Thursday, May 12, 2016

Hyperloop, hyper hype...

The current news is all abuzz about the [limited] demonstration of the new hyperloop project. On paper this sounds pretty interesting and as it is being done by (mostly?) private companies with their private money, more power to them.

I am sad to say that I don't think it will ever be deployed commercially. My reasons for my pessimism are:
  • NIMBY - This technology is basically a rail system, updated. It takes land to lay out the tube that this runs in. Think laying down a new freeway stretch. I see endless battles for easements and right of ways. Others will fight the addition of this "eye sore" that will spoil the value of their McManions and "blight" the area.
  • Environmentalists - I see endless court battles with the greenies over things like the habitat of the orange eyed, three toed, purple tree frog. Greenies do what greenies do. They oppose anything technology unless it is the "right" technology even if their "right" tech does more harm than good, cause it "feels good" to be on the side of Gaia!
  • Regulations - What started out as a "great idea" will get crushed under an endless stream of safety tests and local, state, and federal regulations involving everything from what plastic is used to support the seat frame to what is used to insulate the "pods" from temperature/noise.
  • Unions - Union contracts and union work rules will add additional large sums to the project costs. Combined with the NIMBY and environmental court costs, will dramatically increase the costs per foot of the project.
  • Occupancy - In order to make a "transportation" company successful you need to 1) get people from point a to point b, 2) more conveniently than if they were to drive themselves, and 3) cheap enough to make the "hassle" of not driving themselves worth it. That means that this "Hyperloop" must move enough people from where ever they are to where ever they want to go quickly enough and cheaply enough to out weigh the value of driving themselves from point a to point b. Any two of these are easy but all three is difficult to do for enough people to allow the business to make money. Think Amtrak.
Add all of these up and I just don't see "Hyperloop" making it. For that matter, I don't see any new, disruptive mass transportation system making it either unless it removes the requirement of a long distance physical infrastructure to enable it (i.e. train tracks or tubes).

Think I am making too much out of the impediments? When was the last time a large international airport was constructed? All of my above reasons for the failure of "Hyperloop" are the cause of the failure of all other "really large" projects. Even when you have the power of the Government behind you these big projects take a long time. Look at how long any large government projects take (i.e. Chicago's Big Dig, etc.) with their corresponding cost over-runs.

It is for reasons like those listed above that we "can't have nice things".

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