My conclusion: It's a great idea, and we should start working on it today.
Because most of the initial objections to the plan are lame. They could have been--and no doubt were--said for all major transportation systems.
- "The $6 billion cost estimate is not realistic." Yes, the Hyperloop will probably cost many times as much as Musk says it will. If so, it will still be relatively cheap. The new "high speed" train California wants to build is supposed to cost about $70 billion, and that estimate is no doubt absurdly low, too.
- "Some of the technologies have not yet been fully worked out." Of course they haven't. You could say the same for any ambitious technology project. That's not a reason not to start trying to work them out.
- "There will be challenges acquiring the necessary land and permits." Of course there will be challenges--these and other ones. Just as there were challenges acquiring the necessary land for our Interstate and other road systems, train systems, airports, telecommunications and electricity infrastructure, and other projects. If a necessary prerequisite for any project is that there not be any "challenges," nothing would ever get built.
- "It might not be completely safe--California is an earthquake zone." Of course it won't be completely safe. No mode of transportation is completely safe. Tens of thousands of people die in car accidents every year. Planes crash. Boats sink. Buses tumble off mountain roads. People will almost certainly die on the Hyperloop. But that means it will be just like every other transportation system.
- "There will be political opposition." Of course there will be political opposition. There is political opposition to everything. But sometimes, miraculously, stuff actually gets done.
- "It will probably cost a lot more than $20 to ride." Yes, it probably will cost more than $20. But driving, flying, or taking the train between L.A. and San Francisco will also cost you a lot more than $20. And those things take a heck of a lot longer. And unlike most of those methods of transportation, the Hyperloop will have very low operational costs (most of the cost is in the infrastructure). And that means that "peak" pricing could be much higher, while off-peak is a steal.
- "It will be a terrorist target, and it will be easier to blow up than planes." Almost certainly true! Terrorists will no doubt try to smuggle bombs aboard Hyperloop capsules and blow them up while they're whooshing along at 760mph. Other terrorists will try to blow up Hyperloop pipes in the hope that a few capsules will go flying out at 760mph. And, someday, some terrorist will probably successfully disable the Hyperloop. But the same can be said for terrorists and planes, trains, buses, boats, and cars. And people still ride in those things.
- "It might not be viable, so it might be a waste of money." Of course it might not be viable and might therefore be a waste of money. We might get to the prototype phase and then discover that the costs are actually prohibitive or one of the key technologies actually can't be developed. We might discover that people might not care enough about getting from San Francisco to L.A. in 35 minutes to allow the Hyperloop to charge enough to operate profitably. (If this happened, then the Hyperloop really would be like other transportation systems--Amtrak, for example). But all projects might not work. All projects might be a waste of money. That's why investing is risky. Again, if a requirement of any project be that it has to work, nothing would ever get done.
In short, all of those objections are the same sort of objections that you hear any time you suggest doing anything. None of them are obviously a good reason not to start work on the Hyperloop.
At the same time, there are many excellent reasons to start work immediately:
- The Hyperloop would be the first truly revolutionary new transportation system in half a century.
- The Hyperloop could radically change the time and cost equation for travel and transport between nearby cities.
- Hyperloop technology, once perfected, could be sold and deployed worldwide.
- The Hyperloop would create lots of jobs, from technology to manufacturing to construction to operation.
- The Hyperloop would deploy some of the hoarded capital that is currently rotting away in corporate bank accounts, thus recirculating it into the economy.
- The Hyperloop is an exciting, inspiring project that would command the attention of the world for years. Don't underestimate the impact of this. People get excited about things that are cool, especially as they become reality.
Is the Hyperloop actually technically feasible and would it work the way Elon Musk says it will work?
I have no idea. I'm not an engineer.
But so far, I have not heard any engineer say that what Musk describes is impossible. And a lot of what Musk has already accomplished in his lifetime might once have been described as "basically impossible" -- and that hasn't stopped it from happening.
So, come on, entrepreneurs and financiers! Let's make the Hyperloop happen!
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