This year we’ve been celebrating the 150th anniversary of the London Underground, a landmark feat in technology and engineering that must have been mind-blowingly futuristic to Victorians who were more used to getting round in horse and carriage than on mechanised vehicles underground.
It’s hard to imagine how revolutionary – and perhaps scary – the thought of travelling in trains below London must have been to the Victorian mind but now we rather take it for granted. For all its faults, delays and the fact that it’s creaking a bit with age, the London Underground is a wonderful transport system with some 270 stations and 250 miles of track. And despite the name, 55 per cent of the line is actually overground.
The Tube, as we affectionately call it, was originally billed as a rapid transport system and it was an idea that travelled around the world to many major cities. But now, there’s news of what seems an impossibly futuristic ‘tube’ travel system that could become a reality within a few years.
The Hyperloop is the brainchild of PayPal founder Elon Musk, and he recently unveiled his plans for a projected travel link between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The entrepreneur is proposing a system that uses magnets and fans to shoot capsules floating on a cushion of air through a tube at speeds of around 760mph. This means the 380-mile trip from LA to San Francisco would take just 30 minutes.
Musk estimates the solar-powered scheme would cost something in the region of $6 billion (£4 billion) and expects a prototype to be ready in less than five years.
It might sound far-fetched, and something from a sci-fi film, but Musk is the man who developed the Tesla electric car and founded spaced travel company Space X, so he has form in this field of forward-thinking transport. The only problem is he says he doesn’t have time to work on the project himself.
The paper in which he unveiled his proposals for the Hyperloop described it as faster, safer, less costly and more efficient than the high-speed train between Los Angeles and San Francisco currently being planned.
In his paper, Musk wrote: “Short of figuring out real teleportation, which would, of course, be awesome, the only option for superfast travel is to build a tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment.”
He envisages capsules leaving every 30 seconds, which could carry cars as well as passengers. He reckons that passengers in these capsules would feel a force slightly more than gravity, similar to the feeling of being on a plane or a rollercoaster.
From the design illustrations of what the Hyperloop might look like, it does seem like something from a movie, but the best sci-fi tends to be visions of not too distant futures where technology solves a familiar problem. And if the Hyperloop is as efficient, cheap and green as Musk imagines, he could well be on to something.
Now he just has to work out if what seems a good idea on paper, can actually work in the real world. And then find time to make it happen!
Until next time…