The Real Justification for Hyperloop

Elon Musk
Elon Musk

The justification for hyperloop technology is almost invariably to do with moving passengers at high speed from city center to city center. This is, of course, an admirable goal, but I think that it misses the point.

Most conventional transportation improvement projects involve adding either more lanes to existing roads, building news roads or installing new railroad track. Given that real estate is almost always limited, such projects invariably lead to strong community pushback, litigation and extensive delays.

The beauty of hyperloop systems is that they can be installed in the third dimension, either as tubes placed over the medians of existing freeways or in tunnels. Hence the real estate impact is minimal compared to conventional projects. If the system also whisks people from point A to point B at high speeds, that is great — but is a secondary benefit.

Elon Musk spelled out this justification in his original 2012 White Paper,

The key advantages of a tube vs. a railway track are that it can be built above the ground on pylons and it can be built in prefabricated sections that are dropped in place and joined with an orbital seam welder. By building it on pylons, you can almost entirely avoid the need to buy land by following alongside the mostly very straight California Interstate 5 highway, with only minor deviations when the highway makes a sharp turn.

(For Interstate 5 substitute the congested freeway in your community.)

So the justification for hyperloop is not that it moves people quickly but that the system can be built quickly.

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