Hyperloop One shuts down

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2023/12/22/hyperloop-one-shuts-down.html


Remember the new rule as laid down by the (now-banned?) fanboi:

Any criticism of Elon Musk should always start something like: “Even though he has done more for the future of civilization and the ability of our planet to sustain any form of life than any other human by creating the EV market out of thin air thereby thwarting the petroleum industry’s full time endeavor to destroy the planet’s atmosphere, Elon Musk…"

Seriously, in addition to gaining accolades from goofballs like the guy quoted above, Musk bamboozled a lot of people who should have known better with this venture in particular. How anyone thought this was a viable system to move humans around on a mass scale is beyond me.


It has fulfilled its purpose, which was to stop the construction of a proper public transit system that would have been in competition with the sales of Teslas.


It would be interesting to know the ratio of “dumb idea finally ran out of puffery” and “allegedly cheap and disruptive alternative to actual mass transit investment has served its purpose and is being wound up”.

I’m absolutely not going to bet against the existence of exuberant dumb money; but hyperloop’s attributes as the near-perfect cool low bidder that’s not actually suitable lead do make it look like an effective component of a strategy; just not one aimed at actually building transit.


It was obvious it wouldn’t move humans. How do they breathe in a pod in a vacuum that’s moving at super sonic speeds? And do it repeatably so no one suffocates or gets turned to red jam on the side of the tube?

I thought they were “going honest” when they decided that cargo-only was the profitable move.

Oh sorry forgot the preamble
Elon Musk, who continually sets mankind back 20 years while moving the earth forward at the speed of one year per year, failed again….


Like many of the projects Musk invests in, it was no doubt inspired by a movie fantasy he saw when he was younger.


It didn’t actually stop California’s high speed rail project though. That project is still under construction and expected to be completed, albeit still over budget and behind schedule. There are even plans for a second high speed rail system linking Los Angeles to Las Vegas now. Musk only succeeded in creating a temporary distraction.


And now mainly intended to serve Central Valley commuters who can’t afford to live in but have to work in L.A. or the Bay Area. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing (esp. if one doesn’t expect any meaningful action on affordable housing in those cities in the coming decades) but also isn’t the 2-3-hour direct and near non-stop link between the cities that the project was initially sold as.


That part isn’t the big problem; people have been traveling in pressurized vehicles for generations now.

The single biggest problem is that if you have a single pressure failure anywhere in the entire length of the tube the entire system suffers catastrophic collapse. Building giant depressurized structures is hard, and breaking them is easy.

If a minor accident or a single person with a high powered rifle could destroy an entire rail line in an instant then trains never would have been a viable form of transportation in the first place.


I just hope that it eventually makes it that far. The first phase that they’re committed to opening is passenger service between Merced and Bakersfield, which aren’t necessarily two major population centers that have a lot of commuters traveling between them. The latest construction update report says that they have “an ambitious goal to begin operations by the end of 2030” in that section, with a schedule contingency going out as far as 2033. There are no firm commitments to when the line might eventually extend to L.A. or S.F., and they don’t have funding lined up to do that.


I’m not optimistic myself. I think we’re looking at 2038 for the first phase to be complete, by which time that lack of “firm commitments” for extending to L.A. and S.F. will dissolve further due to changes in technology and economic and local infrastructure conditions. Phase 1 will end up being a sparsely used boondoggle.

It’s a shame. Downtown-to-downtown true high-speed rail – non-stop or otherwise – would be a very pleasant and efficient way to travel. But if the commitment isn’t there from the beginning (as it is in Europe and on other projects in N. America) it’s not going to happen.


There are many catastrophic failure modes for that system, but I’m not sure that collapse is necessarily the most likely.

Have you ever seen that physics demonstration with a ping pong ball, PVC pipe and vacuum pump? Really interesting things can happen to the contents of an evacuated tube when one end is suddenly opened to the atmosphere.


A decade on, people often forget what was really motivating the Hyperloop when Musk first started pushing it. In the early 2010s, there was a big debate around California’s plan to build a high-speed rail line from Los Angeles to San Francisco, with further extensions to San Diego and Sacramento to follow. Naturally, conservative, automotive, and airline interests were vehemently opposed to a technology that Japan and Europe had been living with for decades arriving on American shores because it threatened their commercial interests.


Steampunk Transit System.


Elon sucks so much, there must be someway to use that.


The company is shutting down, laying off most of its employees, and liquidating assets.

Seriously, WTF were any of these employees doing the last several years?

This was always a bad, dumb idea for several practical reasons that should be self evident.

Now, high speed rail between major cities in California, that would be a cool idea. Keep the transport idea, lose the tube.


Oh, you know… Shifting paradigms, thinking outside the box, disrupting traditional industries, making nice brochures, raking in venture capital… The usual.


“he admitted to his biographer that the reason the Hyperloop was announced—even though he had no intention of pursuing it—was to try to disrupt the California high-speed rail project and to get in the way of that actually succeeding.”

So how long, after it became public news that even Elno admitted it was never actually a serious transit proposal, did it finally shut down? There was some serious self-delusion involved for anyone promoting this thing - Elno’s whole proposal didn’t pass the most cursory examination, especially since he claimed it would somehow be cheaper than rail, even though it required (so, so much) more technology, finer tolerances, more fragile, more custom-built parts, etc. I.e. everything that would drive up the price relative to rail.

When the idea first was talked about, I assumed Musk just got stoned and doodled some nonsense on a napkin, and was baffled why anyone was taking such an obviously dumb idea seriously, but then it turned out to be way more cynical than that - but even before he admitted it, people were speculating that’s why he put it out there.

All that mythologizing of Musk created a religion that made people completely reject reality.

I saw so many variations of that quote, which just become more and more ironic. Musk was always about nothing more than selling cars, which are absolutely not a climate solution (electric or otherwise), and tried to destroy mass transit, which is.

Though to be fair, it probably did stop other mass transit systems from even being planned. A lot of conservative politicians were pointing to it as an excuse to not even think about putting in trains. A lot of it was cynical, but some of them actually bought into the myth, too - I remember that Florida Republican who was so excited about the idea of Musk constructing car tunnels there, because he believed Musk’s promise that Boring Company would be substantially cheaper. Even though Musk just had standard equipment and standard processes and no experience digging tunnels, especially with the groundwater situation that made previous Florida tunnels so expensive… What makes me so angry about Musk is the total abnegation of critical thought that people engaged in when it came to him (and was required to take him seriously).


I’m looking forward to Adam Something’s take on this latest failure to disrupt a 130-year-old technology.


You’ve not heard about Rish! Sunakered cancelling HS2, then. ;-(