Taxpayer money is being thrown at this nonsense.
The Hyperloop Pipe Dream
Cities and states are throwing money at a nonexistent mode of transportation.
For American lawmakers, funding public transit often feels like small ball. Politicians prefer to dream bigger. Earlier this month, transportation agencies in the Cleveland region and in Illinois announced they would co-sponsor a $1.2 million study of a “hyperloop” connecting Cleveland to Chicago, cutting a 350-mile journey to just half an hour. It’s the fourth public study of the nonexistent transportation mode to be undertaken in the past three months.
“Ohio is defined by its history of innovation and adventure,” said Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who once canceled a $400 million Obama-era grant for high-speed rail in the state. “A hyperloop in Ohio would build upon that heritage.” In January, a bipartisan group of Rust Belt representatives wrote to President Trump to ask for $20 million in federal funding for a Hyperloop Transportation Initiative, a Department of Transportation division that would regulate and fund a travel mode with no proof of concept.
It’s hard to keep up: Last week, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission announced feasibility and environmental-impact studies for a different hyperloop route, connecting Pittsburgh and Chicago through Columbus, Ohio, to be run by a different company, Virgin Hyperloop One. The company—which fired a pod through a tube at 240 mph in December—is also studying routes in Missouri and Colorado.* Meanwhile, Elon Musk—who has obtained (contested) tunneling permission from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan—pulled a permit from the District of Columbia for a future hyperloop station.
But let’s first look at the hyperloop that Grace Gallucci, the head of the Cleveland regional planning association the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), told local radio could be running to Chicago in three to five years, and to the study of which the NOACA contributed $600,000.
The company behind it, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, is one of a handful of U.S. entities that have emerged since Elon Musk first introduced the idea in 2012. In a promotional clip for the Great Lakes Hyperloop that plays like a sequel to Chrysler’s Detroit Super Bowl commercial, a gravelly voice intones that this is not a dream, as b-roll footage of factories is cut with aerial footage of what can only be construction of an oil-and-gas pipeline. “We’ve already got a prototype,” the narrator instructs.
Here's where it gets good:
They don’t. Andrea La Mendola, the company’s chief global operations officer and chief engineering council member, told me there is no full-scale prototype just yet. The company says it is building one now in the southern French city of Toulouse. “In terms of full-scale, all-integration, it will [be the first prototype],” he said. “We will start with 400 meters. Then we go up to 1 kilometer, and possibly 1.6 kilometers—if we add a curve at the end.”
I’m no engineer, but if the company wants to blast humans at the speed of sound for hundreds of miles across the American Midwest, maybe they should build the curve. A few of them.
La Mendola isn’t an engineer either. Before joining HTT as its chief global operating officer and a member of its chief engineering council, La Mendola was working as a filmmaker. He has a master’s degree in engineering—media and cinema engineering. It’s a well-deployed skill set: What Hyperloop Transportation Technologies lacks in nuts and bolts, it more than makes up for in Hollywood flair. The pods will be coated in “Vibranium,” a rebranded carbon fiber whose name you may recognize from Black Panther.
The company’s co-founders have similarly little experience in transportation or infrastructure. Bibop Gresta, HTT’s chairman, is an entertainer-turned-entrepreneur with a string of content and media ventures to his name. Dirk Ahlborn, the CEO and a self-described serial entrepreneur, founded JumpStartFund, a platform to crowdsource entrepreneurial projects—including this one.
But they got a great commercial!