“How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratories) — doing incredible things like indexing all the world’s knowledge and putting rovers on Mars —would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world?” This question was posed by Elon Musk, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal and the guy who is working on developing the commercial space transport firm Space-X; chairman, CEO, and product architect of the electric car manufacturer Tesla; and also chairman of SolarCity, the largest provider of solar power systems in the United States.
As regular readers of this column know, I have opposed the construction of the high-speed rail (HSR) through the valley since its inception. Although I sympathize with farmers who worry about the loss of valuable farmland, I have had many other reasons for not wanting the state to spend about $70 billion (only the current estimation, which rises each year) on 19th-century technology. Furthermore, the first leg of the route, from Avenue 17 in Madera to Corcoran (a small prison town in the middle of nowhere) is ridiculous. And, it uses an old rail system that would probably only allow the train to obtain its high speed between Fresno and Bakersfield.
Alternative to HSR
Musk is proposing an alternative. In a paper released Aug. 12, he suggests the Hyperloop, a plausible transportation system that would shuttle passengers from the Los Angeles basin to the Bay Area in about 30 minutes. Comparing the HSR and the Hyperloop is a bit like reading the fable about the tortoise and the hare, except that the outcome is more predictable. Moreover, the plan for the Hyperloop is not just the product of one mind. Musk said that up to 1,000 employees from both Tesla and Space-X worked on the idea.
Musk envisioned the Hyperloop as a “fifth mode” of transportation, an alternative to aircraft, trains, automobiles, and boats. It is a system that is similar to the suction tubes that one used to utilize when using the drive-through services at a bank. The transaction material is placed into a cylinder and then the cylinder is placed into a vacuum tube and delivered to the teller. Musk said that this method of moving people “could revolutionize travel.” ...