America Used to Dominate High Speed Rail Transport
When the first images of Elon Musk's proposal for the Hyperloop came out it reminded me of so many Popular Science schemes from my childhood. It's not the same, but there are enough similarities to round up some previous posts and present show some other approaches. The most famous was Alfred Ely Beach's pneumatic train that was built under Broadway in 1870. More here, and also Delirious Pneu York: When The Subway Ran On Compressed Air.
Here is an interesting Elon Musk tie-in; before he invented liquid fueled rockets and became the father of American rocketry, Robert Goddard designed this vacuum train that could travel from Boston to New York in twelve minutes, at a thousand miles per hour.
The Alameda-Weehawken Burrito Tunnel
Then there was this famous tunnel, one of the largest public works projects of the 20th century. It worked on the principle that a tunnel drilled straight through the earth from New York to California would mean projectiles would be going downhill for half the trip and uphill the other half. In a vacuum, with frictionless magnetic supports, it would need almost no energy at all. The project is described in Idle Words:
Construction on the tunnel began in 1913, and it quickly grew into the largest public works project in the young nation’s history. Not until the Eisenhower Interstate system in the 1950’s would there be a bigger or more costly civil engineering project. Drilling the tunnel required over 19 years of continuous effort by thousands of miners, often working in conditions of intolerable confinement and heat. Over 22 million tons of rock had to be removed, much of it from unprecedented depths, all while keeping the tunnel perfectly straight over thousands of miles. Just keeping the tunnels cool required more water each day than flows over Niagara Falls.
Unfortunately it got very hot in the middle of the tunnel and it was found to be impractical, and fell out of use in the 1930s. In the 1970s it was repurposed to fire frozen burritos from San Francisco to New York. It is a challenge.
Burritos speeding through the tunnel fight a constant battle against friction. At the start and end of their journey they hover in a powerful magnetic field, seldom touching the sides of the tunnel. Past the Colorado border, however, the temperature of the surrounding rock exceeds the Curie point of iron and the burritos must slide on their bellies in their nearly frictionless Teflon sleeve, kept from charring by pork fat that slowly seeps out of the burritos as they thaw. By the time the burritos reach Cedar Rapids (traveling well over a mile a second) they are heated through, and anyone who managed to penetrate into the tunnel through the Cleveland access shafts would find them ready to eat.
When I read this for the first time, I was totally convinced, not noticing the early April date of publication. More in Idle Hands.
Not limiting themselves to Burritos, in the UK some engineers are proposing a massive food delivery system.
Imagine a 1,500 kilometer underground FoodTubes ring circling the UK. The packet-switched-style network would connect all major food producers and retailers via 3,000 kilos of smart grid controlled air pressure pipe. The Foodtubes capsules, spaced one meter apart, will race about in gangs of 300 or so at 100kph. As many as 900,000 will be in circulation at any given moment, either zipping around beneath London and Liverpool or being loaded and unloaded at freight dockets.
More in TreeHugger: FoodTubes: Totally Tubular Idea For Delivering Food Pneumatically
Garbage already gets the vacuum transit treatment on Roosevelt Island in New York, and its popular in Sweden. More in TreeHugger: Should We Replace Garbage Trucks With Vacuum Tubes?
Is the Shweeb Ready for Prime Time?
Finally, I have seen all kinds of tweets from people complaining, "We can't even do decent bike lanes and infrastructure on the ground, how could we possibly do the Hyperloop"? Perhaps an answer to that question is the pedal-powered version, the Shweeb. More at Is the Shweeb Ready for Prime Time? and The Shweeb Pedal-Powered Monorail: Fast and Carbon-Free
The Atlantic has done a roundup as well: Pneumatic Tubes: A Brief History