Tuesday, April 2, 2019

All hyperloop/Musk transportation proposals are bad, but each is bad in its own unique way

This recent piece by Kelly Weill does a good job reviewing some of the recent set backs on the broader hyperloop front, but not such a good job distinguishing between the different technologies being proposed. This problem is by no means limited to Weill; it's endemic in the coverage of the story.

Even the name"hyperloop" applies to two radically different systems. Musk's original proposal was based on aircasters and was so bad (even by the standards of this discussion) that it was immediately dropped by every company pursuing the technology. Then came the proposal for an underground system of sleds that would carry you car around Los Angeles, and the short high speed rail lines that inspired a previous installment of our Elon Musk is a terrible engineer series.

Elon Musk Hyperloop Dreams Slam Into Cold Hard Reality

The Hyperloop was supposed to shuttle passengers incredible distances at 700 miles per hour. The brainchild of tech visionary Elon Musk, it was proposed as a long, underground tunnel system that would propel bus-like pods of passengers at near-supersonic speeds.

Far from its promise of rocketing cities into the future, Hyperloop momentum appears to be slowing with several states and local governments that once flirted with the idea. In Virginia, the idea died after officials examined Musk’s Hyperloop test tunnel. In Chicago this month, leading mayoral candidates appeared to dismiss much-hyped plans for a Hyperloop in their city. And in Colorado, a Hyperloop company went out of business before completing a publicly funded feasibility study.


Arrivo came from a promising Hyperloop pedigree. Its founder, Brogan BamBrogan (his legal name), was a former engineer at Musk’s SpaceX before leaving to co-found the company Hyperloop One. After a dramatic falling out involving two feuding lawsuits, BamBrogan launched Arrivo in 2017 and started pitching Colorado hard. Hoping to reach speeds of 200 mph, the planned Arrivo Hyperloop outside Denver was a far cry from the 700 mph envisioned in Musk’s white paper. But the company’s promise to create “the end of traffic” scored them a partnership with Colorado’s Department of Transportation in November 2017, and $267,000 in publicly funded incentives, Wired reported.

The payout was meant to fund a feasibility study. But by November 2018, Arrivo had quietly furloughed all its employees, without completing the study, the Verge first reported. In mid-December, Arrivo reportedly texted or called its employees to announce the company was shutting down.


Meanwhile in Chicago, Hyperloop antagonism has become a talking point in an ongoing mayoral race. Current Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced preliminary plans to award Musk a contract to build a Hyperloop between downtown Chicago and the city’s O’Hare airport, a route already navigable by an elevated train line. (Unlike in Colorado, the project would not receive public subsidies.)

But the two main candidates vying to replace Emanuel have characterized the Hyperloop as a low priority project at best, and a “pay-for-play” scheme at worst. Candidate Toni Preckwinkle told the Verge that the city should focus its efforts on public transportation. Meanwhile, leading candidate Lori Lightfoot has highlighted Musk’s more than $55,000 in donations to Emanuel’s various election campaigns, suggesting those donations give the appearance of a pay-for-play relationship.

I have a feeling one of our regular readers will have something to say about that last one.

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