By Timothy Shotts
The summer of 2013 was an exciting time for the discussion of what the future of high-speed transit in the United States will look like. California signed a $1B contract to install the first section of high speed rail (HSR) between Madera and Fresno (Tutor Perini Corporation Copyright Business Wire 2013) and Elon Musk offered his counter-proposal to California's HSR with his vision of the Hyperloop (http://www.teslamotors.com/blog/hyperloop). Musk's proposal states that California's plan is too costly and too slow. The Hyperloop concept places 28 people in a pod and launches them through a steel tube at up to 760 mph.
I agree with Musk that we have the potential to have the best high speed transit in the world. What he does not address in his proposal is what a Hyperloop station will be or how a pod will be designed to allow passengers to handle the acceleration. I envision the Hyperloop station being located downtown in major cities with the terminal above height of most buildings. This would allow the Hyperloop tubes to have a straight shot out of the city and the pods to spend more time at top speed. I also imagine that the pods will be furnished similar to private jets with two rows of seats separated by a central walkway, and to mitigate the stresses of acceleration, the seats will recline based on the forces experienced.
In Musk's proposal, he suggests welding lengths of steel pipe to make the tube. Contrary to that, I foresee the tubes being made of a transparent or translucent material and lengths of tube being joined at the pylon support. This would have many advantages. It would eliminate the need to ship pre-made tubes. Pre-made tubes have the problem of having adhere to size restrictions for shipping. Also, by utilizing an emerging technology, continuous sections of tube can be fabricated by large scale 3D printers on site. This would allow spools of material to be easily shipped to build the tubes. It would also allow the tube to be optimized for strength and material use based on its location on the route.
Another problem I have with Musk's Hyperloop proposal is the pods. They have no view to the outside. There may be nothing much to see while zipping through the tube at 760 mph, but there will be time spent in the capsule after loading but prior to getting shot through the tube. Also, I believe the seating will be dynamic to account for the positive and negative acceleration that the passengers experience during the trip. To prevent blood rushing to the heads of passengers, seats may start the trip facing backwards and arrive at their destination facing forward.
Other questions I intend on answering in my master’s thesis are how to market a radical transportation system to the public, address NIMBY issues, determine where gaps in the current transit system are and how the Hyper loop will fill them, and who will benefit from the Hyper loop.