How to get America on the Hyperloop Train

The United States might be missing out on a chance to lead the next transportation revolution. Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd has stated that the first example of the superfast transportation solution will be probably built outside the United States.

That would be a major national embarrassment because the Hyperloop is an American invention. It was envisioned by an American; Elon Musk, and the organization making it a reality is a US-based company, Hyperloop One. The first real test of Hyperloop technology was even conducted in North Las Vegas, Nevada.

Despite all that there is a strong possibility that the most important advance in ground transportation since the automobile; will first be implemented in a foreign nation such as Dubai. An American technology that could totally transform transportation would be first implemented by foreigners in a foreign land.

To avoid this humiliation, we must devise of a means of getting a working Hyperloop system built here in the USA. I have done some thinking upon the matter, and may have come up with a strategy for getting a working Hyperloop; up and running on American soil.

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The Federal Government will be of No Help

The first reality we must take into consideration here is that the federal government will be of little or no help to our efforts. Even though many officials in the Department of Transportation are sympathetic to Hyperloop; there is little they can do.

Congress is simply too divided by partisan politics, extremist ideology, lack of effective leadership and intraparty warfare to effectively mount a large project of this type. Since only Congress can appropriate money for projects, this makes a federal Hyperloop project unlikely.

The current political divide in the country also makes it unlikely that a President would be able to launch massive national infrastructure projects. Even if the president were to propose a Hyperloop initiative, it is likely that Congress would simply ignore her. Much as it ignored Obama’s limited high-speed rail scheme.

That means it will be up to private enterprise, state and local government and community or regional organizations to create a working Hyperloop in America. The only way to get Congress on the Hyperloop train; will be to build a working system somewhere in the United States; so our leaders will be convinced of its utility.

A Strategy to Bring Hyperloop to America

The best strategy to bring Hyperloop to America is what I call the beta test. It would involve the construction of a working Hyperloop line that would serve as both a test and a demonstration of the technology.

Tech startup Hyperloop One is trying to build a new mode of transportation that would involve pods moving at very high speeds through a tube.

The line would have to be a working transportation system connecting two popular destinations. Large numbers of people would ride it and see it. More importantly, the line would be used to test, demonstrate and perfect the technology. It would serve as both a working transportation system, and a platform for development of Hyperloop solutions.

To get the line built a partnership between local; and possibly state and federal, government, business and civic leadership would have to be created. The political, community and business leaders of a region would have to spearhead the effort; and work closely with Hyperloop One and its partners.

The partnership would form a consortium of Hyperloop One with government, investors, other companies and possibly a railroad like the Union Pacific (NYSE: UP). The consortium would build and operate the Hyperloop line upon a route to test the technology and demonstrate its potential.

Where would the American Hyperloop be located?

There are many excellent routes for a Hyperloop beta test in the US; but the one I favor is in Colorado’s Arkansas Valley.

The valley is currently home to an intact; but mostly disused, rail line that connects the city of Pueblo with Minturn near Vail. The track was the Royal Gorge and Tennessee Pass lines; of the now defunct Denver & Rio Grande, or D&RGW railway. The line itself still exists but it long-distance trains have not run on it since the 1990s, when the DRG&W was absorbed by the Union Pacific.

Since the right of way still exists; and is in Union Pacific’s hands, there would be no problems with eminent domain. The line runs through a wide variety of terrain including desert, mountains, high mountains and some extreme weather conditions, so it would be ideal for testing the technology in the real world.

Tourist train in the Royal Gorge.
Tourist train in the Royal Gorge.

There is also the potential to haul large numbers of passengers from Pueblo Municipal Airport to Vail. That might help pay for Hyperloop; and demonstrate its potential as a passenger conveyance. Eventually the line could be extended to the airports in Colorado Springs and Denver; to haul more passengers.

Much of the area it would run through; including the cities of Pueblo, Canon City, Florence and Leadville, is economically depressed. Local people might welcome the jobs that Hyperloop would bring; especially in Pueblo, where the steel industry is dying. Becoming the Hyperloop capitol would give Pueblo a major new industry; and help it preserve its heritage as a working-class community.

A major benefit of building a Hyperloop in that region would be to demonstrate its capacity for economic development. Another would be to give people in Pueblo and Canon City access to jobs in the Colorado ski country, where high housing costs have created a labor shortage.

The location of the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT) high-speed rail testing center near Pueblo is an added incentive. The new Hyperloop system would be able to take advantage of the DOT’s resources.

A Historical Precedent

There are historical precedents for this, other transportation technologies such as canals, railroads, and freeways were tested on a small scale before being expanded for greater uses.

A Southern Pacific coal train on the Tennessee Pass in the 1990s.
A Southern Pacific coal train on the Tennessee Pass in the 1990s.

Freeways were first demonstrated in the United States with the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the 1940s, for example. The Turnpike’s success led to the creation of the Interstate Highway System in the United States; it is now part of that system as I-70/I-76.

In a similar way, the Arkansas Valley Hyperloop would become part of a national system, following the route of the Interstates. It would connect to a transcontinental Hyperloop running along I-70 from Baltimore to Cove, Utah; and along I-15 to Los Angeles and San Diego, at Minturn.

Were it to succeed such a product would convince Congress to fund a national Hyperloop system. Political pressure will quickly build; if the project led to economic growth and higher real estate prices, which would convince developers and speculators to lobby Congress for more Hyperloop.

The ball then is in the court of civic boosters and community leaders. Were a group of such people in city like Pueblo to organize an effort like the one I envisioned here they could take advantage of Hyperloop One’s Global Challenge. The Global Challenge is an effort to locate a site for the first working Hyperloop system. Even if it failed such an effort might generate the publicity necessary to get successful systems developed elsewhere.

Americans need to ask themselves the question, do they want to lead the transportation revolution or not. If they do not other nations; like Russia, China or Saudi Arabia, will gladly volunteer for the job. America needs to get on the Hyperloop train or forget about global leadership.