All The Hype For Hyperloop, But They Forgot Swissmetro

In addition to business networking, LinkedIn is becoming more and more like a social network for news sharing. Yesterday, I was intrigued enough to click on a link to a post from Esther Dyson discussing the business model behind Elon Musk’s Hyperloop. I hadn’t heard the news about Musk’s “secret project” yet, so I went to Google.

The top articles I found, from the likes of Gizmodo and The Verge, were all sensational-sounding pieces like this one from the Daily Mail that presents the project as some kind of “futuristic travel fantasy” and a big mystery that no one can figure out. The headline reads “How Elon Musk’s Hyperloop might actually work: Experts guess how plans to get from LA to San Francisco in 30 minutes might come to fruition.”

It would use solar panels for power and use small pods, leaving ‘whenever you arrive’ instead of sticking to a schedule like an airliner.

Elon Musk has described his supertrain as a cross between ‘a Concorde, a rail gun, and an air-hockey table’.

Now many are starting to speculate exactly how this next-generation transportation scheme would work.

and

Another expert, George Maise has suggested removing all air from the tube altogether and leaving the cars to travel through a vacuum which would eliminate any drag.

and

‘If somebody other than Musk had proposed this, I would say it’s very suspect,’ George Maise says. ‘I really have no idea how you do this.’

Now this is either deliberate sensationalism to catch eyeballs or lazy journalism. Either way, it’s disappointing, because Hyperloop sounds like a genuinely interesting project that may not be so far-fetched at all.

Similar ideas go back at least to the 1970’s, so I find it hard to believe that experts have “no idea how you do this.”

Swissmetro, “The Airplane Without Wings,” had plans to build a similar type of transportation system to connect the major cities in Switzerland.

Image from swissmetro.ch

Image from swissmetro.ch

The company was formed in 1992, and it funded a 4-year study that was published in 1998. The cost of a main line (322 km) to connect Geneva, Lausanne, Bern, Zurich and St. Gallen was estimated at 25 billion Swiss Francs. Of course, that was over than ten years ago; the costs today may be quite different. The company went into liquidation in 2009 because of a lack of funding and political support following some pessimistic and controversial studies that seemed to show the project was not economically viable, however all the know-how for the project was transferred to Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) so that the work could be continued.

Apparently, the idea hasn’t been forgotten there. The EPFL has done quite a bit of research on this topic and has even made numerical simulations of trains that travel in such tubes at up to 600 km/h (372 mph). Just a few months ago, a Spanish Master’s student, Sara Ibañez was apparently inspired by a decades old report on similar technology and developed a new proposal based on the idea during her thesis on reducing traffic congestion between Geneva and Lausanne.

A history of the Swissmetro project and technical information is available on the Swissmetro site.

This entry was posted in Innovation, Switzerland, Technology and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to All The Hype For Hyperloop, But They Forgot Swissmetro

  1. This is exactly what came to mind when I read about Musk’s project.
    Besides, there’s also another ‘Swissmetro-inspired’ project in Switzerland: CargoTube – http://www.cargotube.ch

    • laura says:

      Separating the transportation of people and cargo seems to be a long-standing dream in Switzerland. CargoTube sounds like an interesting project to keep an eye on. Thanks for the link.

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