Friday, July 26, 2013

pneumatic tube transportation, or the love of technology

The dream of tube transport is still alive. This time it is an American entrepreneur, Elon Musk, who has indicated plans to whizz travellers around in a tube. According to the WIRED/CNN article where I read this news, Musk's intention is to "revolutionize transportation" in the U.S. Called the "Hyperloop" the system is described as being "similar to the old-school pneumatic tube systems" but more complicated, more like "a cross between a concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table". The system will be combined with magnetic levitation, and be built either above ground or under water, both being a major infrastructural challenge.

This kind of idea isn't new of course. VacTrains have captured the imagination of engineers and science-fiction writers for over a century. In real life there has been the Atmospheric Railway which I blogged about recently and perhaps most famously Alfred Beach's NYC system, both of which failed to fully eventuate.

So why does the idea linger? What brings entrepreneurs to tube transportation decade after decade? Do we now have the technologies to support this idea, or are we destined for another Beach system, another ARAMIS? Either way, it is always about a love of technology ...

Read about Beach's pneumatic tube transportation dream here (NYC subway essay) and here (Joseph Brennan's wonderful online book).  

Image from, transportation of the future.

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