Even if Hyperloop fails, public transport will win

One hundred and fifty teams from around the world entered the third SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition. Of those, 25 made it to the company’s weeklong event in Hawthorne, California. And like the prior years’ events under the Southern California sun, after days of testing and dry runs, only a select few were chosen to do a proper vacuum-sealed run down the 1.25 kilometer track.

It’s been four years since SpaceX, Tesla and Boring Company CEO Elon Musk dropped his white paper about the Hyperloop: a vacuum-sealed tube-based transportation system that would get passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in a mind-boggling 30 minutes. Since then, a few companies have taken up the mantle to make Musk’s idea a reality. Perhaps more intriguing than entrepreneurs tackling the Hyperloop are the student teams that SpaceX has gathered together to solve the pod problem.

This year at the rocket-building company’s pod-building competition, the name of the game was speed. Whichever team was able to propel its pod down the track the quickest would walk away with a trophy signed by Musk and bragging rights.

The rules for the event were simple. The fastest pod on the 1.25 kilometer vacuum-sealed track wins. But not all 25 teams made it that far. The SpaceX engineers and judges ran a battery of tests for technology and safety on the vehicles to determine if they were worthy of time in the tube. Only three teams made it to the finals.

The winning team was the Warr team, from the Technical University of Munich, who pulled an impressive run reaching just over 200 miles per hour. But the team did it without fancy maglevs or air bearings. Instead, the small pod was powered by a 50-kW motor and held steady on the track by high-speed bearings and aluminum wheels. It was essentially a bullet-train-shaped electric car. “We focused on a lightweight design that accelerates really quick in the tube,” Manfred Schwarz told Engadget ahead their run at the event.

Schwartz still believes that the future of Hyperloop involves maglev, though. But for a student trying to win a competition and catch the eye of potential sponsors (building pods is expensive), it really comes down to creating a pod that works best for the given situation.

In stark contrast to the small missile built by Warr was the entry built by the Paradigm team. It used the opportunity to try out its air bearings (which the team says reduces the force necessary to propel its pod by 80 percent) and lateral movement technology. The 1,800-pound (yeah, it was huge) pod posted a very respectable speed of about 60 miles per hour during a run that involved using a vehicle provided by SpaceX called a “pusher” to get it up to speed.

Meanwhile, the Swissloop team used a jet-propulsion system to get its pod going with a great whoosh. Its entry got up to about 25 miles per hour after they were initially unable to connect to the pod after it was placed on the track. They pulled the vehicle out of the tube, swapped batteries and resumed their test.

The thing is, currently there’s no “right way” to get the hyperloop going. Hyperloop One, a commercial endeavor, conducted tests in July where its XP-1 pod hit 190 miles per hour with a maglev system. That’s the accepted future of the transportation system. Even Schwarz thinks that’s the long-term goal. Unfortunately, building a maglev system is expensive. Add that to the already Herculean task of building a series of vacuum-sealed tubes between destinations and the economics of the Hyperloop become the system’s largest obstacle.

Which brings us back to the pod competition at the SpaceX headquarters. Here students are figuring how to build systems on limited budgets and making tough decisions as to what they’ll focus on for each competition. Musk put out the idea and companies like Hyperloop One jumped on it focusing on the SpaceX CEO’s vision, but these teams, they’re looking at it from thousands of different directions.

Understandably, sometimes an initial idea needs some tweaking before it’s truly ready to take on the world. That’s where the Hyperloop Pod Competition shines. No two pods are the same and that’s exactly what this emerging technology needs. It needs teams of very smart people trying out insane ideas. Not every concept will yield something worthy, but at the very least it’s one more thing to tick off the “that doesn’t work” list.

While the original idea was for Musk to put his Hyperloop concept out there and let the world figure it out, the CEO’s latest grand scheme — the Boring Company — might need the Hyperloop or something similar to become a reality. Those sleds with cars on them need propulsion and braking systems, and that’s what the college teams are focusing on. So it’s unsurprising that another Hyperloop Pod Competition is slated for next year.

Maybe the Hyperloop will live up to the hype and passengers will be whisked from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes via maglev pods in a few decades. But even if we never erect tubes up and down the countryside, what’s happening at these events could be applied to other transportation systems and that’s more important than any one man’s idea.



Something we can all agree on

By Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney
Washington Times

Improving our country’s roads, bridges, tunnels and rail systems is a basic function of our government that has traditionally been supported by both parties. By investing in infrastructure, we not only repair deteriorating bridges, roads and tunnels, but also strengthen our communities and speed up commerce. It is one of the best ways to generate economic growth and create good paying jobs nationwide. As our country struggles with slow growth, I believe it is the right time for the federal government to make a significant investment in infrastructure.

In the New York Metropolitan area, and regions like it across the U.S., mass transit is how we commute. More than half of New Yorkers take mass transit to work, and one of the mass transit projects most in need of federal funding is the Second Avenue Subway.

After a century of planning, the first of four phases of the Second Avenue Subway opened this past January 1st to great fanfare and celebration. Since its opening, property values along the route have risen, most local business along the route report growth, and ridership has skyrocketed.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) says that 176,000 people use this subway route each day, an increase of more than 50,000 since it opened for revenue service eight months ago. To meet this demand, the MTA announced that it would be adding two additional trains.

The success of the Second Avenue Subway’s first phase is evidence that we need to finish the job and extend this line north to 125th Street in Harlem and south to Hanover Square. New Yorkers are using mass transit more than ever, with weekday subway ridership at its highest levels since 1948. As crowded subway cars grow more packed, would-be passengers are often left standing on the platform, watching several trains pass them by before they can squeeze on. With this kind of demand, expansion of the system is critical.

Although New York has more subway stations than any system in the world, our city suffers from “transit deserts” — areas that lack mass transit options. For example, the far east side of Manhattan has no subway, and the Lexington Avenue line, the closest option, is regularly derided as the most overcrowded subway in the nation. There truly is a limit to the number of people who can cram into a subway car. We need to address this issue by completing the Second Avenue Subway to benefit people along the entire route, and improving signaling so more trains can run on overcrowded lines.

New York City is not the only city in our country with transit deserts. States and cities across the country are in desperate need of transit improvements and expansions. Fortunately, mass transit development projects are some of the best investments we can make. They create jobs during construction and after completion. They take cars off the road, relieving congestion and improving the environment, and they make it easier for people to get to work, or just get around town, rather than being forced to turn down work because of an impossible commute.

The fact of the matter is that federal funding is critical to any project as big and complex as the Second Avenue Subway. With utility cables and water pipes buried under New York’s streets, and other subway tunnels already built, new subway construction is forced deep underground to avoid the older tunnels and any disruption to the electric and water grids. Phase 1 cost approximately $4.5 billion and it wouldn’t have gotten done without the $1.3 billion in federal funding that I helped secure. The subsequent phases are likely to be at least as expensive. But it will be well worth the investment when you consider the jobs and economic growth that it will generate.

Now is the time for our country to complete the full Second Avenue Subway and invest in similar transit projects across the country. New transit will be used by millions of people, bring economic opportunities to areas that have been overlooked, reach neighborhoods that have lacked transportation alternatives, and take people where they want to go. The economic growth and quality of life improvements that come with infrastructure development make it one of the best investments our country can make — and that is something we all, Democrats and Republicans, can agree on.

• Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, New York Democrat, is Ranking Member on the House Joint Economic Committee and serves on the House Committee on Financial Services and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.

Chicago in minutes? Columbus named as finalist for Hyperloop

Columbus has been named one of 10 international finalists to house Hyperloop One, the high-speed transportation network.

Hyperloop One is a worldwide challenge to create a transportation system that moves both people and products quickly. The Hyperloop transports pods of people and goods through a tube — traveling 671 miles per hour. The pods could travel from Columbus to Chicago in 29 minutes. The pod could also travel to Pittsburgh from Columbus in 18 minutes.

The other finalists in the U.S. are: Dallas-Laredo-Houston; Cheyenne-Denver-Pueblo, and; Miami-Orlando. Non-U.S. finalists include Toronto-Montreal; Mexico City-Guadalajara; Edinburgh-London; Mumbai-Chennai, and; Bengaluru-Chennai.

Tired of commuting between his Dublin home and Chicago office, Tim Powell is excited about how Hyperloop One could help him — but he has lots of questions.

“Is it safe? Would I throw up?” Powell, 45, asked.

Powell and central Ohio inched closer Thursday to getting to Chicago in 29 minutes using the tube transportation touted by Hyperloop One. The company selected the Chicago-to-Columbus-to-Pittsburgh suggested route as one of 10 international finalists.

The company issued a challenge, seeking the best place to build the new mode of transportation. Initially, 2,600 private-public partnerships registered from 100 countries to try to convince Hyperloop One they were the best place for the project.

Hyperloop One seeks to build something like a pneumatic tube that can move pods of people or goods at speeds up to 671 miles per hour. That means trips to and from Pittsburgh would take 18 minutes and the 360-mile trip to and from Chicago could take 29 minutes. The idea is to provide the capacity of a train at the speed of a plane.

That would be ideal for Powell who lives in Dublin with his wife and three children. A consultant to food service and restaurant companies, Powell spends about 40 percent of his time in a Chicago office. When there, it takes him 45-90 minutes to drive seven miles from where he stays to that Downtown Chicago office, far longer than the projected 29-minute commute from Columbus using Hyperloop.

“That would be awesome. I’d take that in a second,” Powell said. “If it’s 29 minutes, I could go home every night. That would be a huge convenience.”

Still, Powell is concerned about the overall cost of building the system that would link the three cities and their millions in population. He wonders if individual tickets will be comparable to airfare, and he’s particularly curious about how passengers will be protected.

“I’d also want to know the safety of … going 671 miles per hour in a tube,” Powell said.

There aren’t answers to many of his questions. The price of the system is unknown as is how it will be paid for and when it will be completed.

Thursday’s finalist selection is the latest transportation win for Columbus.

Last year, Columbus beat out 77 other cities to win the Smart Cities challenge. It came with $50 million in grants and aims to create a smart transportation system where vehicles and roads communicate with each other, and technology is used to make travel easier, more efficient and cleaner.

“Our goal is to better connect Columbus to the world and we think this helps us do that,” said William Murdoch, executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, which made the local proposal to Hyperloop One.

MORPC also projects the area’s population will grow by 500,000 to 1 million by 2050, noting those people and the goods they will use need efficient, improved and effective transportation.

“The growing region that we are is not afraid to look at our future,” Murdoch said.

One of the reasons Hyperloop One made the Chicago-to-Columbus-Pittsburgh route a finalist is the strong public-private partnerships created across the four states.

Such a route, Hyperloop One believes, could create a “megaregion” that includes 181 universities, 15 professional sports teams and a greatly expanded pool of talent from which employers could choose.

“We have three major regions that aren’t connected now,” Murdoch said. “Why would you not want to connect the fastest growing city in the Midwest with the largest city in the Midwest?”

The mayors of Columbus, Pittsburgh and Chicago and Ohio Gov. John Kasich praised the announcement.

The 10 finalists now must meet with Hyperloop One to explore implementation.

The other U.S. finalists are Dallas-Laredo-Houston; Cheyenne-Denver-Pueblo, and Miami-Orlando.

Non-U.S. finalists are Toronto-Montreal; Mexico City-Guadalajara; Edinburgh-London; Glasgow to Liverpool; Mumbai-Chennai, and Bengaluru-Chennai.

Dayton Daily News