Just how realistic is the concept of zipping people between Seattle and Portland in 15 minutes, at 760 miles an hour? GeekWire aerospace and science editor Alan Boyle, who broke the story of the Pacific Hyperloop campaign, answered that question and more in an interview on KUOW-FM’s noontime program, The Record.
Continue reading for a transcript of the discussion, and listen to the full episode of the show on KUOW.
Bill Radke, KUOW: What if there were a transit line that could get you to Portland in 15 minutes? That’s the idea of a project called Pacific Hyperloop. … Now that is a high-speed rail line or transit link. Tell us about Hyperloop.
Alan Boyle, GeekWire: Near supersonic. 760 miles an hour. It’s an idea that Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX, came up with something like three or four years ago, that would put you in a pneumatic tube, kind of like the Jetsons, and send you shooting off. His idea was to do it between L.A. and San Francisco. But there’s a company called Hyperloop One that put together a global competition, and a lot of groups from a lot of different cities around the world applied. Now they’ve narrowed it down to 35 finalists, and the Seattle-Portland proposal is one of those finalists. They’re trying to whip up support for it. They’ve got an online petition that they want people to sign. Eventually they hope to recruit officials and corporate backers to do it, but they’re just getting started and so it looks like there’s a long road, so to speak, before this becomes reality.
Bill Radke: Let’s talk about reality, just briefly: Pneumatic tube, 760 miles per hour — does this seem like reality to you? How seriously should I take this?
Alan Boyle: Actually, Hyperloop One is building a test track in the Nevada desert, and they’re going to be testing this, and they say that they’re going to be able to put this service in between Abu Dhabi and Dubai in 2020, but a lot of these things, it’s two years away or four years away, and a lot of these things just stay two or four years away, and so I think the proof is in the pudding.
Bill Radke: So a pneumatic tube, Seattle to Portland, I want to picture it. Am I lying down in this tube?
Alan Boyle: The concepts show people half-reclining. And actually the concept that Hyperloop One has is very much like a high-speed rail experience, where you’re sitting at a table or sitting in a seat, so it would be like riding in a train.
Bill Radke: Elevated? In a tunnel?
Alan Boyle: Most of the concepts show it elevated. Actually, the first applications for it might be in moving cargo around ports. And with that they even show it going beneath the ground and underwater, so it’s a versatile concept in that way, and the reason why it may be so versatile is that it’s still theoretical.
Bill Radke: I like that idea, let the cargo go first. How safe does this sound to you?
Alan Boyle: To me, I think it sounds suitably safe. It’s going to be a few years before …
Bill Radke: Would you do it?
Alan Boyle: I would do it, if it were done.
Bill Radke: Would you let your child do it?
Alan Boyle: I would, but that assumes that it goes through all the safety procedures that you have to do for this sort of thing. If they just said, ‘Hey we’re going to build it like putting two tin cans together and stringing a telephone line, I wouldn’t do it that way. I would be reassured by the regulatory hoops that they have to jump through.
Bill Radke: Why are Seattle and Portland candidates? There are much bigger cities, of course.
Alan Boyle: That’s true. So as I said there are 35 cities all around the world. Colorado has two proposals. The argument for Seattle and Portland is that you have a high-tech savvy clientele and you have a corridor that would be very attractive for someone to put in something techy so that you could jet around from one startup in Portland to Seattle, and see your backers in Vancouver. That sort of thing.
Bill Radke: Especially given our traffic, there’s a good argument! [People] can’t wait to go seven miles per hour, much less 760.
Alan Boyle: Yeah, that’s the response that we got to the story in GeekWire. People writing and saying, forget Seattle to Portland in 15 minutes, I want to get from Seattle to Bellevue in less than an hour.
Bill Radke: Exactly. One more question, I think. If we are getting the technology to go Seattle to Portland in 15 minutes, does that mean light rail lines we’re building are soon going to be obsolete?
Alan Boyle: No, there’s a real spectrum of transit. Light rail for particular settings, shorter distances, that probably makes a lot more sense than hyperloop. Hyperloop is good for that L.A. to San Francisco or Seattle to Portland distance. If you want to go farther, you’re not going to build a hyperloop from here to Chicago, you’re going to take a plane.