates. Have a bit of imagination.

    Try writing a post on what would need to happen to make the hyperloop a viable alternative. Then perhaps we can get to work on those things.

    1. My take is that the critical blog postings are just a reaction to the generally uncritical acceptance of the idea by much of the MSM.

      Without considerable more development and a demonstration system, Hyperloop is just an idea. It might work but it’s way premature to assign any cost figures to the system.

    2. Musk wrote his paper saying this should be instead of HSR.

      As umpteen people have now pointed out, it’s utterly insane for people to think this “might be” anything. It’s just a bug in human logic that we flip our burden of proof when someone rich and famous says something.

      1. Yeah. The basic problem is that Musk didn’t do his homework — uh, he could have started by looking up civil engineering costs — and then he published a back-of-the-napkin idea with absolutely stupidly wrong cost estimates, which were too low by a factor of 10.

        Well, people make dumb mistakes like that. What’s really dumb is watching so much of the world fall for it.

  8. Elon is not making any silly strategic play to try and kill HSR because it would threaten automotive business. HSR isn’t a threat to auto companies; car companies market to commuters, not cross-country road trippers.

    He’s just doing the same thing he has always been doing. Looking at something and saying “Hey! Technology (and private enterprise) can do this better!

    His dream wouldn’t be killing CAHSR, it would be privatizing it.

    1. In the link I provided to his nationwide supercharger network along interstates specifically intended for interstate travel (please look), Musk primarily markets his supercharger network, starting with CA between SF and LA, to cross-country road trippers.

      The replies to this post are really weird. I feel like you started your comment with the end, and then just skimmed my post for some way to justify it. People who buy $125,000 cars aren’t using them for the same thing that a typical commuter does, because their lives aren’t organized the same way. Musk knows that, and paying attention to his marketing shows that he targets a very similar travel model to HSR.

      1. The replies seem really weird because you messed up an otherwise great post with speculation about his motives. If you remove the last paragraph you have an excellent post. Something similar to many of the other articles from real magazines out there. Just leave it like that.

        Leave the speculation for the comment section. I’m sure someone would connect the dots and suggest that his trying to kill HSR for his own financial gain. Others will suggest that he did it because he is a nerd who thinks he can change the world (in a good way) by reinventing something. That’s fine. Who really cares? The main point is that it is a bad idea (or maybe a good idea that is simply too expensive). The even bigger point is that is should not be used as a reason to delay HSR in California. That is what Musk wants to do, and that is really bad idea. Speculation about his motivation is not that important, and is just that; speculation. Without further proof it messes up an otherwise great post.

      2. I completely disagree that it messes up anything. It’s unpopular, but there’s no argument *against* my speculation other than people acting offended. He’s got a stake in seeing HSR not happen. He competes with it directly with his superchargers – he’s targeting interstate travel. It’s right there on his page.

        The irony here is the burdens of proof. It’s apparently my burden to prove that Musk has intent to harm HSR, when he targets HSR and has a financial stake in a competitor to HSR. But it’s ALSO my (our) burden to prove that his crazy idea isn’t realistic, instead of his burden to prove that it’s possible. It’s just hero worship. It’s my job to point it out so that more people can see how crazy people go when you criticize someone rich and famous.

      3. Ben, it’s the power of logic (and social psychology). Suppose I announce that I might be able to run 100 meters in 9 seconds just in time for the next olympics. You can’t disprove it now because the date is in 2016. If it doesn’t work out, the next olympics after that are always a logical possibility. I could keep making those announcements long after people were fed up with me.

        This argumentum ad ignorantiam about how “if we only tried it could work” while not even a prototype exists is a common debate tactic to shift the burden of proof. How nice is it to argue using things that don’t exist [yet]? How convenient that the concept can’t be disproven because there is no physical manifestation of it? But just because it can’t be physically disproven doesn’t make the argument true. This can go on forever because at any point there might be some breakthrough around the corner that could make it viable.

        They might build prototypes or even an actual revenue line somewhere but the large-scale applicability in reality would fall short (as you said cost+capacity). The cult will lose members along the way but the hard core will be faithful eternal, and wait for the dawn of the techno deliverance. Just like with monorails, personal rapid transit, maglev etc.

      4. Musk primarily markets his supercharger network, starting with CA between SF and LA, to cross-country road trippers

        I’m more than familiar with the supercharger network, but I don’t think it’s a key part of his marketing, any more than remote highway truck stops are a key part of GM’s marketing. They exist to make owners less nervous, and quash range anxiety. They exist because no matter how infrequent cross-country road trips are, there are always naysayers saying “I can’t drive an electric car on my daily in-region errands, because you can’t go from Seattle to LA in one.” It’s a psychological game.

        It’s airlines, not auto companies, that have a stake in killing HSR.

        I feel like you started your comment with the end, and then just skimmed my post for some way to justify it.

        Naah, it’s that there’s nothing controversial or incorrect in the rest of the post. My only beef lies with your interpretation of his motives. I think his ideas on HSR are just as silly as you do.

      5. His supercharger network is by far the most expensive part of his marketing. I would be surprised if it was less than an order of magnitude more expensive than all his other marketing combined.

        Mobilitor, nice to see you on this post. :) I hadn’t actually gone and read the page on the logical fallacy – thank you! You should write a guest post expanding on that comment!

      6. His supercharger network is by far the most expensive part of his marketing. I would be surprised if it was less than an order of magnitude more expensive than all his other marketing combined.

        What? No! Each of these supercharger stations costs Tesla about as much as a decent 1-week local TV ad buy:

        The cost for Tesla is between $100,000 and $175,000 depending on the station, and a lot of those come from the permanent modifications needed at the site to support the Supercharger itself.


        All it requires is an electrical hookup and a half-dozen extra parking spaces in a strip mall somewhere. The ongoing costs are very little because electricity in the USA is still very cheap.

        By way of comparision, Nissan spent $20 million last year just marketing the Leaf. GM spent $10 million on Facebook ads alone. And Tesla’s entire current system of superchargers only cost them about $2.2 million.

      7. Ben, I have commented above that Musk has no actual incentive to discourage HSR. (This doesn’t necessarily mean that he isn’t quixotically and insanely hostile to HSR; he might be, since there are plenty of nuts with insane anti-rail agendas; but he has no actual *business* incentive to discourage it.)

        Nobody in their right mind would buy a Model S as an alternative to taking an intercity train, and most of the people at Tesla have to understand that. You have to *drive* the Model S, you know, rather than relaxing in the lounge car and working on your laptop.

      8. As “Lack Thereof” says, the Superchargers are really just there to shut down a certain class of “range anxiety” complaints. It is best for Tesla if they are never used at all. If they’re actually heavily used, they’ll have to deal with the problem that the Superchargers don’t scale.

        This is why Tesla really has a motivation to put people (and perhaps their cars) on rail for long-distance travel.

    2. Nathanael, Most EV owners charge their vehicles at home for everyday events. The SuperCharger network isn’t designed to be a replacement/analog for current day gas filling stations. It’s as you say to deal with range anxiety issues.

      I’m a little puzzled by your contention that SuperChargers wouldn’t scale. I guess you may have a point in the case that the Grid may need to change to accommodate many more of them. The original concept for SuperChargers is that they would each have a canopy solar array that was supposed to collect more power than the charger would dispense thus creating a net surplus of energy for the Grid. I’m observing that most if not all of the recent charger stations that have come online do not have a solar array attached to the site.

      1. “I’m a little puzzled by your contention that SuperChargers wouldn’t scale.”

        They won’t scale for roughly the same reason driving doesn’t scale. If you have hundreds of cars descending on the same Harris Ranch location at once… the problem is obvious. Parking, power supply, etc.

        A thin network of Superchargers in many locations across the country, to handle dispersed road trip traffic — no problem, easy.

        Enough Superchargers in one location to handle a full train’s worth of people at once — no way, not going to work.

        Cars, and Superchargers, are a low-capacity solution to a “coverage” problem. Cars, and Superchargers, do not compete with a high-capacity solution to a “volume” problem. Rail is a high-capacity solution to a “volume” problem.

        LA to SF is a volume problem.

  9. That Musk may want to build this instead of HSR does not necessarily mean he is trying to kill any financial competition for his real idea. It wouldn’t be the first time someone was so in love with their own ideas they attacked any other ideas they perceived as competing with it without money entering into it.

  10. I’ve never understood the minimum spacing argument between pods (It was similarly leveled against PRT). If a 500 person train crashes, 500 hundred people are subjected to rapid deceleration. Put those same 500 people in 20 pods, one behind the other and even if the first pod crashes and all pods run into each other, isn’t that equivalent, maybe still better? You’ve wrapped people in a lot of extra shielding and in expectation only the middle pod fails?

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