Sometime in the future, if people working on a transportation concept called the Hyperloop succeed, you will be able to board a pod in downtown Los Angeles (to pick a point of departure). You will be shot through a tube that has had most of the air pumped out of it floated on magnetic tracks at 700 miles an hour. About 30 minutes later you will emerge in downtown San Francisco. An Uber or taxi ride will likely take you the rest of your way to your destination.

The Hyperloop prototype runs in Nevada

Wired reports that last May, a company called Hyperloop One tested a prototype on a test track in Nevada.

A test sled was sent at just 70 miles an hour down a tube that was 11 feet in diameter and 1600 feet long. Most of the elements of a Hyperloop, propulsion, braking, and the levitation and vacuum systems passed the test. The next step is to run a test at 250 miles an hour and to solve the problem of providing an airlock that would allow the pod to emerge from the tube into a station without compromising the near vacuum necessary for the system to operate.

Concerns about safety

The Institute of Mechanical Engineers offers a couple of words of caution. The Hyperloop has to compete with already established airlines. Building hundreds of miles of tube on pylons in an absolutely straight line is not an insignificant outlay of capital.

On the other hand, Hyperloop travel would be more convenient than air transportation for a number of obvious reasons.

The issue of safety is significant. Any fault in the system, say a breach on one of the pods, would cause rapid decompression followed by death for everyone inside. Clearly, the same sort of fail safe mechanisms used in airlines will have to be added.

The future of the Hyperloop

Presuming that all of these technical and safety problems can be solved, what is the future for the Hyperloop? A feasibility study is already under way to build a line in the United Arab Emirates, between Dubai and Abu Dhabi. A trip that takes two hours by car would instead take just 12 minutes. South Korea is planning a line between Seoul and Busan, two hour trip by high-speed train that would take just half an hour.

The holy grail of Hyperloop lines would be the Los Angeles to San Francisco route. First, though, California would have to give up its dream of a $100 billion high-speed rail line in favor of a cheaper Hyperloop. That may be a tall order, all things considered about California politics.