Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
Hyperloop (spacex.com)
2666 points by spikels on Aug 12, 2013 | hide | past | favorite | 954 comments

This is very serious first proposal.

As a professional mechanical engineer I have worked on high quality steel tubes (nuclear submarines) before. The immediate thing that sticks out to me in this proposal are the tight mechanical tolerances that have to be maintained. Talking about tens of thousandths of an inch tolerances on a 10' diameter tube is not to be dismissed lightly. That is going to be tough to maintain - especially with welding heat distortion. I would image the tubes will be joined with automated friction stir welding or something similiar, but that will still require a fair amount of post weld machining which has its own pitfalls. Not to mention simple thermal expansion and contraction as the temperature changes could change the circularity and inner diameter.

I would be more interested to see a tolerance stack up of those considerations than an FEA model of the concrete pylons. I can gaurentee that we can build concrete pylons capable of holding up a steel tube, that is done all over the country dozens of different uses cases. But can we build a multi-hundred mile long steel tube to the required tolerances?

I would be inclined to trade off efficiency for manufacturability. I.e. maybe a higher internal pressure or larger diameter to make it less sensitive. There should be plenty of power from the solar panels so it doesn't have to be perfectly efficient.

I'm also surprised that the I-5 plan is cheaper than buying private land. I may be naive here, but the pylons really do take away most of the objections from farmers and installing tubes over farmland has to be a lot cheaper than doing construction above a highway. I just look at boondoggle that was the SkyTrain in NYC (tram running over a highway out to JFK airport) and wonder if that is a great option.

> I would image the tubes will be joined with automated friction stir welding or something similiar, but that will still require a fair amount of post weld machining which has its own pitfalls

The document mentions standard orbital seam wlelding, plus specialized machining equipment that travels along the tube to smooth out the gliding surface.

The capsules are only 60% the diameter of the tube, or 36% it's area (68/47% for the vehicle-carrying version), it doesn't seem to require tight tolerances for operation. I got the idea that tube distortion and movement is taken into account into the system.

> it doesn't seem to require tight tolerances for operation

Well, it's true that the top and sides of the tube don't get too close to the capsule, so those parts seem relatively low-tolerance, as you say.

But the load-bearing skis ride on an air bearing of 0.5mm to 1.3mm (see page 20), moving at over 1000km/h. As rossjudson notes, the skis are on mechanical suspension, to smooth out shocks to the riders, but it's not clear (to ignorant me) how much of a bump those skis can glide over. 0.1mm, no problem. What about 1.0mm?

On a related note, Musk seems sanguine about the sag you'd get in any structure supported by pylons (see e.g. page 27). Even with inch-thick steel walls, with pylons an average of 30m apart (100'), you'll see some sag, right? Any engineers want to comment on the deviation in 30m of inch-diameter-wall steel tubing? Let's see, 1200kph, 30m, so you pass a pylon 11 times per second. So in 0.09 seconds, you have to go from the top of one pylon, to the valley between two pylons, and back to the top of the next pylon. I guess that's all absorbed by the mechanical suspension?

You could just build the tubes bending upwards slightly, so that the sag will pull them straight.

Bridges and overpasses are already build that way.

No you could not. The steel tube will expand and contract as temperatures change. Along most of the route, that longitudinal movement of the tube will be in the 10s and 100s of feet, which means that the "valley" could be anywhere on the tube according to temperature.

Also, tubes will resonate and vibrate as vehicles go by. This could be actively damped at the pylons though, like they already considered doing for ground subsidence.

Offtopic, but please consider writing some blog posts or articles about your experiences working on nuclear submarines. That just sounds so cool, and while the work is probably dull, I'd nonetheless be fascinated to read some detailed stories.

Unfortunately I walk a very fine line about what is sensitive and what is not. I really couldn't go any deeper than what I posted here.

I will say as a former nuclear submariner myself, how appreciative we all were of the work the designers put into the boats. I was on an Ohio-class myself and got to appreciate the design first-hand. I've also heard simply marvelous tales about the Seawolf-class (pity she was so expensive).

So thanks for whatever you did in keeping the boats safe (both in design and construction), it was certainly much-appreciated in the Fleet.

Well, is it cool?

It's definitely cool. I left about a year ago to join a startup, but that had more to do with wanting to live in NYC again than the submarine company. Two interesting books: http://www.amazon.com/Dark-Waters-Insiders-Account-Undercove... and http://www.amazon.com/Blind-Mans-Bluff-Submarine-Espionage/d...

As a fellow mech eng, what startup environment are you involved in and is it utilising your mech skillset or something else, eg: programming abilities?

My background is BS Mechanical Engineering, minor CS, primarily focused on robotics. Grew up programming and building robots. Worked at Bug Labs which bridged the gap pretty well, then went to General Dynamics for 100% mechanical engineering, now at getlua.com for 100% software. There are some mechanical startups around NYC (MakerBot is the obvious one) but I really liked the team and the product at Lua and I'm quite happy here.

OK, then more like this please! ;)

If I read the proposal correctly, the system is less sensitive than the tolerances you describe. There is a tight tolerance to maintain between the "air skid" and the wall of the tube, but the air skid is mounted on a suspension system that is probably intended to deal with small variations away from the ideal tube shape. Those variations will manifest to passengers as "bumps" and will also result in transient additional drag, I suspect.

It would be cool if you could take another look and see if the tolerances are truly what you describe, or if there's actually more room for variance.

The tube is considerably larger than the vehicle, so really it's only the smoothness of the bottom part of the tube that is important, not the precise dimensions. And the surface the vehicle flies over doesn't need to be steel - you could line the bottom half of the tube with a wax, or something similar, and that would be much easier to smooth to the tolerances needed, and re-smooth if it suffers any damage.

In fact you might be able to handle some thermal expansion (at least seasonal, not daily) that way - release some clamps on a telescopic section, adjust, reclamp, melt and re-smooth the wax.

Back of the envelope, SI units.

13 × 10^-6 thermal expansion coefficient of steel

45 - -40 max temp difference

570k length of tube in meters

line1 × line2 × line3 = 629m (~1890') of thermal expansion over a 570 km tube.

Did I read it right that they will take out all that expansion at the ends? To get that down to say 30m between pylons you have to have about 30 expansion joints. Can they go full speed through an expansion joint?

They are taking it out at the ends. Assume a fixed point in the middle, and you have some 1000' of movement at either end. That should be feasible, but the tube needs to be designed for very significant longitudinal movement through the pylons, and the design needs to take into account the possible lateral loads on pylons from having to bend the tube away from the geometry it has at the baseline temperature.

Thanks for writing! I can also imagine that when there's one very long tube there's going to be a lot of the length change with the temperature, ideally one wouldn't want to have any hard joints at all to allow the individual pieces to extend and shrink. One hundreds of miles long welded tube does sound potentially problematic.

The biggest problem seems to be that Musk's costs don't include most of the costs actually included in High Speed Rail proposal that allow you to actually travel between SF and LA and not SF minus bay (they omitted that cost) and Sylmar (where you've still got over an hour to go on the Antelope Valley Metrolink Line to reach the LA city):


It seems that the proposal is actully much less serious than on the first glance:

Amusingly enough, the California HSR budget for the Central Valley is under $10 billion. Ie, in the same ball-park as this proposal. The reason the HSR project is going to cost $60 billion is because it has to face an uncomfortable truth; actually getting to LA and SF is expensive. Very expensive.

Moreover, would you like to be sitting in the tube on the chair from which you can't even stand up for a half an hour without the chance to do anything but remain sitting, not getting any help the next half hour on the occasion when you get sick? Would you take your kid there? Your parent?

You can't stand up in a car either. In any case the ride is going to get you to qualified medical personnel within half an hour :)

You're in control of your car though so if you need to you can stop and get out to deal with any bodily functions or sickness. You can't do that in this train. There's a lot to be said for the effect of just having the option even if you don't exercise it. Control is very comforting to people.

Not only comforting, the seemingly "rare" cases actually happen all the time and the advantages of being able to stop, go out, help the person etc. are effectively used all the time.

Designing mass transportation while ignoring such aspects is like programming without handling the limit cases "it works for N between 2 and 100 but not for 0, 1 and MAX_INT, even if these are allowed inputs." It's bad, very bad for the user, only an "astronaut developer" can love such a solution.

The first time a kid dies because it got sick the first minute of a 30-minute ride, the project is dead for good. Imagine the press, imagine the public response.

I can imagine entering the capsule to reach the international space station, preparing a whole year before. I can't imagine doing the same preparations for the ride between SF and LA. Give me the real train, thank you.

The Channel Tunnel between the UK and France works fine, and if someone got sick at the start of the tunnel section then there isn't too much that could be done quickly.

The public seems to have no issue with that concept, it is a simple risk that goes with getting on the train.


Yes, that's why we built that airport and hospital on the North Pole. Now intercontinental flights can make emergency landings in under 30 minutes at all times.

With multiple stations between SF and LA, this could be mitigated with an emergency system that pulls the train off at the next stop. Similar to how some buses or trains have emergency stop systems, except instead of stopping, the capsule would divert to the next station.

"In the case of the Hyperloop, Musk started focusing on public transportation after he grew disenchanted with the plans for California’s high-speed rail system."

And who says that big government stifles entrepreneurial innovation?

If ALL Musk does with the Hyperloop announcement is shed more light on the potential debacle that is to be our $70b+ high-speed rail in California, we owe him a debt of gratitude.

PS - Direct link to the Hyperloop plans .PDF http://www.spacex.com/sites/spacex/files/hyperloop_alpha-201...

Interesting point that big government provoked the advancement of the hyperloop idea - counterintuitive idea, and clearly yes. but any idea like this will need government cooperation. The real test of big government will be how they respond to the hyperloop.

magic response: "of course we may be wrong, we'll look into this immediately." and then they decide to build it.

likely answer: praise, perhaps even an evaluation, then disregard as unrealistic a year from now.

why would "big government" ignore this idea? fairly simple: risky and unproven, for a politician, in a career where risk is not related to upside; and probably more important is the ability to control $70bn in spending to private citizens and contractors - far more valuable to their careers (leading to donations and influence) than spending a smaller amount (a mere $7bn) on fewer contractors. For the most part, the hyperloop contractors would not be the same guys who have been donating to politicians for the past decade in support of the train.

so yes, big government and the natural corruption of a large budget (donations->spending with favored constituents) will likely lead to the status quo - a ludicrously overpriced train.

as far as political repercussions, california is not a two party state any more, so there's no one to capitalize on the idiocy of the folks in power. i guess, we reap what we sow.

I wouldn't be so fast to make that declaration. Elon Musk, Tesla, and SpaceX are pretty influential players right now, and I don't think anyone reading this white paper are anything less than wide eyed at the possibility that the future of travel is written right here and we could build it, for cheaper than the current slow expensive system.

Influential people and money people and politicians are all going to read this and say Sounds great. Elon Musk? I'm listening. 7 Billion? Go on. And scientists are going to chime in, and universities, and people always forget the global reactions. Momentum.

I'm going to keep my faith that this idea has legs.

I hope you're right, but in reality most people haven't even heard of Elon Musk. I've had to explain to many highly educated people what he has done, what SpaceX is, what Tesla is etc. While he's been rather successful so far, he's not in the clear when it comes to either of his companies right now, he's not exactly at the Gates level of success yet. I'm rooting for him though, he has the potential to be one of the most influential people in a long time if things go well.

3 months ago, none of my non-tech friends knew who Elon Musk was. In the past month or so, I would say 50% of my friends now not only know who he is, but praise him and his work. I think that by the end of this year, you will be hard-pressed to find someone that doesn't know who he is.

Musk is not financially Gates but he's already had a greater impact. PayPal, Telsa, SpaceX, and even that Solar company could easily be more important than creating the most successful PC operating system. The PC boom would have happened without Gates but Musk is pioneering entirely new business categories.

No he hasn't. He could, but not yet. We have other payment processors, car companies, solar companies, and we went to the moon over 4 decades ago. Musk is really awesome, but don't discount Gates. Frankly, his philanthropy might be more important than Windows, and the stuff that Musk has done.

If the Gates Foundation really does eliminate polio and make any sort of dent in malaria, that sets a very high bar for Must to jump over.

Not only new categories, but technically sexy ones. These aren't Intuit. In fact they're quite far from Zip2/PayPal.

Speaking of Gates, it could be interesting if he or other technocrats got behind this.

A segment about the Hyperloop was actually on the NBC nightly news. I think Musk is becoming a household name.

Jerry Brown's political career is coming to an end, so there are no long term political consequences for him. He's also traditionally been an opponent of government waste. I don't think it's unreasonable to believe that he would choose an unproven but promising technology over our existing useless high speed rail project. The assembly is another matter. If you think hyperloop is interesting, write and call your state assembly member and encourage them to consider this plan, that's what I'll do.

>He's also traditionally been an opponent of government waste.

he is in bed with gov employees unions (the unions are primary driving force behind 200-300K/year gov employees pensions (http://www.mercurynews.com/salaries/pensions) with retirement age of 55, CA is something like $200B deep in that hole), and especially with prison guard union - of course huge prison population resulting from "toughness on crime" may not be viewed as government waste by some.

Building a bridge or high-speed rail to nowhere - just a [large] peanut in that picture.

> the unions are primary driving force behind 200-300K/year gov employees pensions

200-300K/year (and higher) pensions are pretty much entirely executives who weren't union members, it has nothing to do with unions.

e.g., the #1 highest: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/dec/27/opinion/la-oe-cole-v...

>executives who weren't union members, it has nothing to do with unions.


Link describes one-time payouts upon retirement, not recurring pensions.

"Denson also earned $407,908 in total wages in 2011, according to city data, making him the highest paid city worker in 2011. Of this sum, $212,738 consisted of "cash out" pay, which accounts for such factors as vacations, holidays and unused sick pay. His regular salary was $195,169."

it describes his last salary, so if you know the formula, 3% at 55, and his years of service - 31 - stated in the article, it also allows to calculate his pension - 180K+

So what you're saying is that their pensions aren't "200-300K/year"?

if you look at the original link (http://www.mercurynews.com/salaries/pensions), you'll see these "3% @ 60 Formula for Local Miscellaneous Members", "2% @ 55 State and School Miscellaneous" and "3% @ 55 Formula for State Peace Officer/Firefighter or Local Safety Member" - these formulas are mainly from union contracts.

> these formulas are mainly from union contracts.

All defined benefit pensions -- whether set by union contract or not -- use these kind of formulas. But the high pensions are not the product of the formula alone -- even if you work long enough at one of the formulas to get near (or over) 100%, you still aren't going to get 200-300K per year pension unless you have a last/highest/(average of last three)/etc. years salary (which ever is the base for the particular formula you have) high enough to push the pension that high.

Surprisingly enough, almost no rank-and-file workers have that kind of salary. The people with 200K and higher pensions are mostly people that are retiring from executive positions.

"especially with prison guard union - of course huge prison population resulting from "toughness on crime" may not be viewed as government waste by some" -

what if the prison guard union got in on the contract to have the prisoners build the hyperloop?

it seems you can do very well if you get into CA politics :)

This argument is like saying he's an opponent of extramarital affairs, but he's in bed with his wife.

Of course he's with the government employees unions, he has to live with them every day.

No, it's like saying he's a proponent of a healthy diet and eats a couple of hearty Big Macs with extra large fries and extra large cola five times a day. You can claim it is exactly what healthy diet means, but keep at it for couple of years and your look will certainly make it laughable. Exactly like Californian budget looks - both on state and local levels - makes claims of fighting waste laughable.

>>> Of course he's with the government employees unions, he has to live with them every day.

Having to work with them and being in bed with them is not the same thing. Though many politicians fail to see the difference, it is a known problem.

sorry... high speed rail to nowhere?

aren't 90% of technologies promising?

Having run for state office three times in Minnesota, I can respond to some of this.

Politicians aren't all afraid to take risks, especially when they believe a particular policy they like will live on and be remembered.

Our former governor Jesse Ventura overcame incredible resistance and media scorn to get our first light rail line built. Almost all casual observers thought major health care reform was impossible in Washington. These things actually happened.

The key to passing a good policy is to reduce the risk. Politicians love projects where someone else was the guinea pig for them and/or someone else pays for studies and prototypes. Usually, they look for other units of government that have done something very similar with great success.

If I wanted to get Hyperloop to pass, I would first aim to table discussions on high speed rail for the proposed route. You would find allies among politicians who don't want to spend any money on transit, usually to appease highway contractors.

Secondly, I would immediately aim to seek R&D money for a high-profile demonstration project with plenty of funding for a study to project potential costs and impacts. This effort should even begin before the high speed rail bidding is tabled. I would leverage the demonstration results in the media and build a grassroots and lobbying organization around support for a Hyperloop.

Finally, I would seek advice from experts to craft a model bill with appropriate requirements for the bidding process.

Though I'm not sure you intended it, this is an excellent summary of why the US doesn't have a decent mass transit system. Even if you get past the formidable political opposition to any public transit system, you must contend with a coalition of that opposition plus an assortment of interests that want a different system, possibly because it looks better on paper (hey, Hyperloop!) but more commonly because it benefits them financially. So in the end, no system is built at all. If the high speed rail project is scrapped, it won't be in favor of Hyperloop. It will be in favor of doing nothing.

The US will never have a decent mass transit system due to its sheer size.

It was approved by a ballot measure, so in this case it may be the "idiocy" (or will) of the voter.


It's interesting that in Jun 2012, voters might've voted differently if asked again [1]:

In fact, some of the highest resistance to the high-speed rail project that would run from L.A. to the Bay Area comes from Angelenos, according to new data released over the weekend by the USC Dornsife / Los Angeles Times Poll:

About 56 percent of would-be voters in L.A. County would say no to the train if allowed to vote on it again; 37 percent would be in favor. In San Francisco the train would win 47-45.

About 66 percent of Central Valley voters were opposed to the train, which would run through their farm region.

Statewide, if a re-vote on the train were allowed, 59 percent of would-be voters would say no; only 33 percent would give reaffirm it.

About 55 percent of statewide voters said they'd be down for a re-vote.

The article later goes on to state:

The biggest problem for this train is timing -- California is facing another crushing budget deficit and a stalling economic recovery. Dan Schnur, director of the poll:

    Californians aren't necessarily against the idea of high-speed rail. But they don't want to spend all that money right now, and they don't trust the state to make the trains run on time.

[1] http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2012/06/california_bullet...

I'm not from the area, so I don't know how such a ballot works but for voters who didn't have Musk-level engineering knowledge, was the choice the status quo of not fast trains and spending on fast trains?

The choice was fast trains or no trains.

Well, fast trains or no new trains. It is still technically possible to get on BART in San Francisco and get off from a train in Los Angeles. You wouldn't choose to do this -- nobody would choose to do this [1] -- but it is possible.

[1] http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/14/magazine/14Train-t.html?pa...

I see, fair enough, cheers for pointing that out. I'm in the UK and we're pretty well connected by rail, I wasn't expecting the alternative to be that ridiculous, just normal slower trains.

In the US, rail is optimized for freight, not people.

I don't know why the parent got downcoted. US rail freight is the envy of the world. You didn't get the European passenger rail experience without some trade offs. Here's a briefing on the subject from the Economist.


Australia is the same, here passenger rail between major cities is mostly something old person take as a scenic route. Often it is actually more expensive than flying.

A logical outcome of the combination of private companies owning the railways and the government's willingness to build a lot of road capacity for passenger use.

Considering that most rivers go from the north to the south and the big distances (compared to, say, Japan or Europe), that's logic. Also explains the role of air travel.

Inasmuch as it's optimized at all.

We really do have arguably the best freight rail system in the world. http://business.time.com/2012/07/09/us-freight-railroads/

"America's freight railways are... universally recognised in the industry as the best in the world":


Density is destiny. Population densities:

  407/km² England
  256/km² UK
   93/km² California
   32/km² USA

But this comparison is wrong and meaningless. Certainly no one would build a high-speed, dense train network across, say, Nevada.

But building one across the coastal part of California? Or across the NE United States? Why yes, that does make sense, and why yes, it is warranted by the densities in those areas. The fact that the U.S. also owns Alaska doesn't really matter. No one is arguing Alaska needs a high-speed rail network.

Build fast trains connecting all the red areas:


Repeat for suitable other areas across the U.S.

I can believe that's a good plan for the US NE corridor... which already has usable (but improvable) Amtrak.

The California coastal cities (and connecting areas) are still pretty sparse, comparatively. And the marquee High Speed Rail project takes a big inland detour to the smaller interior cities, for political reasons. If ever finished, that will hurt its price/time attractiveness compared to flying.

The US NE corridor is arguably the only place it makes sense to build a high speed train network.

You'll notice that Elon Musk's plan for the Hyperloop includes an option for shooting automobiles through the tubes. That's because the mass transit within the cities on that coast is shit.

Inter-city mass transit only makes sense once you've solved intra-city mass transit. Unless you really, really love hanging out within a few city blocks of an inter-city train station, you need to have a convenient, desirable mass transit system waiting for you in the city you're going to. If you're linking Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and DC, you're liking the best mass transit system in America with four other pretty good transit systems. Cutting Boston to DC from 6.5 hours to 90 minutes is definitely worth doing.

That's because the mass transit within the cities on that coast is shit.

As someone who uses only mass transit, I think that's untrue.

I was going to make a flippant comment about "Congratulations on living in San Francisco!", but hilariously, there's a better chance you live in Los Angeles (lower ridership percentage, but significantly higher population).

Even in Oklahoma City, where only ~1% of people commute via mass transit, there are still thousands of people who can live happily without a car because mass transit serves them fine. That does not mean that Oklahoma City has a great transit system.

I live in Oakland, have lived in San Francisco for a long time, frequently work in LA, and have lived in London, Amsterdam and Barcelona as well, so I feel I've had exposure to a good variety of transit systems in order to form my opinion.

Even in the Northeast, Amtrak's improvement plans are incredibly wasteful:


> Certainly no one would build a high-speed, dense train network across, say, Nevada.

I wonder. It's easier to find low cost airfares to Las Vegas than other cities. A conduit to Las Vegas from the populated west coast might be interesting to some.

2.8/km² Australia

And here you can travel from most parts of Melbourne to most parts of Sydney with just two train changes. One at a Melbourne hub to the interstate trains and one at Sydney to the local system.

Even so, we feel our train systems suck too.

Yes, our high speed rail process is currently on a ridiculous timescale, something like 50 years out. If something isn't slated for major construction works within a single term of government you can pretty much assume it will never happen in its current form.

That figure is meaningless considering Australia is a large piece of largely uninhabited land, with two or three metropolitan areas on the coasts.

Unless you can take a train into the center of Australia, in which case I apologize.

Actually you can, rather expensive though.

Whilst our train service in the UK is a mess (and it really is), I suppose at least we have a mess that we can moan about rather than "buy a car, hippy".

Rail in California is sadly a total joke.

I've actually done this, but in the reverse direction and because I missed my flight (asked hotel in Burbank to take me to the airport and they brought me to the Burbank airport instead of LAX.) Since it was a redeye, I just slept most of the long trip.

IIRC, the choice was between no trains and a train. I think a lot of people voted for it so they had a cheaper alternative than planes and a less time/effort intensive alternative than driving.

Also because fuck the TSA.

Too late: http://www.seattlepi.com/technology/businessinsider/article/...

> If you don't want to be searched at the train station, you have the freedom to not ride the train.

I wonder what the security checkpoints would be like on the HyperLoop if it ever got built? They are saying capsules could depart 30 seconds apart. Imagine is there was an attack in on of them, with several others travelling at high speed just behind.


I'm sure there some contingency has been thought of, unfortunately it's just the world we live in these days :(

Forget about an attack. The system would need to be robust against simple malfunctions which could also result in a massive pile-up.

If they turn off the compressor there's a giant air cushion in front of them and the capsule no longer has air bearings. It probably lands on wheels and can then engage the breaks. A small capsule has low inertia as well.

Most likely safer than a train.

Unfortunately the passengers inside still have high inertia. It doesn't matter if the capsule stops without damage if all the people inside are crushed by G-forces.

This is covered in some detail in the proposal. The capsules will be able to stop in the event of an emergency without hitting capsules in front or crushing passengers.

This system would seem very weak to criminals / terrorists / whatever firing bullets at it. It would be exceptionally difficult to track where the shot/s came from, and it would cause serious pressure problems.

Even if the pressure problems could be countered, a bullet hole is likely to leave a pretty ragged profile on the inside of the steel tube. The specification calls for the air bearing skis to ride 0.5 to 1.3mm off the tunnel wall. They'd need to be pretty robust to take hitting the ragged edge of a bullet hole at 700mph.

I think that a bullet hole in the type of tube that supports this much weight is unlikely. Oil pipeline tubes would typically be thinner (less weight to support) and the concept of a bullet piercing those tubes is unlikely.

I wonder - could you line the high-speed part of the tube with half an inch of soft wax or something similar? Then any dents or imperfections caused by bullets would rapidly be smoothed out again, and the damage to the skis would be minimized by vaporizing the wax you hit.

The specification for the tube is inch-thick steel. Most bullets not meant for tanks would leave a dent, not a hole.

As opposed to aircraft sitting on the tarmac, which are not subject to such problems?

Aircraft sitting on the tarmac doesn't have to take off if it has been shot at. In the process of taking off could be more of a problem, I suppose. On the other hand, at least airports are a relatively small area to keep secure.

Presumably the Hyperloop isn't actually in danger when shot at. The cars just slow down when depressurization occurs. Thought I read that somehow.

I responded to concern over the Hyperloop shutting down for hours whilst the damage is repaired.

And, if someone fired a few pot shots into a taxing A380 at LAX, I have to imagine that the whole place would be shut down for a few hours.

Airplanes leak so much air that a couple more half-inch holes would not affect overall integrity. Most control systems are implemented with redundancy, so taking out a control point would just failover to a backup. Occupants aside, there little such damage could do to an airplane; noting the occupants, worst case is a couple casualties, not loss of everyone on board. And, of course, you could simply choose to not take off.

As mhandley noted, Hyperloop might be more susceptible, as the concern is more like your airplane flying an inch off the ground and hitting a stationary large brick.

...which reminds me of an old analogy: Back when large-capacity (ooh! 10MB!) hard drives were becoming common, I recall hearing the comparison that the read head was akin to a 747 traveling Mach 3 just 1 inch off the ground. Perhaps Elon wondered how this might work in real life, and so came up with Hyperloop.

Aircraft are actually supposed to leak air. In non-bleedless aircraft, the engine compressors pressurize air to be used in the A/C unit, which then sends all the pressurized air throughout the cabin. To prevent excess pressure buildup, valves are opened partially most of the flight with a veinlike network of tubes venting air to the exterior of the aircraft.

Of course, if any damage occurred on the ground, this would be a non-issue entirely as the aircraft wouldn't be pressurized at all.

The Shanghai maglev has no security at all... or at least not last time I went on it. Neither do any of the European HSR systems I've been on.

Remember a big part of TSA isn't to protect the people on the planes, but to protect other people from the planes themselves. It's pretty hard to weaponize a vehicle that's stuck inside a tube or on rails.

The pdf mentioned something like tsa, only streamlined.

They approved it at a much lower budget ($9.95 billion). It would be interesting for the voters to get another vote based on the current cost projections.

I honestly doubt the higher cost projections would change the vote -- when talking about that much money, most voters -- myself included -- can't really discern the impact of the difference between $10 billion and $70 billion.

The only hope would be that the anti-rail side could point to the growth of projections as either incompetence or out of control budgeting, which could both sway the vote. But I think if you go back to 2008 and say, "This will cost $100 billion," the vote would be the same.

The $9.95 billion was for the initial bond issuance. The estimate on the ballot was $40 billion versus the current estimate of between $98.5 billion and $118 billion.

Edit: correction from dragonwriter, via wikipedia [1]:

"The cost of the initial San Francisco-to-Anaheim segment was originally estimated by the CHSRA to be $33 billion (2008) / $35.2 billion (2013), but a revised business plan released in November 2011 by the CHSRA put the cost at $65.4 billion (2010) / $68.9 billion (2013) / $98.5 billion (YOE). The latest plan has revised the costs down to $53.4 billion (2011) / $54.5 billion (2013) / $68.4 billion (YOE)."

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/California_High-Speed_Rail#Fund...

Those numbers still seem absurd to me. $120 billion? France built the entire TGV network, about 2,000 km (1250 miles, ~2x the length of LA-SF, including numerous stations in urban areas) for around $20-30 billion. Maybe the U.S. should borrow some management practices from inefficient socialist "old Europe".

Uh, the number above is $70b and the TGV was built 30+ years ago so you could at least double that number based on inflation.

Even the most expensive TGV lines, have a per-km cost of around $20m/km in present dollars, and that's high enough to cause controversy. The bulk of the network was built for prices of $2-4m/km at the time, which is about $3-5.5m/km if you adjust for inflation. For a 700-km line like SF-LA, even the $20m outlier cost would work out to only $14 billion. Where's the 8x multiplier coming from? No TGV line has cost >$100m/km, or even close, in 2013 dollars. I am not sure any line in the world has cost that much, even in inhospitable terrain like China's high-speed rail in Tibet, or Japan's high-speed rail through the mountains.

>I am not sure any line in the world has cost that much, even in inhospitable terrain like China's high-speed rail in Tibet, or Japan's high-speed rail through the mountains.

you should check cost of highways in Moscow - $300M/mile. Hint - it isn't about terrain :)

Crossrail is 118km and is going to cost 16bn GBP or about 135m GBP per km (~$209m/km) (if I've done my maths right.)

Though it's somewhat difficult to separate out the 42km of new tunnels (expensive) and a whole bunch of new stations (expensive) including a whole bunch of revamped ones in the centre of London (very expensive).

I'd just like to plug the Dictionary of Numbers chrome extension at this point which provides context for all of the numbers in this thread. For example, did you know that $14 billion [≈ net worth of Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft]?

Maybe the real estate that it goes through is significantly more expensive? I know if you wanted to build a new, totally segregated line from DC to Boston would probably cost 100B easily.

France probably doesn't tie both its rail agency's hands behind its back with pointless environmental impact reports (the sole purpose of which seems to be to generate extra revenue for civil engineering contractors) and then let NIMBYs sue because this or that insignificant detail wasn't included.

France is an interessting case. If I remember well, the have a group of people (project managers, politians, you name it) preparing the case well before any actual construction work starts. Yet, as afar as I remember, there actually were some controversies when they started a TGV line somewhere in northern France. But it still works pretty well, one benefit of being highly centralized.

Another factor at play is that TGV lines are purpose built for high-speed traffic (curve radius, climb rate, ...) while for example in Germany they are mostly shared. That makes the single TGV track cheaper, but you still ahve to built another track for lets say freight. If want another track, that is.

But the cool thing ist that TGV don't stop at every single village that happens to be the hometown of some polititian.

I think one aspect is just that the decision is made definitively at some point, in advance. People have different opinions: impact on historic buildings, noise, environment, other things. This is all debated up front, and then the legislature either approves it, or it doesn't. But when it was approved, it was approved. You can't sue in court to stop the plan on environmental grounds or noise grounds or something else, once the legislature has decided to go ahead with it, because the authorizing legislation supersedes any contrary legislation.

But the U.S. delegates decision-making to agencies and courts in a way that this doesn't happen. California might take input for a long time before deciding on its plan, but its final plan is still not final. Anyone can sue it for many different reasons. Maybe it violates the federal Clean Air Act, maybe it violates property rights, maybe something else. The decision is never final until every challenge to an agency or court is decided, which massively adds to uncertainty and costs.

America is an inefficient, Socialist old Europe.

$6.4 trillion in total government expenditures.

Largest welfare and entitlement programs.

Nearly 15% U6 unemployment. Collapsing labor force. Falling real incomes. 15% on food stamps. Massive fiscal mismanagement in every respect. Endless QE just to fund the government. 0% interest rates just to reach 1% GDP growth. Healthcare is clearly moving toward a completely socialized approach over time and completely away from any free market solution. Taxes are extremely high, between federal and state; typically higher than supposedly socialist European countries. America also has more economic regulations on the books than any other country (and that's rapidly expanding). The largest land owner in America is the government, by a drastic margin. Half of all mortgages are held by the government. And on and on.

Doesn't get any more old European Socialist than what America is today. It would be fiscally impossible to go any further.

> It would be fiscally impossible to go any further.

We'll try.

BTW - the link disproves your point somewhat - voters approved a $10bn train, which is now expected to cost over 10x that. Brings into question what exactly they approved, or what it means to "approve" if there is no cost control in the approval.

I don't have a point really, I'm just saying this was a publicized ballot measure at the time and not carried out against the voters' will.

And as I said in above comment, the $9.95 billion was for the initial bond issuance. The estimate on the ballot was $40 billion versus the current estimate of between $98.5 billion and $118 billion.

> The estimate on the ballot was $40 billion versus the current estimate of between $98.5 billion and $118 billion.

The estimate from the current Business Plan is $68.4 billion, not "between $98.5 and $118 billion."

They call it a "Business Plan"? That's rich!

(I voted against it) In the ballot, they claimed a cost of $45B. But after the measure passed, the cost ballooned to $98B (yes, you read that correctly). Then, after howls of protest, the cost now is $68B.

Are you seriously saying that government wont consider Hyperloop because they are averse to innovation? On the contrary, "big government" has been the largest engine of innovation the past century. NASA has put people into orbit, and on to the Moon, has launched the first space stations, and made several robotic probes to other planets and the depths of space. Musk founded SpaceX which has managed to do a fraction of the things NASA has decades after them. In 1972, the Rand corporation, financed by the United States, thoroughly researched a "Very High Speed Transit System" that is similar to Musk's proposal. Sure there will be political difficulties implementing something like The Very High Speed Transit System or Hyperloop, but realistically the government is the only entity that has the foresight, money, and motivation to undertake such a project.

NASA total budget over its lifetime: $790.0 B in 2007 dollars. Just the book cost of the wars since 2001, http://costofwar.com/ 1.45 T not including future costs (debt payments, health care, net drag on economy) are roughly 2 more entire lifetime-NASAs. Wow. How much innovation have those two wars earned us?

How about large scale funding of science and technology is an "engine of innovation", whatever that term means.

That's what I'm advocating, that the government spend more money on science and technology. The government is able to take risks in investing in unproven technologies and sciences where industry can't, because they aren't concerned with profit. I'm not an apologist for the wars.

Problem is, we don't have more money to spend on anything. The US government is spending twice revenue - not a position where you hemorrhage cash & credit with no concern for profit. (And no, it's not going to "stimulate the economy" back up to break-even.)

On top of that, the government used to take such risks in unproven technologies, underlined by tolerating the non-trivial odds of spectacular lethal failure...but that was decades ago. Now it can't even make a bus door without plastering eighteen warning signs around it [1].

Exploratory spending is great when you have money to spare. We don't. Now we have to rely on Elon Musk et al to pursue outlier projects - and they only reason they can is because of the big literal payoff if it works.

[1] - Have you counted 'em? I have. 18.

The problem is that, at least with the CA high speed rail system, the design is all theoretical at the moment. It may be a brilliant idea, but but moving from the core ideas in the document to actual working, build-able products, can be a slow process. And given the state of where CA is on their project, that may not put them on the same window.

I can assure you that the CA system isn't "theoretical" anymore. Terminals are already being constructed in SF and Anaheim. Right-of-way acquisition has begun and construction is scheduled to begin in the Central Valley this year.

I think that grandparent's "theoretical" was a poorly-phrased reference the problem with the hyperloop in the context of CA HSR, not a problem with CA HSR.

The R&D can't happen in government, but in some ways that's better - government projects are slower than this needs to be. What we need is for someone(s?) with deep pockets to bank-roll prototypes &c.

Sounds vaguely like maglev a couple of decades ago. It too was a neat idea on paper.

Are you guys serious? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maglev#Operational_systems_ser... Linimo, Shanghai, Daejon, and then all the test tracks, e.g. the transrapid in germany... Maglev is reality now. It simply happened to be built in China, Japan and South Korea rather than in the US.

and then all the test tracks, e.g. the transrapid in germany

... which closed a few years ago :(

It's got three short (1 km, 9 km, 30 km) deployments around 40 years after work first started. Are you saying that's the kind of deployment record Musk would like to see for his wundertechnology?

it does have commercial application, which is more than I think the parent expected.

The parent was me. I like maglev but it's hard to deny that as a mainstream transportation method it was completely trounced for the first 30 years of its existence by more traditional methods.

If California ditches its HSR plans for hyperloop today and ends up with a 700 km/h line running in 30 years' time, busiest lines in Japan and China will have been upgraded to maglev or another 500+ km/h technology and they would have had 300+ km/h technology for the interim 30 years. Meanwhile California would have had what, driverless car trains on freeways going 200 km/h 5 years from now?

I take it you've never travelled between Shanghai and its airport?

No, indeed I haven't. I take it you will consider a 30 km line built 40 years after the idea was first conceptualized to be a success for Musk's technology as well? Should do a lot to relieve the I-5, certainly!

Frankly that would be a hell of a lot better than the result I'm expecting, yes. Maglev is real, working technology - delivery may have taken longer than you thought it should, but it's far more than "a neat idea on paper". Hyperloop is nowhere near that.

That was a test. They were planning on building it all the way from Shanghai to Beijing but the cost was too high.

Development is underway in China apparently!


Except test tracks have been built or are being built, and it's sure to become a reality sometime or another.

So we're all rooting for hyperloop to have test tracks in 2015, demo tracks in 2020, very limited real-life deployment in 2040, and sure to become inter-city mainstream reality sometime later? Some think we'll be on Mars by then ;)

I somehow think that if people wanted it, it would come faster than 2040. We're working towards fusion power faster than that!

If people wanting it made technology feasible, we'd have had flying cars in 1990

If it's technologically possible, economically profitable, and people want it, then. Flying cars have difficulties this doesn't (seem to) on all three counts.

> as far as political repercussions, california is not a two party state any more

The Republicans haven't yet adapted to the people of the State taking away their ability to roadblock budgets from the minority, which is a crutch they'd come to rely on to avoid dealing with the difficulty of trying to build a minimum winning coalition in CA while at the same time toeing the line of the national party.

I'd be surprised though if they haven't started returning to being an effective opposition by the 2014 elections.

The reason this will never be built is because it's incredibly unproven. At least with HSR the unknowns are sort of understood and the costs can be calculated. Nobody knows what the unknown costs are with Hyperloop.

Not to mention safety. Nobody is going to just trust Musk to say it's safe. There will be a decade of trials to test it before it even gets green light approval for a small practically useable section.

How about spend the full amount, but on more links? That way, you're employing probably more people, both short term and long term.

Um, pressure your representative to support this idea instead of a high-speed rail system?

If ALL Musk does with the Hyperloop announcement is shed more light on the potential debacle that is to be our $70b+ high-speed rail in California, we owe him a debt of gratitude.

Really? Because it looks like this is an attempt to derail CA HSR using a proposal for an experimental technology that offers a fraction of what CA HSR does, but is potentially faster.

CA HSR replaces/upgrades two metropolitan rail systems (Caltrain/Metrolink) in addition to connecting SF (as opposed to Oakland!) and LA, requires no R&D, is supposed to handle significantly greater ridership, has detailed cost estimates which include things like take into account electrification costs (because it does get cloudy), support facilities (because there is maintenance of these cars), administrative buildings (because someone has to run the system), bypassing/rebuilding overpasses (which are all over I-5) that are in the way and grading land.

> CA HSR replaces/upgrades two metropolitan rail systems (Caltrain/Metrolink) in addition to connecting SF (as opposed to Oakland!) and LA, requires no R&D, is supposed to handle significantly greater ridership, has detailed cost estimates which include things like take into account electrification costs (because it does get cloudy), support facilities (because there is maintenance of these cars), administrative buildings (because someone has to run the system), bypassing/rebuilding overpasses (which are all over I-5) that are in the way and grading land.

Not to mention their estimates actually include going into downtown SF and LA, unlike Musk's $6B figure.

To be fair, Oakland is a much more sensible location of the initial terminal for any rail system. It's very well-connected to SF, has a complete lack of powerful, moneyed NIMBYs, and it would be easy to punch the line through to SF once it's proven.

> To be fair, Oakland is a much more sensible location of the initial terminal for any rail system. It's very well-connected to SF, has a complete lack of powerful, moneyed NIMBYs, and it would be easy to punch the line through to SF once it's proven.

The East Bay (and even Oakland specifically) does not have a complete lack of moneyed NIMBYs. There are at least as many of those in the East Bay as in SF and the Peninsula.

And its actually a lot easier to "punch a line through" over land than over the Bay, and existing SF-Oakland transit capacity is fairly well saturated and expensive to expand (because, again, of the Bay).

You could maybe find some non-insane argument that extending Caltrain as conventional rail to San Francisco and running HSR to Oakland makes more sense than HSR to San Francisco and existing conventional rail to Oakland, but I doubt there's much case even for that; in any case, any sane strategy for rail is going to involve a fork with lines running up the Peninsula to SF and up into the East Bay separately.

I don't think that's really true. The people in Oakland who would be NIMBYs and have enough money to be effective at it all live in the hills, or in Piedmont. The people who live in the flat parts of Oakland, and to a large extent all of the flatlanders of the East Bay, don't have anything to fight with.

Now compare to the kind of 19th-century legacy gazillionaires along the CAHSR route in Atherton.

Sure, I'd grant Oakland. The line is shown ending roughly near Bay Fair station, an 18 minute BART ride from central Oakland, but perhaps that's still a good compromise. And North Valley? People in this comments thread were saying they'd rather take a flight from Burbank airport, but the train ends even further from central LA.

But more to the point, it's costed through the straightest, least dense, cheapest part of a "SF to LA" route. It's shown with 3 km of tunnel west of Dublin and you'd need at least five times more to get to usefully located stations. This isn't how real infrastructure projects are estimated unless you're purposefully trying to arrive at a low cost estimate.

The estimated ridership of even the Hyperloop is high enough that it would crush the Bay Bridge even if a majority used BART. Not to mention add an hour to the transit to people going to San Jose.

Oakland was chosen to make this thing look cheaper, not because it makes sense from a civil planning perspective.

The capacity of the proposed system at 28-person capsules every 30 seconds is 3360 pph at peak. Three thousand more people per hour would crush the Bay Bridge?

Ahahaha no. I live in Oakland, you're quite wrong. On the upside I do like that I can walk a short distance to catch a train that will take me to LA :)

It is presented to provoke and I think you're right, it does look like an attempt to derail CA HSR.

Instead, I think of it this way... if it's so cheaply do-able, then - do it! Sounds like an easy money making idea if you can build it for the figures proposed. While you may only need to charge $20 each way to break even, why not charge double what it costs to go the next most fast, convenient way, and you would make bank! I mean, who wouldn't do this if it works as envisioned? It's a genius business plan, right!?

So do it! Some rich bold genius! Build us a hyperloop - so cheap and obvious and do-able! And whenever we get to HSR, we'll build it so it connects to the awesome LA-SF express hyperloop.

One problem is that the land needed to build it belongs to the state. Admittedly another is that a massive amount of R&D remains to be done and is not factored into the cost.

West Oakland is 10 minutes from downtown SF (Embarcadero station, nearest to the HSR terminal) by BART, and you can take any eastbound train, so you rarely have to wait more than 2-3 minutes during the day to catch one. The area is already set up for rail, and land is relatively cheap. It's a fantastic location for it. The only reasons to go to SF proper are politics and pride.

> take into account electrification costs (because it does get cloudy)

Did Musk say his Hyperloop wouldn't be tied to the grid?

Yes. It says it is self-powering using battery packs and solar.

No, it specifically says it's tied to the grid for backup power. Section 4.3.

So, we have "light shed" on the current "debacle" and neither system gets built. That's a win? HSR was first commerically available in 1964. Yes, it got really expensive waiting 50 years. I imagine it'll be even more expensive in another 20-30. California is going to get even more crowded.

That's an argument in favor of a useful HSR system. But politics have resulted California's HSR system being deliberately pessimized; it may do more harm than good to the HSR cause, right?

“The man who moved a mountain was the one who began carrying away small stones.” -Chinese Proverb

I've lived in China for over 3 years, and spend countless hours riding the HSR system. HSR combines the speed of a plane, with the cost and convenience of a regular bus. Traveling through the countryside of China at 380km/h made me feel like I was in the future. Coming home and seeing the the sad state of our infrastructure was a harsh reality check.

Granted China has a massive manufacturing/mining complex and cheap labor. But if we hadn't squandered 5 Trillion on "War on Terror" and domestic spying, I'm sure we could kept our lead in infrastructure and still has some left over to boost education / R&D spending.

In the past 20 years China's moved their mountain. Hopefully the hyperloop will help us to catch up.

I've been on one of the Chinese high speed trains and they are really impressive. The most striking thing about them is how smooth they are -- very little vibration at all, and very quiet. Far more pleasant than air travel, conventional trains, or anything else I've been on.

Sadly, I think the first place a Hyperloop will be built is China. Chances are there are engineers there looking it over now, and figuring they can knock out a test system in a year or two.

That would be great, all you need is 1 country somewhere in the world to prove viable and it becomes a much safer political prospect elsewhere.

Until a major accident at least like with Fukushima and nuclear.

You mean Chernobyl and nuclear, or Three Mile Island and nuclear? Both of those had already soundly killed the prospect for large-scale nuclear power in the US long before the earthquake in Japan.

Also frankly, nuclear is its whole own category of unviable for its own special reasons. Cars, buses, trains, planes and ships have all killed scores more people then nuclear power ever will.

I guess so, from what I read it was starting to turn around again with more projects before the earthquake.

I don't see Hyperloop's constituency; there really aren't that many people who want to commute to work in SF from LA and can pay the roundtrip Hyperloop cost who can't pay the $80 on Southwest from Burbank to SJC.

The problem with CAHSR isn't the "HSR" part, it's California's utterly dysfunctional political system, and going faster and putting the track up on pylons isn't going to cut through that morass without a stronger group of people standing up and saying YES, WE NEED THIS.

$20/trip amortized cost. So, probably a more correct ticket price is $50-$60.

It seems to me that to really force the issue, you'd need to be talking an order of magnitude difference in cost. For $20 r/t, ears would perk up -- even people who aren't making a $1/yr salary could conceivably afford that. But $120?

you speak as though it needs to be run as a charity to be a game changer. I only mention that price point because that is just underneath the cost of flying, and that's how economics works. The operator will likely want to make as much profit as it can, while still sucking customers away from the airports. In the beginning, the operator will likely charge MORE than the airplanes, because the customer will be liable to be ok with a "novelty" premium, and it's in the interest of the operator to amortize the costs as quickly as possible to secure itself against (unforseeable) price competitions or unpredicted costs.

At the price point I suggest, the operator is STILL effectively going to be making 150% margins, so there is a lot of room to lower the cost, but that just isn't going to happen unless there is a competitive pressure to keep lowering the price.

If that's not "social justice" enough for you, then consider that at least the thing is going to be run nearly 100% if not better than 100% renewable.

You have to get the thing built before you can start charging a premium for it. Without a strong constituency, you can't get a giant infrastructure project off the ground. If your constituency is people like me, who can afford to fly, you've already lost the game.

I think the point is that Elon Musk started thinking about this because he's tired of flying SFO-LAX.

You mention that he considers the alternative as supersonic jets, and discusses why they don't work for SFO-LAX.

Don't forget about time... if this is faster than air travel, that alone could be wroth something. The fact that the cost might be equivalent to air-travel and be significantly faster would be the game-changer.

If I could take one of these from SF to LA in a weekend to take my kids to Disneyland, that would be awesome. As it is now, that's a multi-hour process on each side of the trip. Reducing that to 30min (+ some logistics time) would be wonderful. Especially if they can reduce the amount of time required at the terminals.

The total price of flying may be higher than you think. Don't forget to include: * transporting you to and from the airport * getting to the airport ~1h before your flight * flight time of ~1:30 vs :30 on the Hyperloop

If the Hyperloop works as Musk imagines, then it'll be more like hopping on the subway: go to the station in the middle of town, wait maybe 10min at most, ride, get off in the middle of town.

On the other hand I sure don't wanna be crammed in that recliner looking at a ceiling five inches away from my feet for a half hour. Room to stand up and stretch please.

> If the Hyperloop works as Musk imagines, then it'll be more like hopping on the subway: go to the station in the middle of town, wait maybe 10min at most, ride, get off in the middle of town.

Well, except that the termini aren't even close to the "middle of town" (at least, not of the cities motivating the plan). There way out on the fringes of the metro region, and unlike CA HSR, none of the costs of improving connecting systems are part of the plan.

The low cost estimate is due in large part because it gets you from the place people aren't to the place people don't want to be. (On either end)

Which is one (of the many) reasons its not a serious alternative to HSR -- even if the technology was ready, what Musk is proposing fails to do the hard part of transportation improvement: connecting the places people are with the places they want to get.

Building worthless HSR lines isn't a necessary or useful step on the road to building useful HSR lines.

Again, the problem isn't that HSR is a bad idea.

So, we have "light shed" on the current "debacle" and neither system gets built. That's a win?

Yes, preventing a debacle is a win.

Not building the HSR that is envisioned is the win.

California will get more crowded, but it will continue to be a disaster of urban planning, limiting the utility of HSR.

It's mind boggling to me that the California HSR isn't being built from DC to Boston instead.

> It's mind boggling to me that the California HSR isn't being built from DC to Boston instead.

Upgraded high-speed rail in the Northeast corridor (where the US's only existing HSR is located) is being planned. [1] California HSR being built in California doesn't preclude HSR from being built/upgraded in other parts of the US.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-speed_rail_in_the_United_S...

There are actually some serious efforts in place to get sanity back into urban planning, but (predictably I suppose) this is regarded as an attack on freedom and the lawsuits have already begun to fly.

Uhm, LA alone has more people than DC and Boston combined. Plus another 9 million living in the Bay Area. This is far and away the most obvious candidate for direct HSR in all of North America.

The core cities on the DC BAL PHL NYC BOS route total 11.5 million, while LA + SF is only 4.5 million. Thats arguably the more important figure because the relative advsntage of rail diminishes if you have to drive in from the suburbs. Also, four of those five cities have well developed public transit systems centered around the rail station. Metro area total for the five cities is not including any other regions in the path is almost 40m versus about 20m for SF and LA.

> arguably the more important figure because the relative advsntage of rail diminishes if you have to drive in from the suburbs.

A major premise of the California HSR plan is that it isn't just about the main HSR lines, but upgrades, improvements, and new lines for connecting conventional regional and commuter rail, light rail, and other public transit.

Ah, our light rail network is a bit more extensive than you seem to imagine.

No, the Northeast corridor is the clear winner for HSR in the United States.[1]

The difference is, we already have the Acela, so it just needs a speed upgrade.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northeast_Megalopolis

Unless you'd like to go from Boston to DC without making four stops along the way. In California you have two of the largest metropolitan areas in the country separated by 400 miles of nothing (with apologies to the Central Valley). HSR wins big when it goes fast without stopping, which is exactly the case out here.

NYC CSA is bigger than LA CSA, and DC CSA is bigger than "Bay Area" CSA. It seems weird, then, to argue it makes more sense to connect LA and SF just because in the northeast you can also hit two additional CSA's (Philadelphia and Boston, which are each about the size of the Bay Area), while you're at it.

Perhaps, but with New York and Philly in between, you're hitting four major population centers:

Boston (4.5M metro area) New York (8-20M depending on how far you stretch the metro area) Philadelphia (6M metro area) Washington D.C. (5.7M metro area)

Can you please clarify why the high speed rail is likely to be a debacle ?

It seems pretty clear that California needs it and generally HSR is a pretty sensible infrastructure investment.

As currently envisioned CA HSR is likely to be more expensive and slower than current air travel. This is before the virtually certain cost overruns. To be competitively priced it would require large subsidies but still would be no faster than alternatives.

That said like you I would love to see a superior alternative to the current situation but CA HSR is probably not it.

Edit: added some references




Well, no. You just made that up. HSR is intended to meet a future need for transportation. The equivalent air transportation infrastructure to meet the same need is believed to cost at least $500bn, according to the environmental impact report. That's making the generous assumptions that this level of air travel is even possible without serious air traffic congestion problems, and the aviation fuel costs do not rise faster than general inflation.

The main cost of CAHSR will be the opportunity cost of not having built it.

The main cost of CAHSR will be the opportunity cost of not having built it.

I wonder: this is from an LA Weekly article from 2011 -- I remember it being an eye-opener when I read it back then [1]:

The authority had projected that 41 million people annually would ride the train between Anaheim and San Francisco, for example. But currently only 12 million customers fly nonstop on the extremely busy air route between Los Angeles and San Francisco each year.

The article goes on to say that Acela gets 3 million riders in the very dense east coast NY/Washington corridor but in less-dense California they were projecting a ridership around 10x of Acela's (!).

The LA Weekly has had a bunch of articles about the project over the years criticizing everything from its cost to its leadership to its utility. If the picture they paint is mostly correct, perhaps the only way to win is not to play.

And it's not just the LA Weekly -- a third party independent review came to similar conclusions apparently, as described in this LA Weekly article from Jan. 2012 [2]:

On top of skepticism from the state auditor, inspector general and legislative analyst -- as well as university researchers, federal transportation experts and this very news blog -- a "peer review group" for the California High-Speed Rail Authority, formed for the sole purpose of independent review, has declared the project neither physically nor financially feasible at this time.

The train's roster of supporters tells us everything we need to know:

"The project has won major support from organized labor, some big-city mayors and many state lawmakers," reports the Los Angeles Times today.

The article quotes the following from the report:

"We cannot overemphasize the fact that moving ahead on the HSR project without credible sources of adequate funding, without a definitive business model, without a strategy to maximize the independent utility and value to the State, and without the appropriate management resources, represents an immense financial risk on the part of the state of California."

[1] http://www.laweekly.com/2011-11-24/news/100-billion-bullet-t...

[2] http://blogs.laweekly.com/informer/2012/01/california_bullet...

> The article goes on to say that Acela gets 3 million riders in the very dense east coast NY/Washington corridor but in less-dense California they were projecting a ridership around 10x of Acela's (!).

And...so? California has dense areas in the north and south and a big (relatively) empty gap between them. California HSR is designed to connect those dense areas. The overall density of the state (or the corridor) is pretty much a side issue.

I'm not so sure it's a side-issue, in that the northeast corridor train routes don't just allow people in, say, NY to go to Washington, but also people in Philadelphia and Baltimore to go there as well, since those cities are on the Acela route.

And, if your city is not on the Acela route, you may well be able, due to the area's density, to take a commuter rail or another train to get to a city that is on the Acela route.

Similarly for Acela's Boston-NY route -- New Haven is on the route, so people from Connecticut can likely get to it.

And, of course, people in NJ can easily pop into NYC and grab Acela as well.

By contrast, the lack of density in CA would mean that aside from LA - SF (and a bit of traffic to and from Sacramento), you wouldn't likely have that sort of potential passenger-base.

> By contrast, the lack of density in CA would mean that aside from LA - SF (and a bit of traffic to and from Sacramento), you wouldn't likely have that sort of potential passenger-base.

Actually, since California has a large total population, and its mostly concentrated in a few major urban areas, what that means is you have a natural constituency for high speed rail with few stops, spending more time at speed.

LA (and San Diego) to SF (and Sacramento) is a lot.

But why would lots more people start going from LA to SF or on any of the other routes? As a comment to your previous comment below asks[1], what would the economic gain be?

There might be a bit more interaction between LA's entertainment industry and the Bay Area's tech industry, but how many additional people would be travelling for this purpose?

I expect that, given that the northeast corridor comprises the nation's capitol, its financial capitol and its academic capitol (the latter two also being high-tech centers), one would expect movement between these places and would want high-speed transport.

I just don't see a similar dynamic operating in CA. Sacramento cannot compare to Washington, D.C. and LA and SF are pretty self-sufficient, as I expect San Diego is as well.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6203129

The question is how many people really need to travel between the Bay Area and SoCal? Right now it is about 12 million trips a year. That would increase if the link is cheaper, but to what economic gain? These two areas are strongly connected economically, not like NYC and DC are.

NY Boston however accounts for a lot of Acela traffic (based on my experience).

Ya, those areas are strongly connected. There was a typo in my above reply, I meant to say that SF/LA are not as strongly connected economically as NYC/Boston/Philly/DC.

> Can you please clarify why the high speed rail is likely to be a debacle ?

I don't believe that high speed rail will necessarily be a debacle.

But the route was largely chosen for political considerations. It was decided downtown San Jose, Fresno, and Bakersfield must have stations. (This requires an additional long tunnel, and urban construction is much more expensive.) The route takes a detour through Palmdale[1], an underdeveloped part of Los Angeles County.

The 'straight shot' route down I-5 that Musk proposes was also considered for HSR, and rejected even though it would have been much cheaper and simpler to construct.

[1] http://www.cahsrblog.com/2013/06/the-truth-about-tejon/

Counterpoint: rail that doesn't run through urban areas is far less useful. There is a reason Amtrak is taking over the northeast corridor: it's tough to beat to convenience of being able to walk from your office in manhattan to your office in DC without ever leaving public transit.

I agree to some extent.

However, CA-HSR chose the nearly the most complex and expensive route possible (even though they don't have a funding source), so we shouldn't make a direct cost comparison with Musk's route down I-5. HSR would also be much cheaper on the mostly unpopulated I-5 corridor. Also, the right-of-ways that Musk proposes to get into SF and LA are sketchy.

(Silicon Valley business interests wanted the HSR stations in San Jose & Mountain View, and apparently quite interested in using lower-cost areas such as Fresno for back-office activities. So while they will be impressed by Hyperloop's techno-wizardry, they may actually prefer the HSR project.)

The same reason san francisco has built like 100 or 200 new housing units in the past year, and the same reason the california coastal commission was being sued (and found unconstitutional, etc):

California has a very large amount of regulatory burden compared to almost anywhere else in the US. High speed rail there is likely to cost overrun by a massive factor, and under deliver by a massive factor, and both, for no actually good reason, instead, only theoretically good ones.

The reason San Francisco built 269 units in 2011 was not bureaucracy, but that we were at the tail end of a real estate crash. More than 4000 units were started in 2012, and a further 30,000 have been approved. Source: http://www.spur.org/publications/library/article/san-francis...

Wake me when they actually happen (IE are built and available).

SPUR's data comes from the SF planning department, which is now under tremendous pressure to at least claim they are doing something. Data on the actual ground (IE real estate listings, etc) do not support their claims, as anyone who tries to get a residential unit in SF can tell you. I'd love to know what they consider a "start". It shouldn't take multiple years for a simple residential unit to be completed.

You are also talking about places where it takes months to get a tree removed from your property and requires approval from the "county arborist". It often takes years for people to acquire permits to do remodeling.

California also has significantly different and more stringent energy/building codes from all other places, in areas completely unrelated to things like 'earthquake protection' (or anything reasonably related to California issues)

It absolutely has a high regulatory cost compared to most other places, and past HN, i don't think i've seen anyone dispute this (IE AFAIK, California doesn't dispute it, they simply claim it's worth it)

Just because you're too ignorant and lazy to walk around looking at all the construction doesn't mean it's not there. There are over 4000 units actively under construction right now. That is a fact beyond argument.

We'll have to agree to disagree.

I've been in plenty of places like SF, which, when under pressure, simply make up statistics or change what they mean.

It's simply not a "fact beyond argument", when the only source of this "fact" are a group with a very strong vested interested in high numbers and a history of not truth telling. The 100-200 units number only came out after a lot of pushing.

They claim there are 22,000 units in planning/approval as of 2012, and we are 3/4 of the way through 2013.

Combined with the 4000 that were under construction, they should be visible by now somewhere.

Maybe you'd like to point out where you see 20k+ units under construction?

At that many, it should be blindingly obvious. SF is simply not that large, and does not have that much hidden space (open or otherwise).

I'm sorry that you don't know what it means for construction to be approved. It means the units will be built in the future. This isn't Sim City.

If you are feeling exceptionally lazy and only have time to look outside your bubble once, go to Market between 7th and 9th. The new building on 8th between Market and Mission has over 1900 units (over 1400 units net of what were demolished) and the one at 55 9th Street has 300 new units on what used to be an empty field.

You seem to be deliberately misrepresenting what i'm saying in order to argue about things i'm not claiming, so i'm just not going to continue this discussion.

You also seem like a bit of a dick.

Among other things, rail is worthless in CA, because you need a car to get anywhere anyway.

If you can afford to rent a car at the end of your train ride, you can afford a plane ticket.

In my opinion, most likely, the CA rail proposal is just a political folly being undertaken by corruptocrats who have ideas to profit from it.

Yes, the rail would be useful for poor people who want to visit family, but that is not a business case, and does not justify harvesting tens of billions from the innocent citizens of CA. (Even if a tyranny of the majority voted to do it.)

> Among other things, rail is worthless in CA, because you need a car to get anywhere anyway.

Which is one reason a not-insignificant part of the HSR plan in California is improving commuter rail and other connecting mass-transit systems that will interface with HSR, to reduce exactly that problem.

LA seems way too big and spread out to make that work.

> And who says that big government stifles entrepreneurial innovation?

"A brilliant exploration of new ideas in business argues that government is behind the boldest risks and biggest breakthroughs"


I don't have much of an opinion on this topic, since it seems to me that any large concentration of money and smart people produces innovation (so do lone geniuses). But I thought this article was interesting.

This may very well be at the heart of his submission, especially since he is the first to point out that most of the real kinks have not been worked out.

What do most of us in the general public really know about how projects like the high speed rail get on the ballot. A lot of people have their suspicions, but we have to ask ourselves if there was a competitive bid process to determine the best solution.

I, for one, would have voted to throw money into future technologies over current rail solutions. Mostly because I shudder to think how much current tech will be old news in ten years when the high speed rail is completed (if at all).

If we pursue the hyperloop or similar tech, and whether it can be completed or not, at least it would be a first of it's kind and on the cutting edge.

Comments on the whitepaper: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=6201728


> Market is wide open

For a major infrastructure product? No, even if they could secure all the requisite permits and funding, which I can only imagine would be a nightmare to all but the wealthiest entrants, urban development would make actually putting the thing in the ground its own immense obstacle. The government uses the long-established practice of eminent domain to ensure that its projects may proceed unimpeded. Private industry doesn't have that, and we shouldn't consider giving it to them.

If the California high speed rail project is completed (or even makes progress) it will likely stifle any similar projects for decades. Competing against government projects is hard enough because the goverment has the incentive (from voters, contractors, workers, unions) to "succeed" regardless of costs and has access to vast resources thru taxation as well as control of the rules of the game (laws, regulation). Project with high fixed cost such as this would be impossible because of the huge financial risks. Once the government establishes its presence it will either be uneconomic (Amtrak) or illegal (US Post Office) to compete.

> If the California high speed rail project is completed (or even makes progress) it will likely stifle any similar projects for decades.

Building railroads (road networks, etc.) over non-trivial spans of land is practically impossible without active government support. Even if California doesn't build HSR, private efforts without government involvement would be pretty much impossible.

Agreed ANY project will require government support. I just don't see many governments supporting competing projects. So if CA HSR gets built competing projects, such as Hyperloop, are unlikely to get the required government support. Make sense?

> I just don't see many governments supporting competing projects. So if CA HSR gets built competing projects, such as Hyperloop, are unlikely to get the required government support.

Given how long it takes to build large scale infrastructure, and given that Hyperloop is still at a primitive stage as technology (the fact that the paper just released calls, as a next step, for reduced-scale testing to demonstrate the physics, whereas HSR is a widely-used, well-established technology with multiple vendors), its more of a long-term successor to HSR than a concurrent competitor.

OTOH, its true that HSR being built would reduce the problems that provide the incentives to build Hyperloop.

"its true that HSR being built would reduce the problems that provide the incentives to build Hyperloop."

not true at all, since, it would be too expensive to run at volume to help any significant amount of traffic and too expensive for most actual real-world commuters to use (they would just fly at that expense). It would reduce one problem: obtaining a right-of-way, by virtue of making it impossible.

You misread, I think. He was stating that it is a common claim that government can stifle innovation, particularly in the transit sector (look at the trouble that Uber has to go through in every large market to fend off government-backed taxi monopolies). In this case, it appears that government failure may help spur innovation in a very costly sector.

"If ALL Musk does with the Hyperloop announcement is shed more light on the potential debacle that is to be our $70b+ high-speed rail in California, we owe him a debt of gratitude."

We would owe a debt of gratitude to a hypothetical public transport project for helping to obstruct or kill a real public transport project?

but why to ask California State for subsidy? Why not to build it using private funds? I'd imagine that if this is economically sound idea there must be potential investors lining up to have their share in the Project? The estimated cost is $7B. Now, Musk just needs to make a few calls to his friends at Google, Amazon, etc. Can't these guys just form a company together just to build it?

Maybe I'm naive... or maybe Musk for all his genius is focused on the Government grants too much instead of being focused on the investors in the business world.

If this brings profit, everybody want to own piece of the pie, no?

(1) CA is much better positioned to straighten out the land use issues. It needs to use the existing I-5 right of way, it needs to tunnel through some mountains, and it probably needs to eminent domain some additional bits of land for pylon bases where I-5 curves too sharply. No matter what, this is a project that has to pass the legislature in order to get built.

(2) A CA-sponsored bond issue must be by far the lowest cost way to finance a $7B infrastructure project that's amortized over 30 years.

Can't (1) and (2) be solved by additional $1b to cover "cost" the Government might have? Just make it easier for them to move it through legislature, mountains, and such ;-)

You can already get the same effect by having a private investor agree to "pay back" the Government if there are really private investors who want to do that.

It's called a "public-private partnership" and it's not completely impossible but it does require some person or persons to cough up the cash.

Here's an example of a public-private partnership between Rhode Island and Curt Schilling's 38 Studios - http://www.engadget.com/2012/09/07/38-studios-collapse-and-r...

> but why to ask California State for subsidy? Why not to build it using private funds?

Because you can't, in practice, acquire the rights of way necessary to build a substantial railroad/hyperloop/freeway or other major infrastructure project of that type without government (specifically, without use of eminent domain).

But as I recall, the gov't can use eminent domain to give land to a private entity if they're in favor of the idea for the "public good." Or am I way off base here...?

Rinon, you are correct. The Supreme Court (perhaps foolishly) decided that private to private transfer of land is permissible under eminent domain.


the investors in the business world.

few investors would touch this. It doesn't fit into any investment category that's approved.

There are infrastructure funds but they're looking for sleepy assets. Stuff like toll roads and ports that have an established operating history and are supposed to be low risk.

This is a whole different animal. It's almost infrastructure VC. I don't see how this fits in any part of the institutional world. That leaves wealthy individuals and I don't think there'd be a lot of interest there. They're looking at Berkshire and steady growth vs. an investment in speculative infrastructure. I could see $10M investments but I think it'd be hard to get people to put a big chuck of their net worth into it, which is what you need (i.e. you need a couple people putting in $1-2B). Furthermore, historically public transportation hasn't been very profitable. Realistically you probably need the state to build it.

The proposal calls for the line to built alongside I-5, which requires government involvement.

Not alongside. On top of. And all of it needs to be approved for safety in earthquakes.

If you're traveling at 600 mph, you do not want to have that tunnel unexpectedly move even a foot sideways during an earthquake.

Not to be nitpicky but if you haven't driven the I-5 theres substantial room between each direction of the freeway so I don't think it will actually be above traffic if that's your concern.

I have driven the I-5, but good point. And the diagrams that you'll find on p28-29 of the presentation suggest that the supports would definitely fit on the median.

You still need government permission to use the median like that.

There are overpasses all along I-5. I seriously doubt you can put a 20 ft elevated tube under them and you certainly don't want them in a place where a truck can easily slam into the support pillars.

At 700+ MPH you'll need more than 100' of freeway median to contain potential incident fallout.

Depends on how strong the tunnel is. Assuming your taking 3/4 atmospheric difference your starting at ~11 pounds per square inch add in a 3-5x safety factor and that tunnel would be one tough son of a bitch.

Not to mention it's got to be really close to a strait track so your more dealing with scraping forces than a direct strike.

Does the minimum bending radius of the tube match the centerline of the highway? If not that might be a real problem.

Hyperloop proposal contains detailed map of the whole route. Sometimes it follows the highway, other times it deviates from it.

For the same reason that Musk needed a huge, free government loan to get Tesla off the ground: without the government, he'd be less rich.

The government loan was hardly free. Not only did it incur interest, there was an equity component that nearly kicked in had Tesla not had sufficient funds to pay off the loan early.

Right. If Tesla failed, the people own a worthless company. If it succeeds, Musk retains his stake in a valuable company.

Compare what would have happened if Tesla needed to raise $500m from private investment at the start. Musk would have been diluted up front.

You're still missing the part where it incurred interest, so it wasn't free in the least.

Musk put $40m into Tesla and his stake is worth billions. The people put $465m into Tesla and their stake is worth nothing, after making a paltry $12m in interest. In addition, while Tesla was paying the government 3% on that loan, they were paying Musk 10% on his loans, in effect shoveling government money directly into Musk's account.

This is a classic example of socializing the risk while privatizing the profits. Yes, Musk is a smart guy with plenty of great ideas and good execution. But he's also plenty good at funneling government money to himself.

No, it's a very visible example of socializing the risk while privatizing the profits. It's pretty small potatoes compared to the normal contract guarantees to even, say, companies doing highway maintenance, and let's not get into the "socialization" of science funding. Where are our guaranteed ROIs on NSF grants?

The government makes these investments all the time. In fact, usually the (barely implicit) goal of government funding is to also encourage job and wealth growth. $12 million isn't much of a return, but even revenue neutral is a win for the average government investment. And, like the tax breaks to encourage people to buy the very cars the government was helping pay to produce, the idea is to help kickstart an industry that might not have the differential to self-start, but has the potential to eventually be self sustaining and bring outsize benefits compared to the investment. Basically the same reason we fund basic science research as well.

And again, this is highly selective outrage. You can disagree with the whole category of government-sponsored industry, but you have a bit of an uphill battle there. Meanwhile, there are far more "classic" examples all around, not to mention the two other major car companies that together received nearly 16x what Tesla received and have so far not exactly put in a great showing for the industry-creating change that money was supposed to help fund.

He put his money in at the beginning, the govt. put it in after they had a production car and the Model S R&D well underway. They're not at all equivalent in terms of level of risk.

That said, the interest was low, but it was meant as a public good. Without Tesla, I very much doubt the big car companies would be pushing out their own EVs on nearly as aggressive a timescale.

Sounds like he took advantage of an ignorant government. I'd do the same. So did Wall Street, but we got less back from that one.

Why was the government ignorant?

They had a loan program to kick-start electric vehicles. One of their loans was largely responsible for the existence of Tesla and its ensuing success. The loan was paid back.

Should the government have been more profit-maximizing? Do we want civil servants taking large equity stakes in private companies? We fund research (both directly and through the university system) all the time with the understanding that the net benefits to society outweigh the direct costs of the programs.

Well I guess judging by the poster's rage, they should have got a better return and folded that into another project. I'm just trying to empathise with the anger of taking risks with relatively low returns using public money.

AFAIC Tesla upheld their end of the bargain and society is up by quite a bit. This is in stark contrast to other bullshit that the US government has funded which is wasteful at best. War, war on drugs, war on privacy, bankers, ...

Or maybe - just maybe - without the Government he would have to spend more time and effort to persuade private investors and companies to help him. I think by choosing the Government he choose the path of the least resistance. I don't blame him, just saying, that for the rich getting the money from the Government might be much easier than getting it from the markets. Which would be just another example of why the Government should stay away from the economy.

You need government backing to acquire the land.

Ah, that's boring. Look, we're talking about progress here, no Government burocrat should be able to stop us. Just $1B extra in "fees" would get us all the Government backing in the world we want. Unless we're not really serious about the whole thing and not really confident about the end result.

Or just have Jobs resurrected. This way we save $1B on the "fees" and he'll talk the Government officials into this for free. They'll think they get the best deal in the world once Steve is done talking to them and the Distortion Field is permanently present in the Government heads.

I'm pretty sure I've seen this plot in an animated series of something...

Well the issue, apart from getting the land to build, is probably that the public benefits a great deal more than a company can profit off. There are always going to be intangible benefits from huge infrastructure projects like this that a company can't monetize. Hence what is economically a good idea for the nation or state as a whole, is not necessarily a good idea for a private investor.

Bill gates can reach for his wallet and fund this. He won't even notice it.

Someone get me his phone number right this moment.

Bill Gates has more important things to spend his money on than moving rich americans from somewhere in America to somewhere else in America.

I live in los angeles and the proposed price is cheaper than taking a cab from the LAX to my place (4 miles). So no, this is not to help rich americans.

I think anyone who pays money to be transported from one place to another at high speed is too rich to be cared for by Bill Gates, from his perspective :)

There is a private bus service the runs between LA and SF for $40, which is probably less than the cab fare to the airport, or what a high speed rail ticket will end up costing.


In fairness, compared to the people he helps with his philanthropic work at the moment I'd hypothesise those this will affect are fairly "rich".

Actually Bill Gates is on record saying that if he had 'one wish' it would be for an awesome low emissions energy source.

When you consider the growth in air travel, and the fuel options for air travel, the Hyperloop IS effectively a low emission energy source. I suspect he's more than interested.

What about a $40 round trip ticket implies that those of us in LA County or the Bay Area are rich?

The 40 dollars. That is a huge amount of money is many parts of the world. Specially for the type of people Bill Gates philanthropic work is aimed at.

There's a difference between having 40 dollars, and having 40 dollars to spare :)

Applications are open for YC Winter 2021

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact