The Hyperloop

The Hyperloop: Transport of the future

By Varun Bisht

March 2017

I believe I speak for all the 7 billion people with whom I share this planet, when I say that there is nothing more monotonous, bland, or exhausting than a long car journey. In a world where time is of the essence, it saddens me to see many productive hours of my day snatched away from me, as I solemnly stare out of a window. It was probably this very thought that drove Elon Musk, head of SpaceX, to come up with a locomotive of the future: The Hyperloop.

Currently under construction, the Hyperloop train system is said to be the fastest mode of transportation, touching breakneck speeds of 1200 kmph. It consists of a podlike vehicle, careening across a low pressure ( almost vacuum) tube, using magnetic propulsion to rocket itself forward, and magnetic levitation to silently glide over its track as it does so. By removing the air from these tunnels, air friction is greatly reduced, allowing the train to achieve greater, unfathomable speeds.   ” Think of it ,” as Musk put it, and rightly so, ” as a cross between a Concorde, a Rail gun, and an air hockey table”. By eliminating the factors of friction, this vehicle can connect the gleaming metropolis of San Francisco, to the glamour of Los Angeles within 30 minutes, otherwise a one and a half hour flight and a 6 hour car journey. Its construction has also been confirmed for the desert city of Dubai, the biting cold of Moscow, and even for the humid port of Mumbai.

And high time. The world has been waiting for a century for this news. Ever since the Russian scientist Boris Weinberg proposed the idea of the Vactrain in 1914, scientists have doggedly pursued this supersonic transportation system that is hypothesised to cover 7000km in under an hour. In his book, ‘ Motion without Friction,’ Boris elucidates the concept of the Vacuum Tube Train. Evacuating the tubes leads to minimal air friction, while magnetically levitating the train above its tracks removes any friction from the tracks, allowing it to, theoretically, achieve 5 times the speed of sound with barely any energy required by its engines, as there is no force hindering the train’s forward movement. Upon nearing its destination, the Vactrain can be halted to a standstill by simply normalising the pressure in that section of the tube. In fact, Professor Weinberg even created a model for his invention in 1909, using a copper solenoid.

As spectacular as it would be to travel from New Delhi to New York in just 2 hours, is the Vactrain, or the Hyperloop for that matter, a step too far ahead in the future? With construction costs  of the California line alone running into billions, and operation costs expected to further propel that amount, is this monolithic project truly economically viable? Evacuating the 557 km long tube will itself take up prodigious amounts of energy. With a simple crack in the tubes spelling disaster, we are left to speculate how such a project can ever call the earthquake prone state of California home. A worst case scenario, such as a systems failure prohibiting the train from slowing down could also render these tracks useless, and even cause the demise of innocent passengers. With many other technical factors and hazards lining the path to completion, only the years to come will reveal the journey of this blueprint to the seat ticket.