Flutterby™! : Hyperloop

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2013-08-12 23:21:53.803401+00 by Dan Lyke 10 comments

Elon Musk and crowd are pitching us on the Hyperloop. We could snark, like @YApplebaum did: "This is either Elon Musk's Hyperloop, or Alfred Ely Beach's 1867 Pneumatic Railway. I get confused.", or we could run some numbers.

Much of the handwaving that happens in the PDF uses the tiny diameter of the vehicles as the selling point. Lines like "The small diameter of the Hyperloop tube should keep tunneling costs to a far more reasonable level than traditional automotive and rail tunnels." are easy ways to say "your objections are invalid because you're making an apples to oranges comparison" when we pull out the easy numbers.

Which is the only way one can keep a straight face reading statements like "Tunneling cost estimations are estimated at $50 million per mile."

So, what's smaller? Well, this sounds a lot like a gas pipeline. Huh. The Underground Construction Magazine 2012 Pipeline Construction Report says that they're running $200K-300K/inch-mile for pipes in the 24" to 36" range, so let's assume that scales, and we get $17.6M to $26.4M/mile.

But that's for trench buried pipeline, we have to put this in the air, so let's look at prices for infrastructure in the air... looks like $2.6M-4M per mile (PDF), with five pylons per mile. The Hyperloop PDF claims 100' spacing, so 10x denser. But they're shorter. So I suspect we're looking at $13M-20M per mile additional.

So I'm looking at, call it $20M-45M/mile, they're claiming a bit under $16M (cost of tube only)/mile. Oooookay. And this thing's gonna power itself with photovoltaic cells on the top of the tube...

These prices also don't include the "Linear accelerators".

And that includes the aforementioned "Tunneling cost estimations are estimated at $50 million per mile ($31 million per km)" for 15.2 miles of the 382 or so that we're talking about less. But let's drill into that tunnelling price a bit: What other prices can we compare to? Devil's Slide... naw, that's a car tunnel, we have to throw that out, but there's a proposed Delta water tunnel. $23B for 35 miles, $657M/mile. Man, I'd like to know what their tunnelling technology is.

I suspect that, like most rail projects, this is going to result in some horrendously huge consulting/construction fees paid to contractors, with the public stuck with some huge debt defaults. Even if it doesn't get built.

And I'd let North Haverbrook build it first...

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comments in ascending chronological order (reverse):

#Comment Re: made: 2013-08-12 23:30:00.262711+00 by: Dan Lyke

See also: Foa, Joseph V. An introduction to project tubeflight, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, 1966.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-08-12 23:38:58.169093+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

RT Mike Monteiro @Mike_FTW

Because California's biggest problem is that celebrities and venture capitalists can't get to each others' offices quickly enough.

(To be fair, this is a valid criticism of the high speed rail boondoggle project too.)

#Comment Re: made: 2013-08-13 00:16:14.271644+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

Hyperloop microfiction: Paul Palubicki @paplikaplik

"Hyperloop was a one way trip: thousands would gather to see the tube launch car after car in high, lazy arcs into the Pacific."

RT Paul Palubicki @paplikaplik:

"Some cars would be painted to resemble gerbils. Children squealed and clapped their hands at every *thoomp* -- it was an age of magic."

Phil Wolff @evanwolf:

"Hyperloop was so fast I saw myself coming off the inbound car. I got in the first shot."

#Comment Re: made: 2013-08-13 11:49:12.652106+00 by: meuon

I can see where some new construction technique or process could bring some efficiency and cost saving to above/near ground construction. Underground is expensive.

http://disneybythenumbers.com/wdw/page68.html says that in 1970's, it cost approximately 1 million per mile to build the Disney Monorail system. One currency value calculator gives that between 4.2 and 9.5 million per mile today. Yes, that's for a monorail, but I've ridden it (40mph) and it gives me a reference. Could we build a 10x better Monorail/train for 100 million per mile? I would hope so.

Then the Hyperloop, a (near) vacuum system given in some detail at: http://www.spacex.com/sites/sp...les/hyperloop_alpha-20130812.pdf

My thoughts: scrap the passenger + vehicle idea, promote more alternative transport / public transport at each terminus, but I have to admit the cost difference is small enough for that to not be the issue but more "what is the right thing to do?" It's a technologically complex and very interdependent system, can it be built and maintained sanely and safely at scale?

I'd just double (or more) the proposed numbers for the bigger option: $15 Billion (7.5 x 2) and ask: Would it be worth it?

They cite .5 million people per year. Figure 10 years at that number is 5 million make a possible ticket worth: $3,000.00 just to cover the build-out, not the operations. Using the original 7.5 billion estimate, $1,500 per ticket. Again, just to pay for construction.

I certainly like the idea, it does not seem to have a societal return on investment or make conservative business sense.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-08-13 19:10:43.203499+00 by: Dan Lyke

David Levinson gives some thought to the issues with time constraints in the boarding and alighting problems:

#Comment Re: made: 2013-08-14 04:49:22.001137+00 by: Dan Lyke


#Comment Re: made: 2013-08-15 03:49:37.69485+00 by: Dan Lyke


#Comment Re: made: 2013-08-15 16:08:09.905791+00 by: Dan Lyke

Some calculations on the heat dissipation issues.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-08-19 18:16:23.500223+00 by: Dan Lyke [edit history]

Some good looks at the structural analysis:

This is my favorite part of the proposal because it's complete bullshit.

#Comment Re: made: 2013-11-01 22:33:50.174156+00 by: Dan Lyke

Elon Musk's 'hyperloop' gets new company:

... Galloway wants to revolutionize ground transport in the same way Concorde did for air transport.