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None of this is to say that Hyperloop is a bad idea. The idea sounds very interesting and I'd rather spend sixty billion building a Hyperloop --even if it fails-- than the ridiculous California high speed rail project.

Cost is probably off by an order of magnitude, if not more. Why? Unions and other groups. Building anything in this country costs massively more (and takes significantly longer) than one could imagine because of our unions are not business symbiotic. The goal of union leadership is to extract as much as they can out of the businesses they infect, even if this means their demise.

A lot of the unions that would be part of such a project have some of the laziest and most problematic people working for them. If you come from the Silicon Valley tech world my words make no sense to you. In fact, you might think I am nuts. All I have to say is: Do a good size trade show exhibit at a few of the unionized convention centers in the US and then see what you think about US unions. Then repeat that experience at various locations in Europe and Japan and see the difference. I have done just that. US labor unions are destroying our country from the inside out.

How many significant new civil engineering projects in the US can you name over the last, say, fifty years. Right.

Hyperloop cost would be way more than this paper seems to predict.

The political factor is grossly underestimated. Our reality is that we live at a time of political deadlock. Nobody can or wants to make a decision and the decisions we do make tend to be suboptimal, sometimes grotesquely so: example, California high speed rail.

Finally, it addresses the wrong market. I am not sure why people insist on applying trains to transporting people in the US. Sorry to resort to reality folks: If you build it they will NOT come. We do not have that culture and you will not inspire it simply by building trains. You'd have to forcefully push people in that direction through legislation that would make it too expensive to not use rail. In other words you'd have to declare war against other methods of transportation through punitive actions.

The right place for high speed rail in the US is cargo, not passenger rail. If we could evolve our cargo rail systems to move at 300 km/hr rather than 50 the consequences would provide economic benefits and development beyond a century.

The final point is related to politics. We have a decision making system that allows anyone to vote. And, while this is commendable, it does create horrible problems. Imagine allowing a random group of, say, ten people deciding whether or not your child should have surgery. I'd be surprised if anyone thought this to be a good idea. No, most people would rather have a group of experts in the field, more than likely MD's in this case, vote for such a decision. The ridiculous California high speed rail project is a result of hordes of low-information, mathematically challenged, technologically ignorant and financially ignorant voters being led by the nose by unions, media and political forces.

How do you move forward when people like that can vote on these issues and their vote has equal value to that of an expert in the relevant fields: a PhD in Physics, an engineer, a financial expert, etc.

Regrettably this is not a technological problem. It is far more complex than that.




> Cost is probably off by an order of magnitude, if not more. Why? Unions and other groups. Building anything in this country costs massively more (and takes significantly longer) than one could imagine because of our unions are not business symbiotic. The goal of union leadership is to extract as much as they can out of the businesses they infect, even if this means their demise.

Musk is in the car industry, one of the hardest hurt by unions and their ilk, so I would find it hard to believe that he didn't take that into account.

> Finally, it addresses the wrong market. I am not sure why people insist on applying trains to transporting people in the US. Sorry to resort to reality folks: If you build it they will NOT come. We do not have that culture and you will not inspire it simply by building trains.

Again, Musk is building and selling electric cars in a country that LOVES gas guzzlers. His track record would suggest that he knows what he's doing.

> Regrettably this is not a technological problem. It is far more complex than that.

I don't know why you think that this paper/concept only addresses technological issues, because it is clearly much more broad in scope than that.


> Musk is in the car industry, one of the hardest hurt by unions and their ilk, so I would find it hard to believe that he didn't take that into account.

That is irrelevant. He did not go into Tesla honoring the contracts that were put into place by GM, Ford, Chrysler and others. Those companies actually have tens of thousands of very well paid workers sitting around --literally-- all day doing nothing due to union contracts dealing with automation and other issues. He, in other words, did not experience the almost surreal lunacy that the full union experience can be.

I'll give you an example of this. Las Vegas Convention Center. Trade show. Small booth, 20 x 20 ft. I needed the lights on top of my booth turned off so that I could control my own lighting. No problem, we can do it for $360 per light. I asked what was involved. The response was that they'd have to throw a switch. Same thing at the RAI in Amsterdam. Free. Same thing in Munich (forgot the name of the venue), free. Same thing in New York City, $400.

Want another example? Again, Las Vegas Convention Center. I could not hookup my own computers. Somehow, magically, once you enter union-land the engineers who actually design the equipment are suddenly incapable of properly connecting equipment into power outlets. No, union electricians have to wire your booth at a massive fee. If you screw around with them they will literally use mafia techniques and shutdown your booth without so much as a hint in the middle of a show. I've seen it happen.

So, yes, again, just because the science is brilliant it does not mean it can be built. I've made that mistake before. I've dealt with city and state governments. I have sold product to the US government as well. I have equipment in places like the White Sands Missile Test Range and other notable spots. In some cases things flow smoothly. This is ALWAYS --and I do mean ALWAYS- the case when unions are not involved. If unions are involved, watch out! Enter surreal nightmare. The only way to have it not be surreal and not be a nightmare is to have some kind of an in or pay off the right people. What, that doesn't happen in the US? Please.

> Again, Musk is building and selling electric cars in a country that LOVES gas guzzlers. His track record would suggest that he knows what he's doing.

Tesla sells 20K cars per year to folks who can afford an $80,000 car. I love what they are doing. I am waiting for their SUV's and will likely buy two of them. But, please, don't make the comparison you just made. The other car companies are selling nearly A THOUSAND TIMES more cars than Tesla per year.

He does know what he is doing. I did not say he is not. I am simply proposing that the Hyperloop might be brilliant on paper but, barring a political, labor, fiscal, environmental and who-knows-what-else miracle it has zero probability of ever being built beyond, perhaps, a very expensive test setup.

>I don't know why you think that this paper/concept only addresses technological issues, because it is clearly much more broad in scope than that.

I don't think it addresses enough of the real world issues. When everything else is cleared off the table you still have to build it in the real world. And I think that's where the real problems lie, not in the science.


I don't know much about unions, I admit. But, I offer these this counterpoint:

The proposal is to use elevated tube on pylons. The pylons are likely to be of a regular design, probably made with steel molds. The amount of skilled labor to build them is likely to be much less than building overpasses.

Musk has said that the tubes would be built in 30m segments in a factory, and welded in place. Given Musk's experience with robot assembly at Tesla (watch http://kottke.org/13/07/how-the-tesla-model-s-is-made), my guess is that much of the construction of the tubes, and the rebar mesh for the pylons will be automated.

Making stuff in your factory as much as possible means you can automate more. It doesn't eliminate the labor, but it does reduce it a long way.


This is all rather absurd given that the Western European nations that haven embarked on major infrastructure projects in recent decades tend to have higher rates of unionization as well as stronger labor and environmental regulations than the United States. That Europe has high-speed rail and the United States doesn't can hardly be chalked up to unions.


European unions do not behave as American unions do. They seem to know how to balance their wants with the idea of allowing their host to survive, grow and succeed. American unions tend to extract as much blood as possible out of their hosts. They are really selfish, to the point of causing terminal damage. Look at the cities they've killed off.


Can you take your political opinions and shove them down a dark hole somewhere? Most people are here for a discussion of the technology, not your rhetoric.


It's not really an opinion so much as fact. Labor unions have proven to be beneficial only for the members of the union and politicians. If you had ever done business around them, you'd agree.


Wait, your political opinion reinforced by your own personal experiences is what passes as fact now? By golly, I've never met someone so enlightened.

Please, tell me more.


What would it take to convince you? A peer reviewed study? Just take a look around at what unions have been up to in this country.

Look at the union-born gigantic pension issues in California and Illinois. http://www.illinoispolicy.org/blog/blog.asp?ArticleSource=60... or http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2011-01-29/news/ct-met-su...

Check out what unions did/do to convention centers in Chicago and Las Vegas. http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-01-17/business/chi-0...

Look at the pay of BART employees. http://www.mercurynews.com/salaries/bay-area?Entity=Bay%20Ar...

Or is that all just anecdotal as well? I could go on.


It would take some logical argument as to why the concept of collective bargaining is a bad one.


That would be ridiculous, since that is not the argument that needs to be made. Instead, you want a logical argument as to why the concept of collective bargaining in the public sector is a bad one. I won't provide one since they are readily available if you have an ounce of curiosity. I'll just leave this:

“It is impossible to bargain collectively with the government.” - George Meany


American unions are political patronage jobs. They will quite cheerfully spend the entire budget digging holes and filling them back in.

If you do not account for this, you will have no budget left for technology.

Making the design an open source project is a major step towards European style (socialist) unions, where the unions help decide what to do and how to make it succeed.


> Making the design an open source project is a major step towards European style (socialist) unions, where the unions help decide what to do and how to make it succeed.

The difference between European unions and US unions is probably a big part of the reason for the negative connotation of the word "socialist" in the US. If US unions behaved like those in Europe, we would have a more positive connotation.


American unions have not killed off any city. If you are trying to imply that Detroit was killed by unions you are gravely mistaken.


I think at some point in the last few comments I stumbled into an Ayn Rand novel.


Wow, can you not abuse this wonderful idea for a political forum on unions, of all things?


There's a difference between theory on a piece of paper the the reality of building something. In the real world unions will be all over a project like this. Up every crevice. So will environmental groups and other special interest groups. None of this is good for any major civil engineering project.

I asked a question in my post. Can you name any new major civil engineering project in the US in the last fifty years? Refurbishing an existing project does not count. I am talking about something major, say, a new conventional railroad.

The reality is that these kinds of projects are just-about impossible to realize given our political and, yes, labor framework. So, yes, unions are very relevant because it matters not if the physics of the project is brilliant and utterly peer reviewed. The various externalities I mentioned almost guarantee that it cannot built.

I'd love to be wrong.


Can you name any new major civil engineering project in the US in the last fifty years?

New San Francisco Bay Bridge. (No, it's not a refurbish -- it's a completely separate bridge with a separate design to replace the existing Eastern span.)


This one:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_span_replacement_of_the...

It only supports my point. It's 2.2 miles long. Construction started in 2002. It was supposed to open in 2007. It will not open until the end of this year. Total cost is currently at six billion.

The Hyperloop is 400 miles long, will be built in seven years and will cost six billion.

See my point now?


I think it supports your point that the cost is probably off by a lot.

I don't think it supports your point that US unions are destroying the country. That's complete hyperbole.

Cost overruns can be attributed to many factors, the largest being that they're usually underestimated on purpose to sell the idea in the first place.


Yes, and when the new Eastern span of the Bay Bridge was proposed, it too was cheap and fast: less than $1B. The dramatic difference in the actual cost has a lot to do with the mayors of nearby cities pushing for a much fancier and complex design, and to a sudden spike in demand for global steel and concrete.

Trying to compare the actual cost of actual projects with the first projected cost of an ideal, untested project is a bit silly, don't you think?


> Trying to compare the actual cost of actual projects with the first projected cost of an ideal, untested project is a bit silly, don't you think?

Not really. I would never estimate a six billion dollar cost for anything involving placing massive pylons on the center of the Golden State highway for four hundred miles.

It's the difference between reality and wishful thinking.

Look, I already said that I'd rather spend the sixty billion allocated for the bullshit high speed train on the Hyperloop. In other words, I am not saying we cannot build it. I am saying it will cost far more, take longer and be far more difficult (not technologically but unions, special interest groups and plain politics) than stated in the pdf.


Since Hyperloop is 'Open Source', I wonder if the Chinese government will give it a go.


Can you name any new major civil engineering project in the US in the last fifty years?

Boston's Big Dig (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_big_dig)?


I'm assuming you're being facetious. A picture of the big dig belongs in the dictionary under the word boondoggle, and proves robomartin's point better than almost any other example could.


Boondoggle would imply it wasn't worth it.

Yes, the Big Dig cost a lot of money. More than expected. It was still worth it.


I can't think of a more apt example to support robomartin's original point. Regrettably.


Which was disastrously over budget


The Boston Big Dig. At 190% cost overrun, it was almost a bargain.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Dig

Expensive != impossible.

California is ready to spend $70. billion. dollars.... On a much slower technology rail platform.


> Can you name any new major civil engineering project in the US in the last fifty years?

Most of the interstate highway system, any number of lakes, many major bridges, the completed portion of the superconducting supercollider underground chambers, the brilliant Alaska pipeline pylon system, Florida's long elevated marine highways, the Norfolk (?) tunnel, the NYC aqueduct, most major airport runways.

What man has done he may aspire to do again.

These things move in cycles. Political patronage projects currently are in vogue, but their star is falling. You cannot credibly claim that unions will make any LA-SF project cost $100B, because Mr. Bond Market is about to have a mountain comes to Mohammed moment. At some point the market for rational projects will reopen for a few decades, like it does from time to time.

Elon Musk is just the man to make it happen. He already killed the Space Shuttle program and its standing army of $1B/yr payroll patronage jobs. Extending that to other projects is a matter of will and personality.


> [Elon Musk] already killed the Space Shuttle program and its standing army of $1B/yr payroll patronage jobs.

What did Musk have to do with Space Shuttle program cancellation? I thought it collapsed under its own weight - disasters, costs, slowness etc. Please provide links if any.


SpaceX was running an entire rocket development program for the price of one Shuttle launch. When they kept hitting their performance/schedule targets, the Shuttle lost all credibility within NASA. It's hard to predict a past that did not happen, but the Shuttle would probably have been kept going for longer if there has been no alternative waiting in the wings.


The Florida highway through the Keys dates to the 1930s and the NYC Catskill aqueduct to roughly 1916 - those are certainly great projects but aren't the last fifty.

Largely agree with the rest of your comment though :)


Parent was specifically referring to the no. 3 aqueduct for NYC, which was started in the 1960s: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City_Water_Tunnel_No....

Also, the highway through the Keys has seen very large infrastructure improvements over the last few decades, so while not a new project it is a significant civil engineering effort.


Daniel_Newby is likely referring to the third aqueduct tunnel, under construction for ~40 years now. It's not small: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_City_Water_Tunnel_No._...


Unions exist for a reason. Consider another large scale transportation project: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Panama_Canal


Thank god unions protect us from malaria. /s

The death toll during the (later) American phase of construction was dramatically lower, not because of unions. Here is the article you are looking for: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Health_measures_during_the_cons...

The "union solution" would have been to not dig the damn thing at all.


I'm with you that Musk seems to have ignored the human factor when estimating the cost or even the feasibility of the project.

But think about how many aspects of our lives it would revolutionize. Simple example: can you imagine what would happen to the SF real estate market if it suddenly had to compete with the LA real estate market? If talented people who live in LA could suddenly commute to and from companies in SF?

And that's just real estate.


I would say any stop in between the two cities would have a large spike in growth, as they suddenly become viable commuter communities, much like how suburban towns on the east coast grew out of proximity to regional rail lines. Suddenly a little rural truck stop town like Lost Hills becomes a viable commuting suburb.


That's probably true. I could see far more impact in places like that, say, Santa Monica or Irvine.


A number of years ago a friend gave me a coffee mug that read: "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?".

I eventually threw it away. Every time I saw it I was reminded of the huge chasm between ideas and their realization. Sure, if you knew you could not fail you'd do anything. "What would you do if you were Superman?. Same thing. Things are different in the real world.

So, how would LA/SFO change if we had Star Trek transporters?

Not sure. My guess is, not much. SFO real estate is about living in SFO. Just like Santa Monica real estate is about living there. The same being true about Beverly Hills or Hollywood.

The HUGE problem something like the Hyperloop has to deal with are the stations. You can't declare that you are going to have one every ten miles. The real world doesn't work that way. If I have to drive an hour to get to downtown Los Angeles (a place I personally avoid as much as possible) it is nearly a deal-breaker for me. Not interested. I'd rather get on a plane in Burbank.

The nature of Los Angeles is that the talented people you are referring to don't all live within biking distance of a Hyperloop station. Los Angeles talent is seriously dispersed all over the place. I know people who would be interested in working at SpaceX yet don't pursue it because it would take them two hours to get there in real-world traffic and they can't move because their kids go to good schools where they live.

Ultimately, I think that anyone who wants to work in SFO needs to move there or to a surrounding city.

I insist that cargo is where high speed rail belongs in our country. I don't see it happening for passenger transport.


>>A number of years ago a friend gave me a coffee mug that read: "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?". I eventually threw it away. Every time I saw it I was reminded of the huge chasm between ideas and their realization. Sure, if you knew you could not fail you'd do anything.

Well, no. You would not do anything. You would only do the things that the prospect of failure is currently stopping you from doing. The underlying idea is that things can be worth doing even if you end up failing at them. In fact, this is an idea Elon Musk embraces very closely. He has admitted in interviews that when he starts pursuing an idea, he knows that the most likely result is failure. Yet he pursues it anyway. The end result is that we have PayPal and Tesla and SpaceX.

>>The nature of Los Angeles is that the talented people you are referring to don't all live within biking distance of a Hyperloop station.

They don't all have to live within biking distance of a Hyperloop station. It is sufficient even if only some of them do. That's still several thousand talented people you're talking about.

Furthermore, you are not considering the economics of it very thoroughly. Flying from LA to SF currently takes 3+ hours. You drive to the airport, go through security, board the plane, deal with occasional delays, and then when you get to your destination you have to wait for luggage. On top of this, it costs around $100.

Consider an alternative involving Hyperloop. Even if you live within 30 minute driving distance of it, you would still get to SF in a little over an hour and for only $20.


I think I'm going to have to go over michaelochurch's article again on unions and bloc voting power, which are very relevant to these ideas:

http://michaelochurch.wordpress.com/2013/08/01/statistics-co...


Good article, until I realized he was setting-up to make an argument for software and hardware engineers unionizing. I did enjoy the first part though.

To be clear, I am not one to say that unions are not necessary. I think they most definitely are in a number of industries. I am also not saying that union membership is evil in any way. A good deal of union workers are nice hard working people who are only after stability and a decent wage in their lives. Nothing wrong with that.

The problem is that our unions have become monsters that have gobbled-up massive amounts of resources to the point of bankrupting companies and cities and making every US taxpayer liable for the benefits they have extracted. Union leadership AND the industry or government representatives they sit down to negotiate with are the evil in the system.

And, yet again, I am not sure I can even place the blame on union representatives. What's their job? To extract as many benefits as possible from the employers to the benefit of the membership. They do, and have done, that very well.

So maybe it is a case of a set of systems that have taken an optimization almost to the highest possible level and, as a result, caused a paradox of sorts: At the limit, making things better for members ends-up making things worst because they can cause irreparable damage not just to the company or entity they work for but the the entire "ecosystem" (the town, city or country) that supports them.

In other words, the optimization kills the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Unions need to learn to be better citizens and to truly understand and partner with businesses. Then, and only then, everyone wins.


> Unions need to learn to be better citizens and to truly understand and partner with businesses. Then, and only then, everyone wins.

There's two sides to this coin. Businesses don't have a very good track record of treating their employees well without some outside influence like government or unions.

By the way, this comment here reads very differently from and much more reasonably than your "the goal of union leadership is to extract as much as they can out of the businesses they infect, even if this means their demise" rhetoric in the first comment.


> By the way, this comment here reads very differently from and much more reasonably than your

Yes, it does. I have no love for unions as they stand today. Tis comes both from personal experience at several levels. I was in a union for a few years and saw the innards of the beast first hand. I saw that the rules they put into place allowed lazy, incompetent and almost useless people earn a wage they did not deserve by any possible measure. I saw management poweless when dealing with such employees, wanting to fire them to hire a worthy replacement and not being able to.

Later in life as I launched into entrepreneurship I dealt with the other side of unions. I got to see just how efficiency, productivity and profit-sapping their rules are. I got to see the dehumanizing and almost surreal culture it develops. Example:

Javitz Convention Center, New York. Asked a union guy to hand me a cord so I could, in turn, hand it to the union electrician working on my booth. The guy refused, "not in my union contract" and walked off. The union electrician told me the I could not handle the powe cord. You know, an extension you buy at Home Depot for $30, nothing special. He had to get down from his ladder to get the extension. He also went out of his way to do it as slowly as he could.

I also saw an entire union crew drop everything amd leave this guy hanging and in fear for his exhibit when he dared to plug a cord into the electrical system in his booth. He was a newbie to unionized US trade shiow crews. They were teaching him a lesson, showing him who the alpha dog was. I had a talk with the poor fellow and shared some of my insight. Several hours later they returned, he apologized and they went to work.

I have never experienced anything even remotely similar to this in Europe in over ten years of doing business with their unions in various countries. If anything they've always gone out of their way to help and get the job done quickly and efficiently. In other words, by American standards you would not have guessed that these European workers were unionized.

So, yes, I do think that our unions, as currently realized and run have been damaging our businesses, towns, cities, schools and the entire country for decades. That does not mean I am proposing they be dissolved or that they have no place in our society, not at all.


Part of the problem is that by European standards, unions in the US have been treated as pariahs for a century or more, and been fought relentlessly, whereas in Europe, parties supported by unions have been in power for lengthy periods in lots of countries.

US unions won tremendous concessions early on, at horrible costs to their members (a lot of blood was shed) - they were instrumental in laying the ground work for the 8 hour working day (and most of the world celebrate May Day in their honour, and in commemoration of the Haymarket Massacre), but unlike Europe where the workers movement continue to grow in influence and eventually effectively won a place at the table supported by governments friendly to their causes that forced business to learn to work with unions in a completely different way, the antagonism just kept escalating in the US.

If you treat people like shit long enough, they'll do their best to live up to the image you portray of them.


> Cost is probably off by an order of magnitude, if not more. Why? Unions and other groups.

If this was done right, why would the unions would be involved with anything other than the pylons?




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