Supersonic tube travel   Leave a comment





via- Cosmonline

Above: Elon Musk’s proposed ‘Hyperloop’ transport system would travel at speeds of up to 768mph and complete a journey of 380miles in just 30minutes – a positively glacial pace when compared with a similar proposal from 1825. Image: Tesla Motors]

LET’S FACE IT, at one time or another, we’ve all wished we could travel in tiny capsules that are sucked along tiny claustrophobic vacuum tubes at hundreds or thousands of mile an hour. Well, if recent headlines are to be believed, you might get that chance sooner than you think. 

Last week, PayPal, SpaceX and Tesla Motors founder, Elon Musk, announced his ambition to build a solar-powered vacuum tube, called Hyperloop, that will be able to syphon commuters to their destination at a head-spinning 768mph. At that speed you could cover the 380-mile journey between San Francisco and Los Angeles (where he proposes it be built) in just 30 minutes – all for the bargain price of £4.8billion.

The announcement was greeted by fevered media coverage, which announced that the ‘future of transportation has arrived, and quickly followed by blogging naysayers, who derided it as over-ambitious and likely to cost at least twice his estimate.

Maybe they’re right – traveling through tubes at the speed of sound certainly sounds like a deluded futurist’s science-fiction fantasy.

Imagine then, the reaction if someone was to pipe up and announce their plans to build a vacuum-based, tubular transport system that would whisk you along the same near-400-mile journey, not in a glacial 30 minutes, but in fewer than five minutes. Now that’s futuristic fantasizing.

Now imagine that the plan was being touted, not in the post-space age 21st century, but in the mid-industrial revolution age 19th century. Well, that’s exactly what the splendidly titled London and Edinburgh Vacuum Tunnel Company did in 1825.

Published in the January 29, 1825 edition of ‘The Mechanics Register’, they sought investment for a steam-powered vacuum transport system that would carry cargo, underground, between Edinburgh and London, not at a paltry 768mph, but at an astonishing 5,000mph.

Their (wonderfully Heath Robinson-sounding) plan was to build two 390mile-long tunnels, along which, at intervals of two miles, would be a chain of steam boilers, used to pump steam into the tunnels – displacing the air and creating a vacuum.

Within the tubes, would be a train more than a mile long, which, when the vacuum seal was broken, would be pushed forwards by the pressure of all the in-rushing air and rapidly accelerated to thousands of miles per hour. Just five seconds after departing Edinburgh on its 390-mile journey, the train would arrive in London to deliver its 1,700-tonne cargo.

Unable to travel in the waist-high underground tubes, passengers would enjoy the journey in the open air as their train was pulled along by a magnet attached to the supersonic subterranean vehicle beneath them. In an age before seat-belts, hydraulic suspension and air bags, you can only imagine the ‘thrills’ such a journey might entail.

The estimated cost for this transportation marvel was a mere £20million, which would be divided into 200,000 shares that the designers urged investors to snap up to ‘avoid disappointment’ – predicting that the scheme would provide ‘an immense source of wealth to any company.

To put the plan into context, in the same edition was a story discussing the merits of steam engine-powered trains as a means of transportation, which crowed that speeds of up to ‘seven or eight miles an hour will soon be easily accomplished’.




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