Co-authored by Jeremy Stone.
It was a rough week for American transportation, in the busy run-up to the holidays—raising painful questions for travelers, authorities and investigators alike.
First, the tragic rail events in Washington State, and then the Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson debacle, which cast doubt on the integrity and efficacy of the nation’s vital transportation infrastructure.
In the West, 3 died and 70 were injured on the first public running of an expensive new passenger rail line when—for reasons so far unexplained—the train exceeded design limits by a factor of three. In Georgia, an unthinkable power outage brought a critical aviation hub to a halt. The consequences of both incidents are profound.
Disruptive events such as these have always occurred, triggering National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), law enforcement, and safety mishap investigations; but new questions are being asked—the growth, reliability, and safety of America’s critical transportation systems are arguably imperiled and leaders and citizens alike should be demanding answers.
At the risk of asking tough questions while the wounds of Atlanta and Washington are still fresh, is there a better way? Not only do our transportation hubs reveal congested and inefficient choke points in an aging system, but they highlight the uncertainty of our economic and transportation arteries. It’s time to leverage the strengths of advanced technology to deliver more strength, safety, and resilience—as well as a faster, better experience.
Our interconnected infrastructures have become increasingly interdependent and increasingly bottle-necked by congestion, speed restrictions and inherent dependencies on human frailty and dirty fuels. Yet the speed and scale of advances in technology offer great promise, no more so than in the Hyperloop, which leverages advances in manufacturing, physics, and green energy. These are transformative advances which offer the potential for faster, cheaper, cleaner, and safer travel. While the Hyperloop is no panacea, the tube-based closed system offers potential capabilities to complement existing intermodal transportation systems with clean, fast, affordable, all-weather, and more secure conveyances—primarily because it is a protected, automated environment with resilient features inherent in the design and operations.
This scale of change will require patient public support, far-sighted private investment, and a willingness to challenge the status quos with inventors’ vision. For example, the companies currently working to commercialize Hyperloop transportation are modern-day exemplars of the Wright Brothers, Edison, Ford, Carnegie, and Lindbergh. They are forging science and engineering to introduce a new form of transportation—moving passengers, freight, and vital commerce faster than an aircraft inside an enclosed pod that is monitored and automated.
Hyperloop—like any transformative idea—will require strong public support in the form of trust, confidence, and local advocacy for physical access, right of ways, development, and willingness to invest in a new form of transportation.
While tube transportation companies are building innovative designs that integrate science and modern technology: evacuated vacuum tubes, linear induction motors, magnetic levitation, solar power, virtual reality simulation, and enclosed transportation pods, some assert this is only 10% of the challenge before us.
The remaining work—and majority of the challenge—is the hardest piece; which is where the every day travelers and businesses come in.
Hyperloop companies and futurists need to capture the imagination, confidence, and funding of private citizens, investors, and entrepreneurs if this ultra high-speed tube transportation will be successfully commercialized in the next 3-5 years.
Further, public, private, academic partnerships (PPAPs) will be an important catalyst to implement this disruptive technology in our communities and marketplaces. PPAPs will be energized by municipalities, counties, cities, regions, and states participating in a shared economy that supports this revolutionary breakthrough in transportation.
Recent crises are sobering reminders of our dependence upon, and vulnerability to, legacy systems developed in the last century. How long are we prepared to endure the—sometimes fatal—status quo?
America is a country of exploration. In times of hardship, our country has innovated like no other, but looking at our current transportation systems might suggest otherwise.
Dr. Egli is a Coast Guard veteran and President of Hyperloop Advanced Research Partnership (HARP); Dr. Stone is a physician, financier and aerospace physiologist who served as CFO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT).