Train in an underground tunnel

Hyperloop v. High-speed Rail

As Elon Musk’s Hyperloop project moves closer to being a feasible technology, a transportation battle rages on between what will come first to the United States, high-speed rail or the Hyperloop? Which is a better option for North America and which is more likely to be built?

The Hyperloop uses elements of current high-speed rail technology, but the trains run underground in low-pressure tubes, ostensibly allowing average speeds of 970km/h, with top speeds of 1200km/h. It recently completed it’s first full-scale test in a vacuum-environment, but still has a long way to go before this innovative transportation method is ready for city-to-city construction.

Will high-speed rail systems beat the Hyperloop to construction, winning limited government funding and approvals necessary for large-scale regional transportation projects? It was announced this week that a maglev train company, the Northeast Maglev (TNEM), has received $28 million dollars in funding to study the feasibility of high-speed rail between New York, NY and Washington, DC. These trains, like those used across Japan, would allow passengers to travel the route in just an hour. The primary challenge with the project is that trains must travel in a straight line to be feasible, requiring much of the project to be tunnelled and greatly increasing the overall cost. While only operating at speeds of around 400km/h, TNEM’s CEO thinks this line is possible to construct in 6 years, while he thinks a Hyperloop technology is at least 15 to 20 years away.

Similar projects are being considered on the West coast; another high-speed rail study is being conducted between Vancouver, BC, Seattle WA, and Portland, OR. This study is being supported by the Washington State Government, with financial support from Microsoft, who sees the rail as essential to it’s business needs. Whether it’s the Hyperloop or high-speed rail, or a combination of both, these increased regional connections are much needed additions to North America’s selection of transportation infrastructure.


Photo by Romain Peli on Unsplash

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