Every year in the fall, a thick, impenetrable fog settles on roads throughout parts of the Arab Gulf, as temperatures between night and day begin to change. Car drivers slow their journeys, heart beats quicken, and seen at close quarters, lights blink through the mist. Every year sees fatalities on the roads, pileups and the loss of human life. The often-traveled routes between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, or the highways of Muscat or Riyadh, become unrecognizable.
Every year, promises are made and new targets are set for reducing passenger fatalities, but still the fog settles. One initiative however, may change this for good.
On August 12, 2013, SpaceX chief, Elon Musk published on his website “Hyperloop Alpha,” a blueprint for a passenger-carrying pod, able to glide through a new network at the speed of sound—an extraordinarily fast mode of transport.
Two years later, amidst much hype, fanfare and credulous speculation, this new technology—Hyperloop—is being touted in Dubai. If all goes well, the Hyperloop can prove to be as useful as subways, bullet trains, and airplanes. A reliance on Hyperloop would mean a reduction in long-distance car commutes, particularly in tough driving conditions—ergo, fewer fatalities. It promises to be safer, more reliable, and more sustainable than air transportation, and leaves today’s bullet trains in the dust.
Passengers will be able to travel from the Gulf to China in under four hours. The speed of sound is approximately 767 miles per hour. Hyperloop capsules can travel at the speed of 760 miles per hour. Imagine that. If you travel to work on the Hyperloop, you could experience G forces similar to those felt by a Formula One Race car driver.
There are two main companies bringing Hyperloop—from SpacexElon Musk’s white paper—into the real world: Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), and Hyperloop Technologies Inc. (HTI), both based in the United States. So it is that Middle Eastern firms will have to get used to the idea of speed if they are to be early majority adopters. HTT works with UCLA’s Suprastudio Architecture Program. Suprastudio’s students recommended pressurizing Hyperloop pods, as done in airplanes, to reduce discomfort, The Wall Street Journal reported. HTT’s original plans were to launch a two-mile test track in California by 2017. They’re already ahead of schedule, with plans to launch a Hyperloop in Nevada by 2016.
The Benefits of Speed
It could certainly work. With the Dubai International Airport already one of the world’s busiest travel center, Hyperloop would cement the Gulf, and Dubai in particular, as a global transportation hub.
This new high-speed mode of transportation could also introduce a new energy source into the Gulf’s infrastructure. “By placing solar panels on top of the tube, the Hyperloop can generate far in excess of the energy needed to operate,” Musk wrote.
Hyperloop could provide Middle Eastern cities with the ability to transport time-sensitive packages at remarkably high speeds. The benefits aren’t limited to trade—they could also prove vital for patients in critical condition. For instance, Hyperloop would be a safe, reliable and affordable way to transport organs necessary for urgent transplant surgeries.
Such high-speed transportation means that even if you live in a suburb or an outer region of an emirate, passengers can quickly commute into cities daily. Those in outlying areas are better able to enjoy the opportunities that are afforded to urban dwellers. The opposite is also true. City-dwellers are better able to take advantage of remoter areas.
What If the Hyperloop Crashes?
Even after over a century of implementation, there are still fatalities caused by subway accidents. Yet a disaster like the Times Square crash in 1928 didn’t stop people from using subways. It was too convenient. Despite the few accidents that happen annually, Kenneth P. Kolosh, manager of the National Safety Council’s statistics, summed it in a previous article published in Newsweek: “Tragedies do occur, unfortunately, but on an average year, railroad travel is extremely safe.”
At a top speed of 55 miles per hour, subways might pose a lower risk compared to the Hyperloop. High-speed rail (bullet trains) would make for a better comparison. The European Union Directive 96/48/EC, Annex 1 defines high-speed rail with a minimum speed of 250 km/h (155 mph). Naturally, bullet train accidents have the potential to cause more damage than subway accidents. For example, 70 people were killed and hundreds were injured in a train wreck near Amagasaki, Japan in 2005. Yet, more than 143 million people still use the bullet train annually. If the Hyperloop can be as stable as bullet trains and railways, the possibility of crashing shouldn’t be a deal breaker for passengers.
Some people say that time is money. I believe that time is more important than money, because once you spend it you can never get it back. That is part of the Hyperloop’s promise: to help us reclaim the time we spend stuck in slower commutes. In time, the Hyperloop will be just as useful as subways, bullet trains, and airplanes have proven to be.