The 2,500 mph VacTrain: One Possible Future for Mass Transportation

vactrain ET3/Promo image

There's been precious little world-changing progress in the mass transportation arena lately. Like, since the commercial airplane. Over the last couple of decades, technology has overhauled the way we communicate, the way we wage war, the way we eat. But not so much the way we move—barring some interesting tinkering around the edges, it's still planes, trains, and automobiles, and bikes.

So, we're overdue for a big, disruptive leap in transportation technology. I'm not saying the 2,500 mile per hour VacTrain is it, but I'm not saying it's not, either.

Here's how it works, via Smart Planet:

one day soon, trains traveling through vacuum tunnels could whisk passengers from New York to London in an hour, hitting speeds of up 2,500 mph … The key is in the vacuum. Suck the air out of a transatlantic tunnel, and you eliminate resistance to the vehicle. In the oceanic version, engineers would tether the tunnel at a fixed depth.

The “vactrain” is not a new concept. Robert Goddard, who created the first liquid fuel rocket, designed a prototype over 100 years ago, with the idea of zipping people around between U.S. cities. But they haven’t been economically feasible, or even fast enough. Now, the latest concept in vactrains could make the difference. It combines the technology with magnetic levitation …

And nor is this entirely pie-in-the-sky, either. Just mostly: "American engineer Daryl Oster has designed a 6-person capsule traveling through a 1.5 meter (5 feet) diameter vacuum tube. He has sold 60 licenses for his patented evacuated tube transport (ETT) technology, including 12 to China."

New York to LA in 45 minutes. New York to Beijing in 2 hours.

Oster says that his vehicles could hit speeds of up to 4,000 mph, and would be best suited for dry climes and even terrain. He also says he could have land-based vactrains up and running in 10 years flat; we could be soaring around at breakneck speeds in airless tubes in no time. He says it's like Space Travel on Earth™. He says less about what happens if there's any sort of glitch at all on your 4,000 mph trip to Miami.

vactrain 3et3/via

We're not going to be able to go on burning jet fuel the way we are, either—petroleum-based jet fuel will soon be too expensive to keep air travel as accessible as it is, and it's completely up in the air as to whether biofuels could be a feasible replacement.

Soo. Fun stuff to ponder. And the BBC seems hooked. Even if the VacTrain does seem like a semi-goofy blast of techno-utopianism, it's still worth thinking big. You never know; Oster could be the next Wright brother.

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