The U.S is behind the rest of the world when it comes to train infrastructure. The Industrial Revolution was built on railroads, but by the time the interstate highway system came along, trains were left in the dust. Amtrak currently only has one high-speed rail route, the Acela Express between Boston and Washington D.C., and that has a maximum speed of just 150 miles per hour—with an average speed less than 70 miles per hour. That means it’s slower than all but the most law-abiding cars on the freeway.
Meanwhile, Shanghai’s bullet trains can travel at speeds of up to 267 miles per hour, and Italian high-speed trains go up to 220 miles per hour. Much of Europe is connected by various high-speed train lines that can shuttle people across borders in just a few hours.
(The video below is an interesting historical review of trains in America in the year 1934. There are also some major International dates for the start of using high-speed trains in various countries around the world.)
As exciting as it is to dream of a Hyperloop, the technology to make rail travel far more convenient already exists, and other countries have been implementing it for years. What would it look like if the U.S. had this kind of transportation network? Perhaps a little something like this:
Screenshot via Business Insider
Business Insider illustrates how high-speed rail could criss-cross the country in the graphic above, using a plan from the US High-Speed Rail Association. The association proposes a 17,000-mile network of bullet trains connecting the country’s biggest metropolises.
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You can check out BI’s full animation on the potential future of high-speed rail here.
In just a few years, we might be traveling around California in 700 mph hyperloop pods, if a company called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies has its way. The Los Angeles-based startup has filed for permits to start constructing a Hyperloop test track in California’s Quay Valley. Their goal: to develop the technology and plans required for a high-speed hyperloop system by 2018.
The Hyperloop, which was first conceptualized by Elon Musk in 2013, would be a revolutionary new mass transportation system. Low-pressure tubes would shoot passenger pods hundreds of miles in a matter of minutes. The technology mirrors the pneumatic tubes used to transport messages in hospitals: the pods would hover above the floor of the tube, and travel with minimal resistance at breathtaking speeds.
Though Hyperloop Transportation envisions a world connected by a massive network of interconnected tubes, the primary goal, at the moment, is to build a tube system connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles. If successfully built, the company claims the Hyperloop system could reduce travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco to just half an hour and revolutionize mass transportation on the same level as the railroad or the airplane.
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies isn’t the only company working on a prototype: According to The Verge, SpaceX is launching a Hyperloop pod design competition, which begins next week. Winners will receive $50,000 and an internship with Hyperloop Technologies Inc., another California start-up working on developing a workable system.
It may sound thoroughly sci-fi, and there are certainly a lot of logistical and technological challenges to overcome. But there is currently a great deal of money and effort being poured into making the Hyperloop a reality. Check out the Engadget video below for a quick overview of the future of the high-tech transportation system.
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