Some 34 years ago, I wrote a feature for the PA Features entitled “High Speed Trains for the 21st Century”, which was essentially a look at some of the then ground breaking innovation, research and ideas in development for rail transport. In 1986, we were in the grip of an explosion of ideas, and that despite the axing by the UK government of the British Rail APT, with its tilting technology. This would later come back to us via Fiat in Italy, and the Virgin operated Pendolino trains – it is perhaps equally ironic that Italy would today, in 2020, also now be operating the UK’s West Coast Pendolino trains.
Back in 1986, I wrote this:
“Even more futuristic has been the suggestion that tunnels bored deep below the earth’s surface could link the major cities, through which specially designed vehicles would literally drop from one point to another! The Journey time from London to New York taking minutes rather than hours, using the force of gravity to reach incredible speeds. Another equally fanciful idea – at least today it’s fanciful -would use vacuum tubes, again below ground level, with passengers or goods sucked along from one atop to the next.”
The rest of the article I wrote, as published by the Reading Evening Post on 17th June 1986 is attached below.
And even then, these “fanciful” ideas were not entirely new, but in the 1980s, the world of guided and rail transport was busy getting on with conventional high-speed rail lines, and magnetic levitation and guidance systems. Much of this has come into use, albeit not widely, but it has seen commercial operations start.
Today’s revelation that the “Virgin Hyperloop”, formerly “Hyperloop One”, has carried its first human passengers on a test track in Nevada, near Las Vegas. Virgin is to be congratulated on its achievement – it has been at least 34 years in gestation – and as described it involves a pod travelling through a sealed tube containing a vacuum.
In its present form it is described as being able to carry 28 passengers in each pod, but it is not restricted to people, since it has already been considered as a means of providing fast, efficient transport for goods. In operation it is claimed the vehicles will be able to reach speeds of 670mph (1,080 km/h), and will be as safe as ‘riding in a lift’.
The blindingly obvious element in this – still futuristic idea – is the enormous cost of the infrastructure needed, tunnelled below ground, whether on land or under the oceans. In the USA, it may well be seen as an attractive way of getting from say Los Angeles to Denver, but it is not likely to be a useful means of transport for all but the wealthier members of society.
Well done to them, but I wonder how or even if this idea can be used sustainably to rival existing high-speed rail or even airlines.
It is an interesting development – if for me at least – a case of dejas vu.