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Transportation Technology

Transport Expert Insists 'Don't Dismiss Wacky Hyperloop' 385

Posted by samzenpus
from the greased-lightning dept.
DavidGilbert99 writes "Since Elon Musk announced the details of Hyperloop earlier this week, we've seen a number of experts debunking the technology involved, but at least one is more upbeat about the possibility of 600MPH train travel. Speaking to Alistair Charlton at IBTimes UK, professor Phil Blythe from the Institute of Engineering and Technology said: 'My gut feeling is, don't dismiss it out of hand just because it sounds a bit wacky,' adding 'You're always going to have long distance travel, and if there was something that could replace air travel between cities and hubs, and is low carbon [with] low energy requirements, it make sense to explore it, it really does.'"
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Transport Expert Insists 'Don't Dismiss Wacky Hyperloop'

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  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Friday August 16, 2013 @05:43AM (#44581531) Journal

    It is a loopy idea, but not fundementally unsound in any way.

    Every aspect of it, from the induction motors, to the earthquake proofing to the aerodynamics to the solar power is all well understood.

    The difficult bit is really the engineering on a large project and developing all the parts and actually building the thing. I wouldn't trust most people with it and the usual suspects for government contacting would surely make a massice hash of it and cause a 50x budget overrun.

    But that's nothing to do with the project per-se. Musk does have the kind of track record showing he can pull off big, complex engineering projects which are generally regarded as difficult and expensive applications of existing tech. Not only pull them off but do them well, quickly and cheaply.

    So please, don't bring up arichair engineer objections to the design without first reading that big, long document which covers most of them and actually providing some reasoning.

    • by gweilo8888 (921799) on Friday August 16, 2013 @06:03AM (#44581597)
      Land is going to be what kills this project, before it even gets as far as anything technical. How do you acquire the land for the route as a private entity, without eminent domain?

      Every time you buy a parcel of land the neighboring parcels know they're suddenly worth a fortune to you, because you can't just go around them at 800 mph. You have to stay within safe and comfortable G-force maxima for your passengers, which means no more than gentle changes in routing -- and that means you'll have hundreds of hold-out roadblocks in the midst of your route, refusing to sell unless you can provide them with an instant and very comfortable retirement. And if you can't persuade them to sell... well, somehow you have to find a route around them, and buy even more property to make your new route happen.

      And then there's the neighbors whose property you aren't buying who will mire you in lawsuits because they don't want an ugly Hyperloop system at the end of their property.
      • by beelsebob (529313) on Friday August 16, 2013 @06:14AM (#44581639)

        Land is going to be what kills this project, before it even gets as far as anything technical. How do you acquire the land for the route as a private entity, without eminent domain?

        If you had even read the basic media coverage of this, you would know that he is proposing mounting this over the central reservation on freeways, so no land purchasing would be necessary.

        • by argStyopa (232550)

          Isn't this supposed to be built in the right-of-way for highways designed for vehicles going at 70mph, but now we have vehicles going 600mph?

          Sure, you're not engineering against the traction-value of tires on pavement, but there's going to be some significant discomfort going through those turns.

      • Land is going to be what kills this project

        Yeah thats why I think Musk should look for a way to build the tubes under the surface of the ocean. Tether them from weights with cables, just deep enough to avoid surface movement. Build a standard, modular tube segments. Float them and sink them.

      • Did you actually read the original paper? It addresses the land problem.

      • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Friday August 16, 2013 @06:33AM (#44581743)

        Land is going to be what kills this project, before it even gets as far as anything technical. How do you acquire the land for the route as a private entity, without eminent domain?

        Somehow it didn't seem to be a problem when the railway was being built over Indian lands... *ducks*

      • How do you acquire the land for the route as a private entity, without eminent domain?

        Didn't he say he was just pushing the idea, not going to implement it himself?

      • by rasmusbr (2186518) on Friday August 16, 2013 @06:54AM (#44581843)

        Land is going to be what kills this project, before it even gets as far as anything technical. How do you acquire the land for the route as a private entity, without eminent domain?

        Why would you?

        There are 200+ national governments out there. Convince one of them that it makes sense partnering with you. Once the first hyperloop system is built other governments will follow, including the state of California sooner or later, assuming the system is vastly better than high speed rail. Governments are pretty thick but most of them won't turn down an obviously awesome offer that's going to create profits for businesses and jobs for citizens.

        It does need to be really good to overcome the inertia of government stupidity coupled with big corporate lobbyism. There is already a maglev system called Transrapid that is somewhat better than HSR in almost every way (50% faster, slightly cheaper to operate, etc), but governments prefer to build steel on rails because it brings profit to several existing large corporations and their many lobbyists, as opposed to bringing profit to just the corporation that owns Transrapid and their (fewer) lobbyists.

        • by jonbryce (703250)

          Maglev is only slightly faster than TGV or similar high speed rail, and normal trains, eg freight services can't run on maglev tracks, whereas they can run on LGV tracks.

          • by nojayuk (567177) on Friday August 16, 2013 @08:23AM (#44582321)

            The Japanese maglev testbed runs at 500km/h regularly, with record speeds of over 550km/h in open running, not in a vacuum tube. Most TGV/HSR/shinkansen fast rail tops out at about 320km/h -- I think there's some Chinese HSR that goes a bit faster on scheduled runs. The planned Tokyo-Nagoya maglev will start operating at 500km/h but they're laying out the track to go faster in the future as the engineering improves. That's not "slightly faster" than TGV.

            Freight doesn't run on LGV, or if it does then the operators are crazy. Heavy freight cars would destroy the track which is optimised for high-speed passenger transport and slower freights would collapse the passenger scheduling to the point where delays and cancellations would be frequent, not a good selling point for HSR. I've made a lot of shinkansen trips over the past few years, only once did I end up on a delayed train. The rest arrived and departed on schedule to the second (and I mean that, the second-hand on the platform clock reaches "12" and the train starts moving.)

            • by jonbryce (703250)

              Well the fastest Maglev is 581 km/h, on a test track. The fastest TGV is 574.8km/h, on the LGV Est line under test conditions. That's why I say it is only slightly faster.

              Freight certainly does run through the Channel Tunnel, which links LGV Nord in France to HS1 in the UK. It is timed to fit around the gaps in the passenger schedule, and overnight when passenger services aren't running. Also, the last 17 km or so of LGV Nord on the way into Paris is regular commuter lines running at slower speeds. The

              • by nojayuk (567177)

                The fastest ever car (Thrust SSC) handily beat the top speed of the current fleet of passenger aircraft (since Concorde and the Tu-144 retired). So what? The Japanese maglev test vehicles regularly run at 500km/h plus and its record runs were at 580km/h while carrying passengers in unmodified cars. The TGV's stripped-down racecar no-passenger one-off record was 574km/h, damaging the track and overhead as it went, and the best high-speed rail like the TGV runs at 320-350 km/h. 50% better speed is not "slight

      • by argStyopa (232550)

        Not to mention the most heavily over-regulated, eco-nut dominated state in the union.

        The protests against it for every reason from noise pollution to the presence of some endangered skink in a ditch on the route will alone prevent this project from ever reaching fruition.

      • This was discussed in the document that you didn't read. They build it above ground, on stilts, primarily through the I-5 Corridor. It does have to veer periodically across, but there is no chance of hitting anything since it's 20-100 ft in the air and the foot print for each pole is relatively small, only a few feet across every hundred feet. This could easily be met privately with most land owners, and eminent domain for the rest.

        The real trick will be to fight off the lawsuits from all the podunk tow
    • Musk does have the kind of track record showing he can pull off big, complex engineering projects which are generally regarded as difficult and expensive applications of existing tech. Not only pull them off but do them well, quickly and cheaply.

      Citation, please. In particular:

      1) What are the "difficult applications" which Musk himself is to be congratulated for? Don't confuse this with e.g. the artificial SpaceX arrangement, where a huge wad of NASA money sponsors experienced engineers who happen to work under the umbrella of a private enterprise merely to suit ideology.

      2) What is regarded as "expensive", beyond the usual public-private agreement whereby a big contractor always makes the first hit nearly-free and then spends the rest of eternity m

    • by Twinbee (767046)
      Here is the aforementioned big, long document, suitable for any would-be armchair readers: http://assets.sbnation.com/assets/3047069/hyperloop-alpha.pdf [sbnation.com]
    • by Black Parrot (19622) on Friday August 16, 2013 @06:40AM (#44581779)

      It is a loopy idea, but not fundementally unsound in any way.

      Ah, but that's irrelevant. The underlying plan is to build a prototype, get it panned on Top Gear, and sue them for lots of money.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      It's a sealed railroad at 5 times the maximum speed of a hypertrain. 25 times the kinetic energy, rattling the supports at speeds and over distances that have never been approached by any mechanical ground based vehicle, and completely vulnerable to mechanical failure or flaw at any point along its pth.

      The stresses involved and reliability requirements are both an order of magnitude greater than any ground based transport system. Coupled with Not In My Back Yard for this swooshing deathtrap, It Ain't Gonna

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by umghhh (965931)
        "Flight by machines heavier than air is unpractical and insignificant, if not utterly impossible." - Simon Newcomb, 1902.
    • by shilly (142940)

      I agree. I often think that if contact lenses hadn't already been invented, armchair theorists would be able to give you a dozen reasons why they couldn't work.

    • by fearofcarpet (654438) on Friday August 16, 2013 @08:04AM (#44582201)

      I'm not an armchair engineer, but I am a real scientist. And while I have never seen anything at this scale, I have read a lot of proposals. This one did not set off my general bullshit alarm.

      I really, really like that Musk has everyone talking about the Hyperloop and the ancillary discussions of public transportation in general, but there are a couple of details that are glossed over in the big, long document. One is the acceleration/braking by linear induction motors. Correct me if I'm wrong, but he seems to jump from idea that they already work in rotary engines and that MVA inverters are already commercialized (in mining equipment and trains) to the conclusion that they therefore will work in the linear configuration shown in the document. The wording there was sneaky.

      The second is holding a vacuum, ~0.001 Atm., through the whole tube. Has that ever been demonstrated on such a large scale? He shows some metrics from commercial pumps, but then seems to assume that they will scale constantly with volume... how many pumps? Spaced how? What sort of maintenance requirements? How long to pump down the shunts at stations where modules are loaded/unloaded? Vacuum is non-trivial at commercial scales. Perhaps this sort of thing is commonplace and I have just never seen it (and I have seen vacuum chambers that would accommodate a pickup truck). But it felt to me like he was making a lot of assumptions about how easy it is to work with vacuum at those scales.

      Those are both issues that can be demonstrated/prototyped, but it is as naive to say that the proposal was anything more than a whitepaper as it is to dismiss the whole thing out of hand.

      • by tibit (1762298) on Friday August 16, 2013 @10:23AM (#44583361)

        Correct me if I'm wrong, but he seems to jump from idea that they already work in rotary engines and that MVA inverters are already commercialized (in mining equipment and trains) to the conclusion that they therefore will work in the linear configuration shown in the document. The wording there was sneaky.

        An acquaintance has a small demo unit made as an (expensive) novelty item sitting on his desk. It's an aluminum pendulum and a 3 phase linear motor (just because, as he says). Runs off a couple AA rechargeable batteries. The pendulum is a disk and can be converted to a balanced disk by removing a weight. Once converted, you flip a switch and instead of going back-and-frth, it can spin up to 20kRPM in about a minute. The configuration is entirely immaterial, it's really a very basic thing, electrodynamically speaking. After you press the brake button, it similarly stops in about 40 seconds, while recharging the batteries.

      • by Areyoukiddingme (1289470) on Friday August 16, 2013 @12:54PM (#44584963)

        There are examples of maintaining a much much harder vacuum on this scale. All particle accelerators, including the LHC, are kept at a hard vacuum. The Large Hadron Collider is 27km long and 3.8 m wide, wider even than the proposed passenger + vehicle version of the Hyperloop. The large tunnel is kept at 10^-6 mbar (9.8 x 10^-10 atmospheres) for months at a time. The beam pipe is kept at "several orders of magnitude better vacuum."[Source [PDF] [cds.cern.ch]] The discussion of the beam pipe vacuum deals with how well the system removes individual hydrogen molecules.

        So maintaining an industrial-scale vacuum is a solved problem, to much thinner vacuums than are necessary for Hyperloop. Mr. Musk's log scale plot of the effectiveness of vacuum pumps was intended to show where on that log scale the cost effectiveness of running pumps suddenly falls into a hole, to justify his choice of 0.001 atmospheres. I'm sure some effort and some experimentation would be useful to validate how many pumps set how far apart are needed to maintain the target vacuum, but the mathematical models definitely have exhaustive and detailed physical validation already.

        Large scale linear electric motors also already exist and are already used in transportation. Tokyo's Toei Oedo Line is a subway that runs on linear electric motors. All together there are 11 subways in China and Japan running with linear electric motors. They run on wheels though, rather than air repulsion skids.

        Both of your objections seem like solved problems to me. What I question is how well any system can be engineered to maintain tunnel smoothness well enough over time that the height of the tunnel floor never deviates by more than 0.5 mm along the length of the suspension skids over decades of operation. I don't know of any existing project that has maintained that degree of smoothness over such a distance. I suspect pylon design is critical to maintaining that smoothness, and the interior of the tunnel would have to be periodically resurfaced.

    • Yeah, I kind of hate the response the proposal has gotten, and not because I'm such a huge fan of it that I feel like we *need to* create the hyperloop, but because it shows an underlying shitty attitude that our society had acquired.

      When someone proposes a radically different method of solving a problem that may increase efficiency dramatically, we dismiss it out of hand. We don't even bother trying to consider the idea, we just say, "Meh, it's probably dumb and it probably won't work, because if it was

  • Indeed ... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by golodh (893453) on Friday August 16, 2013 @05:45AM (#44581545)
    Perhaps prof. Blythe was thinking of the Swissmetro project (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Swissmetro [wikipedia.org] ) which proposed to build high-speed train connections through low-pressure tunnels.

    That project was reported to be both technically and economically feasible despite the handicap of having to tunnel all the way through granite. Apparently the project died for lack of interest and political will to see it through.

    So, what people refer to as "Elon Musk's idea" really isn't new and also isn't nearly as wacky as some people seen to think. The thing that Elon Musk seems to be adding is marketing and PR. Perhaps that will make the difference.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by leehwtsohg (618675)

      The swissmetro is maglev. Also, I think that Elon Musk's main idea is to implement it in California along highway 5, solving the land problem.
      It isn't an abstract invention, but a specific solution.

      • by westlake (615356)

        I think that Elon Musk's main idea is to implement it in California along highway 5, solving the land problem.

        It solves the land problem only if you ignore the end points in San Francisco and L.A. Rail takes you downtown. It anchors and energizes the inner city or it is not doing its job.

  • Science Fiction and reality. I like the idea of Hyperloop, but what happens with a 600mph crash? How do you elevate tubes across thousands of miles and through Cities without A) creating curve that have g-forces too high to survive a 600mph turn or B) becoming so incredibly expensive for right of access rights that it becomes impossible? With cars holding a limited number of people, how do you address the mass populations? Jets carry hundreds and they're routinely overbooked. How does economies of scale fit
    • by Sockatume (732728)

      A lot of those queries were addressed in the their first conversations with the press. Look them up, there's some really good discussion.

      BTW jets are overbooked because it's the best way to maximise the profit on a flight, not because of any underlying logistical issue. An unsold seat is a wasted fraction of a trip, so they overbook to ensure that even if an unusually large number of passengers cancel, the flight will still be full. It'd take only a few extra planes in the air to provide everyone a seat, bu

    • by burni2 (1643061)

      Q: What happens in a 600mph crash ?
      A: You die anyway, even TGV (train with huge velocity) the rails are shielded by fences along with CCTV and detectors, at such speeds you can only prevent catastrophe with preemptive measures, there is no AFFORDABLE other way, but you also fly by airplane right, and take on that risk ?

      Q: How do you elevate?
      A: you place them under ground

      Q: G-Forces
      A: www.wikipedia.org calculate how big a circle must be, to put only 2-3 G-s on the body, it's not that big .. r=500m or so

      Q: Li

      • by mitcheli (894743)

        Q: How do you elevate?
        A: you place them under ground

        And if you think it's expensive to elevate it over the highways (proposed idea) just imagine how much it will cost to go underground [wikipedia.org].

      • by beelsebob (529313)

        Q: How do you elevate?
        A: you place them under ground

        Wrong, this is one of the key features here – it's overground, so that it doesn't involve expensive tunnelling, and can have solar cells on top of it to power the thing.

        Q: G-Forces
        A: www.wikipedia.org calculate how big a circle must be, to put only 2-3 G-s on the body, it's not that big .. r=500m or so

        Bear in mind that most humans never experience even 2g acceleration. About the most likely place they are to experience 2g is at a go-kart track, and for most, 45 minutes of that will give them neck ache because their neck muscles are not used to supporting their head under that load. You'd need to keep cornering forces to under 0.5-

    • by tibit (1762298) on Friday August 16, 2013 @10:39AM (#44583535)

      What do you crash into? There is a big difference between a head-on collision, and merely a slide along the tube without air cushioning. When you're in a tube, the only other thing you can crash into is another train that goes the same way (or has stopped). Since there's no on-board propulsion, there's no scenario in which a train can propulsively overtake and hit a train in the front. It can only happen if the train in the front brakes, and somehow this doesn't get the trains behind it to stop. Very, very unlikely. The braking systems would be entirely passive, so basically if you blow the fuses on all the on-board batteries, the thing mechanically brakes an in entirely passive fashion. Also, for the trains to stay unbraked, they must be in constant communications with the control center. Presumably if the communications are lost for more than a 100ms, the brakes come out.

      Oh, and they are not stupid, they did plan the route in detail, with bend radii and speed profiles all included.

  • I don't get it.
    Sure, it sounds fantastic, but isn't this pretty much the same as a system proposed way back in the 50s?
    I'm pretty sure I saw that in a reprint of an ancient Popular Mechanic.
    (Maybe it was Popular Science, but was that one even being printed in the 50s?)

    Besides that, he's not putting any money into it, and he doesn't have blueprints or anything, just an idea. Science Fiction writers do that level of work all the time with new ideas.

    On a technical note, what about shifting of the ground, espec
  • That way land is free and the tube can be made totally standard and mass produced. Anchor it to the sea floor at a depth of 50 meters. That would make it easy to run between LA and SF, and many other routes would become easy too.

    • by isorox (205688)

      That way land is free and the tube can be made totally standard and mass produced. Anchor it to the sea floor at a depth of 50 meters. That would make it easy to run between LA and SF, and many other routes would become easy too.

      Like London to NY, in 5 hours, or LA-Tokyo in under 8.

  • by jfruh (300774) on Friday August 16, 2013 @07:07AM (#44581895)

    An actual transit engineer crunches the numbers here:

    http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/19848/musks-hyperloop-math-doesnt-add-up/

    And finds that while the journey for individuals may be faster, the system as a whole would have one-tenth the capacity (i.e., the ability to move people in numbers) than the planned high-speed rail system. You could solve this problem by building 10 times as many tubes, of course, but that would eliminate the 90% cost savings Musk is touting.

    The radically reduced travel times vs. HSR are also deceiving. The maps Musk released show the system travelling from the fringes of the Bay Area to the fringes of the LA area, because it's hard/expensive/impossible to get land for the straightaways you'd need for the project within densely built up urban areas. To get from San Francisco to the hyperloop station, or from the hyperloop station to downtown LA, you'd have to switch to local transit or drive, which will double or triple travel time. Not coincidentally, must of the construction and expense that adds to HSR's very high price tag will come in SF and LA urban areas, since that system goes from downtown to downtown.

    • by nblender (741424) on Friday August 16, 2013 @08:05AM (#44582209)

      The actual transit engineer certainly doesn't know how to think outside of the box ... And if you read his credentials, he's not a transit engineer (is there even such a thing?)... He's a civic planner who's been employed in his field for a short 7 years.

      He says the headway is essentially restricted by the amount of time it takes for each pod to decelerate to a stop, close an airlock, pressurize the container, open the other airlock, etc ... Then trying to get the old arthritic passenget in/out of the pod in 60 seconds. Even I, a lowly firmware guy, can conceive of a few different ways to handle that. These are not huge obstacles on which to form the basis of analysis and reject the idea.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Rakishi (759894)

      That blog fucked up the numbers. They apparently don't understand the difference between "normal breaking" and "emergency breaking."

      The capacity of the hyperloop is 25% of high speed rail and one can question how realistic the high speed rail numbers are. Maximum capacity of X is utterly useless if you'll never reach close to it.

    • by Rakishi (759894) on Friday August 16, 2013 @10:25AM (#44583383)

      The maps Musk released show the system travelling from the fringes of the Bay Area to the fringes of the LA area, because it's hard/expensive/impossible to get land for the straightaways you'd need for the project within densely built up urban areas.

      Most people in the Bay Area do not live or work in SF. In fact San Jose which is the south end of the Bay Area alone has almost 1 million people (and growing) compared to 800k in San Francisco (and not growing).

      Not coincidentally, must of the construction and expense that adds to HSR's very high price tag will come in SF and LA urban areas, since that system goes from downtown to downtown.

      That's because HSR needs to go to downtown to be even remotely competitive with airlines and thus viable. It's so much slower than an airplane it just can't be remotely as fast unless you add in all the commuting to station/airport time. The Hyperloop does not. It is as fast as an airplane if not faster. That's from station/airport to station/airport. So it can be just as fast an an airplane destination to destination despite not going to downtown since airports also don't go directly to downtown. If people care later on it can be expanded but initially it can compete on price for example.

  • I'm using this as inspiration for my new transit technology: giant rubber band sling.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Friday August 16, 2013 @08:19AM (#44582303) Journal

    Blythe believes the long term success of Hyperloop will lie in its ability to be powered entirely by solar panels. "The compelling argument today is that the energy to run this could be generated from renewable resources, so the energy cost and the CO2 emissions are low - that probably gives it a bit more of an interesting argument whereas 15 years ago we didn't care about stuff like that.

    But it far cheaper to electrify a conventional train track. And far cheaper to install just solar panels on top of all highways and rail tracks. In fact if we put a "roof" over all the highways in the northeast and install solar panels on them, the savings in snow removal costs in winter and the electricity generated in summer could pay for the whole project. Putting gables over highways and directing the snow to fall on the sides instead of on the lanes is a far cheaper project than this.

    The home construction industry still reeling from the 2008 financial shock could use a shot in the arm. Regular conventional structures, gables and trusses, oriented to face the South, over I-90 between NewYork and Boston. Why not? We shoveled 800 billion dollars to the greedy banksters in just three months in 2008. A steady 10 billion dollar a year to put roof over highways is probably a better idea.

  • Alan Levy, who knows the literature on transportation infrastructure, makes a convincing case [wordpress.com] that Musk's hyperloop can't be taken seriously. It
    • Absurdly underestimates the cost of elevated viaducts (for which we have centuries of engineering experience and reliable cost estimates, which Musk ignored). This alone completely wipes out the supposed cost advantage over high-speed rail, even before you consider the extreme height required of the viaducts (because of the hyperloop's large turning radius) or the unexpected costs that usually arise in implementing brand-new technologies.
    • Assumes acceleration numbers that are known to be unrealistic for passenger comfort. The thing would be a vomit express.
    • Has a capacity that is a fraction of high-speed rail's.
    • ...and several other problems.

    Levy is not dismissing it "because it sounds a bit wacky." He's dismissing it because a realistic analysis shows that it is wacky.

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