Hyperloop – Future of High Speed Travel?

HyperloopThe recent announcement by the billionaire businessman – Elon Musk on design plans for the ‘Hyperloop’ transport system could well be one of the prototypes in the future of high speed travel. Elon Musk, who is best known as the founder of PayPal, Space X and more recently for bringing out the all electric car – Tesla X, set the media buzz when he claimed a few months back that he had plans for building the super-fast ‘pneumatic’ tube transport system which could cover the distance of 615 Km between Los Angels (LA) to San Francisco (SF) just under 30 min at speeds of over 1000 Km/hr and even higher for longer distances.

The plan envisions using magnets and fans to shoot capsules floating on a cushion of air through a long tube. Notwithstanding the feasibility of the project, Musk has so far only proposed a design under an ‘open source’ model for others to improve upon. Musk’s idea is most likely to remain in cold storage as he has only made vague references about any plans for executing the $6 billion project between LA-SF route on his own. And yet the project could, according to him, potentially cost less than 1/10th the cost of the proposed $70 billion high speed rail between the same busy Los Angels – San Fransisco route.

Fact or Fiction?

Sci-Fi as this whole idea might sound, but the fact is that this concept isn’t really new. As in the case of the electric car, where the technology has existed for decades, the big car companies in collusion with the corporate oil giants have repeatedly shelved such projects in favour of gas guzzling cars that account for a big chunk of CO2 emissions annually (See: Who Killed the Electric Car?).

For eg., a Colorodo based open source type company called ET3 (Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies) had in the late 90’s already proposed a model somewhat similar to what Musk is now proposing. This model proposes a fully automated evacuated tube under vacuum which could transport 6 seater capsules and propel it via magnetic levitation to speeds ranging between 600 Km/h to upto 6000 Km/h depending on the distances, faster than any other mode of transportation known today. A distance of say 4000 km could in theory be covered within 45 min!

As innovators of this model describe, it would literally be ‘space travel on Earth’ referring to speeds that can only be achieved in outer space without the problem of air drag that most vehicles experience on the ground. This model, its developers claim, can be build at 1/10th the cost of a high speed railway with existing technologies, can exceed the capacity of a 32 lane highway and cost per ticket would eventually be less than ‘1 penny per mile’ (or less than Re. 1 per km). The entire tube system could be powered by a clean energy source and less prone to accident when compared to conventional modes of transport. The company is planning to start a 3 mile (5 Km) test by the end of 2013 to demonstrate the feasibility of its design. (For technical details, see the article in the Journal of Modern Transportation – Why ET3?)

Technology Under Capitalism

That said and done, neither the Hyperloop nor ET3 seem anywhere close at present to attaining their ultimate objective in the near horizon. Most likely, such innovative ideas will remain shackled due to lack of funding as the market forces will never be easily reconciled to something that could so radically shift gears and also affect profit margins of major corporations.

This also begs to bring in another issue that neither ET3 nor Hyperloop will ever be able to address – job losses in the existing transport industries. Under capitalism, if ET3/ hyperloop like transportation system were to be widely adapted, it would result in job losses in existing transportation industry like in the railways. This would be unacceptable to many working people in these sectors whose livelihoods already stands threatened in the face of neo-liberal assault.

And this is were the contradiction of capitalism lies. Real progress and technological breakthroughs that can herald mankind on a development path never before imagined are only being held back as a result of this outmoded profiteering system based on the exploitation of working class. The very technologies such as computers, automaton, robotics etc., which could potentially lessen the working day and eventually replace the drudgery of labour, are being used to threaten the livelihoods of millions of workers.

Only under a Democratic Socialist system, can innovative designs like ET3 be part of a whole array of public transport system that is cost effective, environmentally friendly and eventually phase out all the fossil fuel burning vehicles. Technology, instead of being subservient to the capitalist agenda, can really be used to raise the standard of living for everyone on this planet. At the same time, sustainable use of resources and appropriate use of technology will hold the key in restoring the natural ecological balance that today stands on the brink of collapse if current trends continue.

1 Comment

Comments are closed.