Article By Astrid Zeppenfield
Back in May of 2015, CNN asked: “Why can’t America have high-speed trains?”. The article from May 4, 2015, concluded that, with the geography of this country being so vast, it does not lend itself to building an extensive rail system, except for in populated areas; think major East or West Coast cities.
The article compared the U.S. train systems to those in Japan and Western Europe. Both of those places have had quite a few “bullet trains” running successfully for several decades. I have taken the ICE or Intercity-Express train from Frankfurt to Cologne, which took a mere 76 minutes. By contrast, driving can take two, if not two and half hours, depending on traffic, even on the Autobahn. On the way back from the French Atlantic Coast last summer, I stopped in Paris at night. After my kids were done playing at the Jardins du Trocadéro, we started the drive back to Cologne. Having navigated our way out of the city, we arrived back in the Cologne area after a little over four and a half hours of driving time. In 2010, my then 2-year-old daughter and I took the Thalys on the same route, getting to
downtown Paris in three hours and a couple of minutes. And that is with the restrictions that the EU has put on the maximum speed of the Thalys, not allowing it to fully reach its speed potential of 300 km/hr.
Train travel still would not be any faster than taking a plane across the country. Certainly not any cheaper. But aside from the cost of traveling, according to CNN “the biggest barrier to improved rail service in the United States is simply the lack of political will.”
However, it looks like politics are shifting. In the United States, we are slowly seeing the benefit of high-speed trains, not just for transporting people from one place to another, but also for transporting products. The faster we can travel from one meeting to another, the more business deals we can accomplish in a shorter amount of time. The faster we can move our product to our customer, the more quickly our customer can start selling it or using our product in his own production line. All of which aids our economy. But as the old adage goes: You have to spend money to make money. So it took a little longer for governments to give the green light to companies to start building these technologically advanced systems.
Just a couple of weeks ago, on February 19, 2018, the American news and technology media network The Verge and others reported that Elon Musk had received preliminary authorization from the federal government to start construction for Hyperloop in Washington, D.C. The Boring Co. will start digging the tunnels to build a Hyperloop connecting Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City. Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop One is backing the development of the actual trains. BMW designed the seats in the train pods. Buckle up, America!
Hyperloop has been referred to as “Elon Musk’s fever-dream train-in-a-tube”. In fact, Elon Musk, Tesla and SpaceX’s CEO, first started talking about creating bullet trains like the ones in other parts of the world here in 2012. A year later, he had a white paper written on how these trains would be even faster and better than the ones currently running in other parts of the world. These new train pods would be completely solar-powered and not run on rails, but sort of hover over the ground. This would be accomplished by air pressure; think of the hockey puck on an air hockey table, only in the form of a bullet train and gliding so much faster, with the air coming out of the train, not the rails. Since submitting his original white paper, Musk has changed this idea to utilizing passive magnetic levitation instead of air pressure. These so-called Maglev trains date back to 1984 when the first commercial maglev train system started its operation in Birmingham, England. Japan had already been testing this technology for 15 years at that time but had not yet put a commercial route in place. Then the M-Bahn (short for Magnet Bahn – magnetic train) in Berlin, Germany, was opened in 1989, but deconstructed by 1992, due to its redundancy after the reunification. The third commercial maglev train in the world – The Shanghai Transrapid – started operating in 2004 in Shanghai, China. So the concept of magnetic levitation for the operation of public train systems is by no means new; in fact, the start of its development dates back to patents awarded in the very early 20th century.
More than 100 years after those first patents, the trains are set to be enclosed in tubes. Because speeding along a magnetic rail in little train pods by itself doesn’t seem futuristic enough. All kidding aside, the tubes can make these train systems incredibly efficient. They would be faster and require less energy to operate. One of the main reason to send the train pods through tubes is that the air can be all but vacuumed out, thereby creating as little air pressure, and – with that – resistance, as an airplane would encounter at about 200,000 feet altitude.
What does this mean for business right here in our front yard? Well, St. Louis, Columbia, and Kansas City are populated densely enough and enjoy enough business opportunities, that building a Hyperloop system connecting these cities would apparently be worth the cost. Worth it enough that the Missouri Department of Transportation has a team dedicated to working on it. The Hyperloop Missouri Team plans to connect these three cities, allowing you to travel from Kansas City to St. Louis in a mere 24.9 minutes. How does that compare to getting up at 3:00 in the morning to start driving at 4:00 am, just so you can be at your meeting across the state by 8:00 am? Not to mention the commute back in the evening, after you’ve crammed in another customer visit in addition to the meeting, just to justify the trip expense for that day.And you’re already saving the company money by not staying overnight in a hotel. And by not using air travel, which also takes a good 3 hours, with check-in procedures, security check, boarding, and actual flight time of 55 minutes.
Each way. Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?
Watch this incredible video of the Hyperloop in action.
Look for updates on Missouri’s very own Hyperloop in MM&E issues to come.