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hyperloop

Hyperloop versus high-speed rail

I’ve been pondering whether our state is big enough for two high speed land-based forms of transportation, and I think the answer is “yes, at least for now”.

The Hyperloop is nearly twice as fast as Texas Central’s High-Speed Rail project already in the works to connect Houston and Dallas. To boot, the lightning-quick travel time is not even direct. The journey is routed through Austin, which would act as a hub connecting the Texas cities.

Hyperloop One could also be operational before Texas Central’s line. In its announcement, Hyperloop One declared its intent to begin shipping freight by 2020 and passengers by 2021.

One major factor will be ticket pricing. Texas Central has not released specifics but expects pricing to be on par with airline prices. That will likely be far cheaper than the Hyperloop, which is expected to be around $330 one-way.

If Hyperloop One does move forward in Texas, it will likely face many of Texas Central’s same growing pains; the company has met plenty of resistance from Texas landowners. Unlike Texas Central, which is developing its project privately, Hyperloop One will work with government agencies on development in some capacity. Though the specific arrangement has not yet been detailed, Hyperloop One is already working closely with the Colorado Department of Transportation and has said it intends to continue government relationships wherever it ends up.

[…]

A spokesperson for Texas Central told Bisnow the two projects are not in competition. Hyperloop One is not building a direct line from Houston to Dallas. Texas Central sees the two different modes of transportation as complementary, similar to airlines.

See here for some background. I’m glad to hear that both Hyperloop One and Texas Central see their systems as complimentary and not competitive at this time. Things may change if they’re both successful, of course, but we’re at least a few years out from that. Unlike high speed rail, hyperloops are brand new and untested technology, so who knows what will happen with the development, but like high speed rail there is likely to be opposition from communities that this project will pass through. I have to think we’ll begin to hear more about this now that the chances of it happening here are greater. In the meantime, one of the lead planners with AECOMM on this project has been talking to the press about it – see this followup story in Bisnow and this DMN article for his thoughts. I remain excited by the possibilities, but still want to see this thing in action before I buy in all the way.

Texas remains in hyperloop competition

We’re still a long way from anything happening, but if it does it could happen here.

There’s still a chance Texans could be some of the first people in the world to whisk along in tubes at 700 mph.

Hyperloop Texas, a joint proposal of engineering firm AECOM and public agencies in the state, is one of 10 winners of the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, a competition to find the best routes for the system.

Hyperloop, the brainchild of Tesla founder Elon Musk, envisions vacuum tubes and travel pods making interstate travel at faster-than-flight speeds. In their proposal, AECOM estimated the trip from Houston to San Antonio could be made in 21 minutes. Getting to Austin would take another eight minutes. Houston-to-Dallas, not including the time for layovers, would take 48 minutes.

A freight component would use the Hyperloop system to ferry goods from Laredo to the Port of Houston.

[…]

Winning doesn’t mean anything will get built, but Hyperloop One said in a release it “will commit meaningful business and engineering resources and work closely with each of the winning teams/routes to determine their commercial viability.”

See here for the background. What I like about the proposed route is that it wouldn’t directly compete with the Houston to Dallas high speed rail line. You can get to Dallas from Houston via this route – indeed, you can get all the way to DFW Airport – but you have to go via San Antonio, so the total travel time is shown as 48 minutes, about what it would be for the Texas Central ride. Basically, this is the Texas T-Bone, with Laredo, DFW, and the Port of Houston as the endpoints. We can debate whether this technology is feasible or not, but if it is, then I hope subsequent routes include some of the spaces in between and elsewhere. Let’s add stations in New Braunfels and San Marcos and Waco, and do a similar T-Bone in the other direction, to bring in El Paso and Midland/Odessa and Lubbock and Amarillo. If it works, of course. I can dream, can’t I? KUT has more.

In defense of hyperloops

Eric Holthaus at Grist writes in defense of Elon Musk’s hyperloop idea in general, and the proposal for a New York to Washington, DC hyperloop plan in particular.

Assuming hyperloop costs of $100 million per mile, and tunneling costs of about the same, the 226-mile span between New York and D.C. might cost about $45 billion. And Musk wants to start digging as soon as possible — in months, not years.

Keep in mind that no human has yet ridden in a full-scale functioning hyperloop.

So, yeah. This is a really expensive, really ambitious idea. But just stick with me here.

Put in proper context, the hyperloop actually represents an incredible bargain. Just the proposed transit and airport improvements needed to keep New York City functioning in the coming decades would cost more than Musk’s entire project. That includes renovations to LaGuardia Airport ($4 billion), other regional airport improvements ($6.5 billion), the rest of the Second Avenue Subway line ($17 billion), improved access at Grand Central Station ($10 billion), a new Penn Station ($1.6 billion), a revamped bus station on the city’s west side ($10 billion), and repairs to the Hudson River tunnels damaged in Hurricane Sandy ($23.9 billion).

In California, construction on an eventual Bay Area to Southern California high-speed rail line approved in 2008 was initially expected to cost about $40 billion. (Its top speed would reach about 220 mph, less than one-third of the hyperloop.) A recent report found that the rail project was already about 50 percent over budget and seven years behind schedule.

There’s no reason to expect a hyperloop wouldn’t run into the same sort of cost overruns. But for the sake of argument, let’s assume for a moment that a New York to D.C. hyperloop actually happens, at whatever cost: It would utterly transform the congested East Coast transit corridor.

Musk said a trip between the two cities would take just 29 minutes — less time than an average subway trip from lower Manhattan to the Upper West Side. The ease of long-distance travel along the nation’s most populous corridor would revolutionize transportation as we know it. It would inspire urban planners around the world. And it could be one of the single most-important steps to reduce carbon emissions and curtail global warming in U.S. history.

A functioning hyperloop would cannibalize air travel. It would also be a nearly ideal way to move cargo, greatly reducing the burden on the region’s highways and rails and providing new meaning to just-in-time shipping. Because aviationand shipping are projected to be the fastest-growing sources of new carbon emissions worldwide in the coming decades, the hyperloop — which could be operated entirely on renewable energy — is exactly the kind of technology that’s needed at exactly the right time.

I’m all about the hyperloops, as you know. I am also aware of the high level of skepticism surrounding the idea. Since one of the hyperloop proposals out there is in Texas, I’m more in the dreamers camp than the cynics, because this would be super cool if it happens. There are signs of progress, too. As long as we’re just spending Elon Musk’s money, why not indulge a bit?

A little skepticism about hyperloops

Streetsblog isn’t having the hyperloop hype.

There are no functional, real-world examples of a Hyperloop, Tesla founder Elon Musk’s long-distance transport concept that involves shooting people through vacuum-sealed tubes in pods that travel at up to 760 mph. Anyone who believes it’s a viable endeavor is basically taking it on faith.

“Hyperloop One” — the $130 million startup promoting the idea — has built a short 500-meter test track in the desert outside of Las Vegas but has yet to construct a pod to go with the tube, much less tested the technology on humans.

And yet a surprising number of government agencies are treating the Hyperloop as a serious proposition.

[…]

Hyperloop One even sells the technology as a solution to high housing prices, by enabling, for instance, “breadwinners to build a career in Boulder’s thriving tech hubs while commuting from Greeley, where median home prices are 60% lower.” It is a promise to enable sprawl so central cities can relax and avoid the difficult politics of creating more walkable development and inclusive housing policies.

Four years ago, mathematician and transit analyst Alon Levy wrote an epic takedown about the viability of Hyperloop technology. Levy evaluated Musk’s white paper [PDF] detailing how the Hyperloop would connect L.A. to San Francisco in about 30 minutes, and he found major problems. Musk’s cost estimates for engineering and land acquisition are inexplicably low — by a factor of 10 compared with current market norms, he said. (Whether people will be comfortable under to that type of propulsion is a whole other question. Levy says the Hyperloop would be a “barf ride.”)

America has the means to reduce traffic and connect people to where they want to go in less time — but solving these problems entails politically difficult choices to shift travel away from cars and highways. Any high-tech solution that promises a shortcut around these thorny problems is probably too good to be true. Like “personal rapid transit” or the Chinese “straddling bus” — the Hyperloop could end up taking credulous believers for a ride.

See here for previous hyperloop blogging. I consider myself skeptical of this idea, but it sounds so cool that I kind of hope I’m wrong. It would be nice to see some kind of working prototype get built, so we’d have some data about the cost and practicalities. It’s a lot easier to be a visionary if one’s visions remain conceptual. If you’ve got your head in the clouds about hyperloops, this story and the aforementioned epic (and long) takedown are worth a read.

Houston hyperlooping

How soon can this be built?

A Texas plan using the Hyperloop concept envisioned by Tesla founder Elon Musk is one of 35 proposals from around the globe competing this week in Washington for bragging rights as the best initial project for the technology. Hyperloop One, the company currently testing the idea, sponsored the contest.

“From a planning perspective and from a regulatory perspective Texas is a good first step for Hyperloop,” said Steven Duong, the team leader, based in Dallas, for Hyperloop Texas. “Population is a big part of it, but not just population, but population growth. So is the climate in Texas for development.”

[…]

Though winning the contest guarantees nothing, there is benefit to putting Texas high on the map – if only for U.S. bragging rights. A good idea that generates investment, he said, might be the first one completed. In some ways Texas is ahead of proposals in places like the West Coast where interest is high, but so are the regulatory hurdles.

“There are states and areas with a progressive reputation out there … but from our standpoint, this is the place to do it,” Duong said.

The proposal, a feasibility study, is a very early look at possibilities and includes no cost projections or analysis of site-specific needs. While many Hyperloop projects focus on buried tubes and include tunneling into the ground, the Texas pitch envisions above-ground enclosed tubes, possibly with solar panels on top that would power the system, making it energy-efficient to the point of burning no fossil fuels.

See here for past hyperloop blogging. Elon Musk has been talking about building a “test track” for hyperloops in Texas for over two years now, so I hope this contest indicates that we are getting closer to something actually getting built. I’m not getting any younger, I want the future to get here already. Hyperloop One, the company sponsoring the contest, says it hopes to announce finalists by May. I can’t wait.

Deep thoughts:

If a Hyperloop happens in Texas, however, it could bring profound change. Already, the Houston region is stretched to the point where sense of place can be tough to define. Are Sugar Land residents Houstonians? What does it mean to live in a region of many cities?

A Hyperloop that makes drinks in Austin and dinner in Houston possible stretches that to even farther limits, Duong said.

“If you could travel between all these different cities, it kind of devalues what it means to put your roots down in a community,” he said. “That’s something we think about, talk about, a lot.”

I don’t know that I agree with that. I think where you actually live and where you do things like go to church and send your kids to school will still strongly determine what people think of as their community. I admit that a world in which you can easily be in Houston, Austin, and Dallas all in the same day will be different and may well cause some definitions of neighborhood and community to change and possibly expand. But I think that at some fundamental level we will still be rooted to the things we are rooted to now. Ask me again after this thing gets built. The Dallas Observer, the DMN, and Swamplot have more.

RIP, Lone Star Rail

This really does appear to be the end of the line.

On a 17-1 vote late Monday, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization board decided to kick off a two-month process to remove from its official 25-year transportation plan the proposed 117-mile rail line from San Antonio to Georgetown. A final vote will have to be taken in October, but the tenor of the discussion and the lopsided vote made it clear that Lone Star will soon be history.

San Marcos Mayor Daniel Guerrero voted no. Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea and TxDOT Austin district engineer Terry McCoy abstained.

“We are going to look for real solutions up and down (the Interstate 35) corridor and stop living in a fantasy land,” said Hays County Commissioner Will Conley, who chairs the CAMPO board and carried the motion to oust Lone Star from the transportation plan.

In the intervening 60 days, at Austin Mayor Steve Adler’s request, TxDOT and local officials will take one last stab at trying to get Union Pacific — whose rail line runs through the heart of the Austin-San Antonio corridor — to come back to the negotiating table. For its entire history, Lone Star’s focus has been on using the UP line for its commuter service.

[…]

The resolution approved Monday also asks TxDOT to direct Lone Star to stop spending money on an $8 million environmental impact study of the line. If that occurs, Lone Star — which after $30 million of spending produced various engineering and financial studies but yielded no real progress toward funding the line — would be out of business.

It will almost certainly occur, a TxDOT official said Monday evening before the vote.

“If they (the CAMPO board) make that local decision to remove the rail line from the plan, we will sit down with the Federal Highway Administration and Lone Star and figure out how to conclude the environmental process,” said Mark Williams, TxDOT’s deputy executive director. “Which, in effect, would mean a ‘no build’ conclusion.”

See here, here, and here for the background. Lone Star Rail had worked all along to get Union Pacific to agree to share its freight tracks for its proposed commuter rail line, and when UP finally said No, there was no plan B. It’s a shame it’s come to this, because the idea of commuter rail between Austin and San Antonio has a lot of merit, but in the end Lone Star Rail could not get it done. There’s always the hyperloop plan, so keep hope alive. CAMPO member Cynthia Long and the San Antonio BizJournal have more.

UPDATE:: The Current offers a small bit of dissent.

How about a commuter hyperloop?

This sure sounds interesting.

Navigating right-of-way for land development can be like drawing blood from fiercely independent landowners. But a San Antonio technology startup is banking that it has cracked the code to prying some surface rights from Texans by borrowing a concept familiar to them — royalties, not eminent domain.

Oil and gas companies routinely knock on doors of Texas ranchers and cattle owners to offer mineral royalties in exchange for leasing surface rights to conduct deep drilling operations. But instead of a heavy industry use, these surface rights would be for a clean technology powered bullet train that runs inside an above ground pipeline structure and offer profit dividends.

A bullet train building startup called Transonic Transportation LLC that recently relocated to San Antonio from its roots in Louisiana has its eye on an alternative to the Lone Star Rail project — a commuter train line that would connect downtown San Antonio to the urban core of Austin along the I-35 corridor that’s been abandoned by Union Pacific after a deal fell through.

The startup claims that eminent domain won’t be as much of an issue since the train platform is held up by concrete pylons rather than laid on the earth. So hypothetically, landowners could still have access to travel underneath the tracks, if necessary.

The company plans to use hyperloop technology, a trademark of SpaceX, a research and development firm. Hyperloop refers to a train inside a tube that glides on a magnetized track. But the California tech giant SpaceX, doesn’t have plans to commercialize it.

[…]

The prototype still in design phase could transport between 6,000 and 12,000 passengers per hour and cost between $8 to $12 per trip for consumers.The funding structure would be that of a public-private partnership rather than a bond supported or taxpayer-subsidized effort.

Transonic Transportation’s co-founder, Joshua Manriquez is a civil engineer by training and now has a team working on blueprints and patent pending technology for a Texas hyperloop train system.

Manriquez was part of the Louisiana State University team that made it through the design phase during the competition in early 2016 held by SpaceX. Since then, the startup has secured a 1-mile-long test track in Mississippi and aims to raise roughly $300,000 in a seed funding round within the next year. The company also has a testing facility in San Antonio.

“We’re getting closer to patent a lot of the designs that we have. We’ve been talking to a lot of big companies that are interested in the project but they are saying it’s all going to come down to economics,” Manriquez said in an exclusive interview. “As far as working with Lone Star Rail, it could be a beneficial relationship but that’s going to come down to whether or not they want to pursue anything like that.”

Manriquez said he’s reached out to Lone Star Rail and is waiting for a response but would move forward independently on a Texas hyperloop train system once the funding is secured.

“I have reached out to them about doing a feasibility study funded by TxDOT. There’s a research grant that’s available to transportation studies, but I’ve yet to hear back from them,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we were sitting down to a set of plans 10 years from now and deciding on a contractor.”

Here’s their website, where they claim the trip time would be 15 minutes. I’ve blogged a few times about hyperloops – see here, here, and here for more on them. The Lone Star Rail proposal to connect Austin and San Antonio may or may not be dead, so if nothing else this is an intriguing possible alternative. It’s also a creative way around the possible eminent domain issues that Texas Central is facing, though there’s no guarantee of that. In any event, I look forward to seeing if this idea gets any traction. Link via Streetsblog, and Texas Monthly has more.

Still more hyperloops

They had a hyperloop design contest at Texas A&M:

In the end, Elon Musk couldn’t resist showing up to the competition he helped inspire. The billionaire SpaceX CEO made a surprise appearance at the end of the Hyperloop pod design competition at Texas A&M University Saturday, eliciting a rapturous reaction from the thousand-plus audience of high school and college engineers who were there to compete for a chance to test their designs on Musk’s personal Hyperloop track later this year.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s team was awarded the top prize, and will now go on to build an actual pod to race on the under-construction track near SpaceX’s Hawthorne, Calif. headquarters. The Delft University of Technology from the Netherlands were the next runners-up. Auburn University won in the category of best overall subsystem. Twenty-two teams in all will go on to test their pods in Hawthorne, although up to 10 other teams could also qualify after further judging in the coming weeks, according to SpaceX.

Dozens of other winners in propulsion, design, levitation, and braking were also announced at the end of the two-day competition, which also featured technology demonstrations like Arx Pax’s hover engine, and a speech by US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.

The event was meant to generate excitement among engineers and the public for the tube-based, transonic, vacuum transport system popularized by the billionaire Musk in 2013. But it was also meant to serve as a rebuttal to skeptics who dismissed the Hyperloop as too fanciful, impractical, and expensive to exist in the real world.

“The public wants something new,” Musk told the attendees. “And you’re going to give it to them.”

See here and here for some background. I still think this is all pie in the sky, but it is nice to think that there might be better ways to travel than what we have now. Maybe if this doesn’t work something like it will. Texas Monthly has more.

More hyperloops

Gonna be the future soon.

Not content with simply sending men to Mars and conquering the automotive industry, billionaire Elon Musk has plans for a tubular transportation system that would dominate the globe.

The Hyperloop has been considered closer to science fiction since the idea’s introduction, but a new plan from the UCLA Architecture and Urban Design Suprastudio shows how the system could actually come together.

According to the UCLA presentation, “Hyperloop is a unique transportation technology based on centuries-old pneumatic tube principles, promising to provide ultra-clean, ultra safe, affordable, intra-urban travel at super-high speed.”

And while much of the report is centered on Southern California, particularly a Los Angeles to Las Vegas route, Texas’ megaregions feature heavily in the eventual Hyperloop plans.

Texas contains two of these “dense and interconnected centers of populations and economic activity.”

[…]

The report, which can be read in full here, put the Hyperloop system in its historical place and takes into consideration the current successes and failures of air and rail travel.

See here for the background. I don’t have anything to add here. I don’t expect this to amount to anything, though it would be cool if it did. Most likely I think people fifty and sixty years from now are going to look at this stuff and react to it the same way we do to “flying car” newsreels from the 1950s. The Trib has more.

Hyperloops

Look! Up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s a hyperloop!

Entrepreneur Elon Musk announced Thursday that he wants to build a “test track” for his idea for a futuristic high-speed transportation system called the Hyperloop, adding that Texas is “the leading candidate” to host the track.

Musk’s Hyperloop concept involves transporting passengers via pods in above-ground tubes that move as fast as 800 mph. The system quickly proved to be a polarizing concept when Musk introduced the idea in 2013, with some praising it as visionary and others deriding it as wildly impractical.

“In order to kind of help things along, we’re going to create a Hyperloop test track,” Musk told Texas Tribune CEO and Editor-in-Chief Evan Smith during an interview at the Texas Transportation Forum, an annual conference hosted by the Texas Department of Transportation. “Something that’s maybe on the order of a five-mile loop.”

Musk’s talk was part of a public relations blitz Thursday in Austin, as the Tesla Motors CEO hopes to persuade the Texas Legislature to allow Tesla to sell cars directly to Texans and circumvent the state’s requirements that cars be sold through dealerships. After his transportation forum interview, he spoke to a crowd of supporters gathered at the Texas Capitol.

During Thursday’s interview, Musk said the facility would be privately funded and not require the kind of incentives that his private space firm, SpaceX, received to develop a test facility in Texas.

“We’re not asking for any money from the state,” Musk said.

The idea for the test facility is apparently in the very early stages as Musk said that “it sounded good last night after a couple of drinks.” He explained that he envisioned the track as allowing for “teams of students” and companies interesting in developing the Hyperloop concept to test out different pod systems.

See this Ars Technica story, which links to and summarizes this overview document of hyperloops from Tesla. The basic idea was to build a better high-speed transportation system between San Francisco and LA, but the Houston/Dallas/San Antonio triangle would work for it as well. Assuming it’s feasible, of course, which Lord only knows. But hey, I wouldn’t mind a test track being built here. From skimming the doc, I suspect that anyone who is currently freaking out over the Texas Central High Speed Railway proposals would also freak out over this. We’re a long way off from that being a practical concern, and who knows, maybe the test track will prove it to be a bust. You have to admit, Elon Musk thinks big. Texas Politics, Dallas Transportation, Ars Technica, The Verge, and Swamplot have more.