Hyperloop is just an expensive train in a tube — why’s everyone so excited?

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Earlier this week, everyone was banging on about Virgin Hyperloop, the train in a tube that’ll supposedly be able to hit speeds of 1,000 kph (620 mph) when it’s finished.

More specifically, everyone seemed pretty pumped that it had managed to perform its first test run with two real-life human passengers. But I’d like to step back for a moment, and ask us to take a big reality check before we consider just how notable a milestone this is.

Let’s put it into context.

This Virgin Hyperloop test hit a top speed of just 48.07 meters  per second, that’s 107 mph and it traveled 395 meters. In this day and age, that’s not really far or fast.

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Hyperloop is effectively a magnetic levitation (maglev) train in a vacuum tube. As its name suggests, maglev technology suspends trains in concrete tracks using electromagnets so it’s floating on air. Magnets are also used to propel the train forward by exploiting the fact that North and South poles repel each other.

Maglev trains are already some of the fastest trains in the world, and can hit speeds in excess of 370 mph. A Japanese made maglev train managed to hit a record-breaking 370 mph for just over 10 seconds back in 2016.

Maglev trains aren’t exactly new technology, either. They’ve been travelling at crazy speeds for decades. In the late 1970s maglev trains were hitting speeds comfortably above 300 mph and were doing it with the capability of carrying hundreds of passengers, not two.

What’s more, unless passenger pods can seat hundreds at a time, Hyperloop won’t be accessible to the masses and it won’t be cheap. That turned out real well for Concorde didn’t it?

Estimates have suggested that building a Hyperloop-like system between LA and San Francisco (about 400 miles) will cost in excess of $7 billion to build. That sounds like a fairly conservative estimate given that the Eurostar line from London to Paris (about 300 miles) cost around $5 billion — which was 80% more than expected, let’s hope Hyperloop isn’t foul of the same miscalculation.

Credit: Wikimedia – CC

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