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Experts say slow down on US cities’ new hyperloop hype


Cleveland to Chicago in 28 minutes and New York to D.C. in 29?

New headlines proclaim that we’ve finally found the first U.S. landing spots for the hyperloop. But experts are saying not so fast.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, one of a couple established companies working to make the over-700 mph tube transit system a reality, recently announced a partnership with the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency and Illinois Department of Transportation to work on a first-in-the-U.S. Feasibility plan for installing a route between C-Town and the Windy City.

Sandwiched around this news is the buzz about Elon Musk, credited for inventing the idea of the hyperloop, being given government permission for his underground tunneling venture, The Boring Company, to begin drilling out a path for a hyperloop system between New York City and The Nation's Capital.

Exciting, right? Except for the fact that, well, the hyperloop itself doesn’t exactly exist yet.

Surprisingly, experts in the transportation industry, like University of San Francisco assistant professor Billy Riggs, say that doesn’t really have to matter in these kinds of planning projects.

"Cities plan five, 10 and even 30 years down the road, " Riggs explained. "It's not an anomaly that we start feasibility planning predicated on a the fact that we haven't totally tested a hyperloop pilot yet."

Shortly after the idea of the hyperloop was introduced in 2013, the main companies that took on the task of building the technology estimated full-size test tracks by 2018 and fully operational systems by 2020.

Riggs, at first glance of the technology, initially thought things would move a lot slower than that.

"I wasn't actually confident that the theory could be achieved in my lifetime," he admitted.

And since, through all the testing of the tech between then and now, systems still haven’t reached even half of the expected speeds or, better yet, transported a single passenger – he doesn’t have a great reason to change his mind yet and tends to believe that if these cities are only looking at hyperloop technology as longshot options among other, possibly more viable, public transit choices.

"From what I understand about what's being done right now, it's really that we're trying to gather information and understand the feasibility of these types of technologies as opposed to the other type of technologies that may be deployed," said Riggs.

"And if we were to start digging a tunnel tomorrow, it doesn't preclude us from deploying a different type of technology in that tunnel."

Noted transportation blogger and mathematician Alon Levy is convinced that, if efficiency is of more value than hype, then public transportation planners in the U.S. right now should and very well may wind up investing in the pretty-fast and already proven high-speed rail technology used abroad. (Watch Circa's coverage on the high-speed rail debate.)

"Chicago to Cleveland is 550 kilometers. It's something that high-speed rail could do in two hours," he proposed. "On a hyperloop, there's acceleration and deceleration, and you're not going at full speed anywhere in the Chicago builded areas. You're doing it in maybe, let's say, 45 minutes."

Levy said, throwing out the 28-minute trip and using his more realistic time calculations puts the Hyperloop only slightly more than an hour faster than high-speed rail. Comparing the two against an eight-hour Amtrak option, and building cost, of which he believes hyperloop will be far more, makes the choice easy.

"My guess is that people will standardize Maglev [magnetic levitation trains] just because it's being built right now," Levy said.

Bottom line, until you start seeing some hyperloop tests that are a lot more substantial – and soon – headlines like what we've been seeing in recent days shouldn’t be much to get hyped about.

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