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Shooting Across California

August 13, 2013

I saw this break yesterday when I was on the road, and I think it compelling, amusing, and fantastic (meaning, I think it’s fantasy).  But there’s a lot of thought into making a conduit from SF to LA happen, and it’s got a lot of merit.  (Good details at The Register, by the way.)

Travellers enter aluminium pods mounted by  skis either to their feet or to their cars.

The pods, mounted above the ground on columns  50 to 100 yards apart, travel through steel tubes, reaching speeds of up to  800mph and travelling on a cushion of air.

The entrepreneur, who is also behind electric  car firm Tesla and space company SpaceX, says the system could be built for less  than a high speed rail link.

Well, I’d agree that it could be less than the dumb train they’re proposing, but that doesn’t mean it’s a valid idea.  There are already a series of air corridors from those two points, and this might be faster, but not appreciably so.  Any point-to-point travel idea limits the possibilities of how the travel can actually be used, so this is just another airport terminal.

The biggest problem would be the cost estimates.  As Reason notes:

Musk seems to think he can build this for between $6 and $10 billion, an estimate that should be greeted with a significant amount of skepticism. He doesn’t seem to have any plans to directly pursue it, explaining he’s focusing on his other companies. But he is going to publish an open-source design, so anybody who wants to can try to work on it themselves.

I can see the desire to get private investment going on this, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it happened, but there will be a lot of government intervention into this idea.  Even government “help” is usually an inhibitor.

I’d actually like to see this go forward, at least to scope the problems and see how tough they’d be to fix.  The idea has some good to it.  What I really don’t get is whether SF to LA really is the route to do.  Everyone in CA thinks that this is a great way to go, but I haven’t seen a ton of business really flow that way.  Maybe this would be the motivator for the two to better connect, but then again, the infrastructure on either side to transport millions of people a year is still pretty bad.

What actually seems more interesting to me in this idea: cargo.  Moving material from SF to LA and back is likely a high-value business, and I could see a test of inanimate objects first before we see people.  Maybe it’ll work, and I’m encouraged that we have business leaders who are still thinking new things.

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