$10B vs $68B – Hyperloop must surely force a review of California rail plans

I thought Elon Musk was pretty smart to announce that his Hyperloop idea costs $6 billion for people-carrying pods, and $10 billion for pods that also carry cars. Since California’s high speed rail proposal is projected to initially cost $68 billion, this should force, at minimum, a review of the Hyperloop proposal.

Not that it matters, because there is no way it’s going to happen in the next 5 years. But by god I hope I’m wrong, because the Hyperloop idea is so cool.

The main reason I believe Hyperloop won’t happen anytime too soon is because it’s not an incremental technology change – but rather it’s a proposal of an entirely new technological system. Entire systems simply can’t be implemented overnight.  Systems, by definition, require a lot of modules. And a radical new system such as Hyperloop requires the design of too many modules to implement in one go.

One could argue that the modules already exist, and only incremental changes are needed in those modules to make Hyperloop happen. Air compressors exist, linear induction drives exist, and I’m guessing above-ground tube technology exist. But it seems to me that there still need to be a lot of changes made to all those modules to support Hyperloop.

Think about the modern car. Do you think a top-rate engineering firm could design a modern car such as the Toyota Prius hybrid, in 1920? No way. A million engineering puzzles have been solved since the introduction of the motorcar in order to enable the complex piece of technology that is the modern car.

I also think that there aren’t a whole lot of city-pairs in the world that could use Hyperloop. LA-SF seems particularly well suited due to the desert and farms that lie between the two cities via I-5.

Having said all that, I can very much imagine China implementing this. They are always looking to have a high-tech advantage to showcase their technology. And since Elon Musk open-sourced the plans, they’ve gotten a headstart. So I say build it China! And you can sell it to the world when you have it working nice and smooth. And I bet it might just well cost under $70 billion.

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