A lineup of JR East Shinkansen trains in October 2012. By Rsa - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, link

Another Climate Friendly High Speed Rail Project Bites the Dust

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

Even the 30,000 flights per year which connect the 190 mile Singapore to Kuala Lumpur route were not enough to sell a high speed rail project to investors. But Professor Bent Flyvbjerg of Oxford University thinks Elon Musk’s Hyperloop might be the answer.

Is high-speed rail travel on a track to nowhere?

By Tim McDonald
BBC News, Singapore

It was supposed to be a slick, gleaming piece of transport infrastructure that could shuttle passengers from Singapore to Malaysia’s capital Kuala Lumpur in 90 minutes. 

But at the start of this year, the $17bn (£12.5bn) 350km (217 mile) high-speed rail link between the two cities was cancelled for good. 

Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad first hit pause on the proposed line after he took power in 2018, as part of a financial belt-tightening push.

A subsequent coronavirus-fuelled budget crunch then made the project all but irredeemable, with both nations using a joint statement last month to blame “the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on the Malaysian economy”.

Malaysia had proposed cost-cutting changes, but Singapore wouldn’t agree, and the deal fell through.

The UK’s HS2 scheme – which is being built from London to Birmingham, and then on to Leeds and Manchester – was originally expected to cost £56bn, but that figure has since almost doubled to £98bn.

The impact of the pandemic on both the UK government’s coffers and rail passenger numbers has led to opponents of the scheme saying it is no longer justifiable.

Prof Flyvbjerg says another problem with large-scale high-speed rail projects is that they take so long to complete that better alternatives might be available before completion.

For example, the first stage of the HS2 isn’t due to open until 2028 at the earliest. 

He’s hopeful that Elon Musk’s Hyperloop – whereby pods containing passengers travel at great speed through vacuum tubes – might turn out to be a better, more cost-effective alternative to high-speed rail.

Read more: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-55624103

To be fair, BBC contributor Tim McDonald mentions elsewhere in his article that there are 21 profitable high speed rail routes in China (15 main routes + 6 lesser routes). Japan also has profitable routes. But pretty much nobody else seems able to repeat Japan and China’s trick of building sometimes profitable high speed rail tracks.

As for Hyperloop, I’m happy to give Musk a Covid pass for not hitting his 2020 / 10km prediction, but a few hundred metres of Hyperloop in the Nevada desert is not exactly proof the technology is ready to solve the world’s transportation problems.

However Hyperloop fares, I think we can safely conclude that the Green New Deal vision of high speed rail everywhere is a non-starter.

I guess climate champion John Kerry will have to keep his private jet after all.

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Tom Halla
February 4, 2021 6:08 pm

This project at least looks more practical than Jerry Brown’s Toy Train in California.

High Treason
February 4, 2021 6:34 pm

High speed rail simply is unprofitable. The debt servicing is the dominant cost. Rail in general is unprofitable.
The most profitable railway in the world? wait for it…..
Thomas the Tank Engine.

Reply to  High Treason
February 4, 2021 7:18 pm

High speed rail simply is unprofitable” is pseudo axiomatic nonsense. Why do you even focus on high speed rail and not rail? Railways are subsidized all over the world; some countries do it more than others…

Reply to  niceguy
February 4, 2021 7:58 pm

Passenger rail is subsidized every where. Freight hauling rail is profitable.

Reply to  MarkW
February 4, 2021 10:57 pm

French “SNCF fret” has been losing money like … forever, and then there is the fact the State is compensating the specific, sectorial social security of the “cheminots” (railway workers, even those doing only paperwork) because of “demographic imbalance” (there are a lot less “cheminots” than 70 years ago).

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  niceguy
February 5, 2021 11:00 am

It is not the nature of the business. It is the government and insane communist unions of France.

Trying to Play Nice
Reply to  MarkW
February 5, 2021 4:41 am

If the railroads had to pay for their rights-of-way I doubt that freight would be profitable.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Trying to Play Nice
February 5, 2021 11:02 am

In the US most railraods were built in the 19th century on what was then empty land. They don’t have to pay for right of way that they have owned for a 150 years. If a US railroad wanted to add property it would have to pay fair market value for it.

Bryan A
Reply to  MarkW
February 5, 2021 7:50 am

The same could be said about the cost of petrochemical sourced products (plastics etc.) being subsidized by covering drilling/extraction/refinement costs through the sale of transportation fuel

Reply to  Bryan A
February 5, 2021 8:47 am

Bryan A, I doubt that. Plastics are worldwide about 4% of all petroleum used for many purposes, be it mostly for direct burning. That means also only 4% of the costs of extracting, refining, etc…

PE and some other plastics have the lowest overall energy costs to produce (about 20% up to 50% for other types) and after use they even can be burned and still give a substantial part of their initial energy back for heat or power generation.
Other materials use far more energy to produce from coal (steel, cement), gas (glass) of power (aluminum) and don’t give that back. Even recycling uses lots more energy for these products than for plastics.

Bryan A
Reply to  Ferdinand Engelbeen
February 5, 2021 7:30 pm

Unless of course we stop using oil for gasoline and diesel fuel. Transportation and electric generation use the lion share of energy derived from fossil fuels and thus act to buffer the price that is charged for petrochemical derivatives. If oil exploration/extraction were only for petrochemical derivatives (plastics etc) they would cost significantly more.
Low cost petrochemical products are purely “Low Cost” due to fuel use paying the lion share of drilling costs.
i.e. the cost of producing Transportation Fuels subsidizes the low cost petrochemical market.

paul courtney
Reply to  Bryan A
February 5, 2021 10:15 am

Bryan A.: How do you define “subsidize”? They sold me a tank of gas, did I “subsidize” the oil co.?

Reply to  paul courtney
February 5, 2021 12:31 pm

Oh, I thought you simply purchased a product. When I buy Cap’n Crunch at Walmart, am I subsidizing Quaker Oats Oat Meal? Or the farmer growing oats?

Bryan A
Reply to  MajDad
February 5, 2021 7:45 pm

Don’t be silly…
Oil/Natural Gas aren’t explored, drilled, extracted and refined for petrochemical production, it’s done for Gas and Diesel production and heating and cooking.
But you can’t produce the necessary olefins without exploration.

Simply without the main use (energy) petrochemicals would reflect the entire cost.

Bryan A
Reply to  paul courtney
February 5, 2021 7:36 pm

In this case I am defining “subsidize” as causing the price of a product (petrochemicals) to be lower than it otherwise would be without the primary product (oil, gasoline, diesel) acting to buffer the cost of producing the source (oil exploration)

Bryan A
Reply to  paul courtney
February 5, 2021 9:47 pm

paul courtney
Reply to
Bryan A
February 5, 2021 10:15 am
Bryan A.: How do you define “subsidize”? They sold me a tank of gas, did I “subsidize” the oil co.?

Nope…your tank of gas subsidized the petrochemical industry (indirectly)

Michael S. Kelly
Reply to  Bryan A
February 5, 2021 9:12 pm

The bulk of plastic manufacture from fossil sources is production of polyethylene. Almost none of it comes from petroleum. It is almost entirely made from components of natural gas that are unsuitable for pipeline transport and fuel usage. If they weren’t made into plastic, they’d be flared at the well head. The fraction of a barrel of oil used for petrochemicals (largely non-plastics, such as pharmaceuticals) is miniscule, and would required more chemical engineering effort to convert to usable fuels than they’d be worth.

But on what planet is selling a waste product from a profitable production line a subsidy of that waste product? Subsidies are specifically monies taken from the public by force through taxation, and given to businesses whose economics would not otherwise permit their continued operations.

There may or may not be a good reason for a given subsidy in one industry or another, but subsidies in the petroleum and natural gas industries are non-existent (at least in the United States). Those industries manage to produce product at a certain cost, then sell it to consumers at a profit despite federal, state, and local governments adding taxes to the sale price. The fossil fuel industries subsidize the government, not the other way around.

Bryan A
Reply to  Michael S. Kelly
February 5, 2021 9:44 pm

And if natural gas weren’t being extracted for heating and energy production (i.e. no more fossil fuel production for energy), the total cost of doing so would be entirely borne by petrochemicals.
Using fossil fuel for energy subsidizes the cost of using it for petrochemicals

Reply to  Bryan A
February 6, 2021 5:21 pm

Very twisted use of the word ‘subsidize’. You could easily say the monetary conversion of what would otherwise be a waste product is subsidizing the primary products. When a word can mean whatever you want it to mean, it becomes meaningless.

You are misusing the word. Eliminate either petrochemicals or fossil fuel for energy, and the price of the other goes up, but neither subsidizes the other any more than selling pigs’ feet subsidizes bacon (or vice versa). Wrong use of the word.

Bryan A
Reply to  jtom
February 7, 2021 8:23 pm

Fossil fuel (Gasoline and Diesel) prices are based on
Cost of exploration
Cost of production
Cost of refinement
Cost of delivery
Taxes paid along the way for all aspects

Similar for natural gas

Inexpensive petrochemical products are made possible only because fossil fuels (like natural gas) are produced for energy.

How much would plastics and other synthetics cost if we didn’t use natural gas for heating, cooking and generating electricity?

Petrochemical products would reflect the entire cost of

On top of conversion to olefins
And creation of end products

Reply to  niceguy
February 4, 2021 9:38 pm

“Railways are subsidized all over the world”
Yeah, that’s because the users do not consider then worth the cost, so the government lowers the cost to the rider by subsidizing them. One notes that subsidies are not required by the airlines, intercity buses or highways, so why is government subsidizing theri competition.

Willem post
Reply to  JimK
February 5, 2021 4:35 am

Airlines and road vehicle transport are subsidized all over the world

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Willem post
February 5, 2021 5:32 am

Where, exactly? Here in the US, road improvements are funded by fuel taxes. Airport infrastructure is paid for by airlines through landing and gate fees and other methods. The privy purse may provide the upfront capital, but users eventually pay for it.

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  D. J. Hawkins
February 5, 2021 7:38 am

The purchase of the vehicles in the UK is taxed, there is also Vehicle Excise Duty paid annually whichraises more than the costs of road building and maintenance. Interestingly rail travel tickets are subject to 20% VAT whereas air tickets are zero rated. For road travel fuel is double taxed, fuel duty and VAT added after the excise duty. Most countries operate similar regimes

Reply to  Ben Vorlich
February 6, 2021 8:53 am

Hmm the tax you pay on the purchase of the car – is that VAT or is it a License Fee? Interesting on rail tickets being subject to 20% VAT and airline tickets not – the VAT rate in the Uk is 20% – correct?

Climate believer
Reply to  D. J. Hawkins
February 5, 2021 7:46 am

Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways are the main ones affecting the US, but lets be honest there’s is no real level playing field anywhere.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Climate believer
February 5, 2021 11:04 am

None of those flies between any US city pairs.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  Willem post
February 5, 2021 11:03 am

Wilem: You are just making this stuff up.

Walter Sobchak
Reply to  niceguy
February 5, 2021 10:59 am

Passenger Railways are subsidized. In the US that is like 1% of the railroad business. The rest is freight. It is not subsidized and it is quite profitable.

February 4, 2021 6:40 pm

Why is it that these profs always seem to be disconnection from reality ?

Reply to  Streetcred
February 4, 2021 8:09 pm

Because they are.

Joel O'Bryan
February 4, 2021 6:44 pm

The only reason Gov Newsom kept Moonbeam’s rail project alive was to keep soaking up the Federal money that they wanted to get and fund the union jobs building that Albatross.
How can anyone seriously think a slow link electric train between Fresno and Bakersfield has any future???
A: it doesn’t. At this point, it’s just a union jobs project funded by tax dollars with gargantuan failure written all over it.

Those rail construction workers need to learn to install solar panels, per Lurch er.. Heinz Ketchup, err I mean per John Kerry.

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
February 5, 2021 5:44 am

What is the carbon footprint of all that concrete, steel, and heavy equipment transport to build high speed rail to nowhere?

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
February 5, 2021 8:40 am

but the vast majority of the grifted money didn’t go to union workers, it fell into the wallets of the thousands of administrators being paid several hundred thousand dollar salaries annually.
a good number of the administrators spent enough years on the job that they retired without seeing a millimeter of track laid, much less passengers boarding a train.

February 4, 2021 6:51 pm

Are those Chinese and Japanese high-speed rail lines truly profitable, or are they only profitable on an operating basis, ignoring all the capital costs?

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
February 4, 2021 8:10 pm

Labor costs in China are so low on those projects they just drop them from the calcs.

Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
February 4, 2021 9:41 pm

I think I read that some of the Japan projects are making money off of land around the stations.

Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
February 5, 2021 12:07 am

As a frequent traveller to China, I can tell you that every high speed train I have been on has been full, even where there are more frequent stops, there is rarely an empty seat, people get off and others get on. All seats must be booked, most in advance. Turning up at the station hoping to get a ticket is very hit and miss, you can wait for several trains before getting a seat. I travel Beijing to/from Jinan. When I first visited there were old style trains which took 5hrs (fast). Today they take between 1:10 to 1:30 hours and most continue on to Shanghai, a few to Tsingtao and other destinations. There is a least one train an hour. Indeed since the line opened, a second line was constructed alongside the first, at least as far as Jinan. I could also fly Beijng t/f Jinan but even with a taxi ride from the airport to station (30 mins if you drive early enough to avoid traffic), it is significantly cheaper and no slower to take the train.

Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
February 5, 2021 5:51 am

Do the Chinese have any knowledge of the time and cost of permits, court cases, and environmental impact studies in the U.S. to do any new industrial or public works project? or do they even care?

Jim Whelan
Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
February 5, 2021 8:12 am

In China it’s all government anyway. Cost, profit, loss are not viable concepts in a communist society. It could be 100% subsidized (and in a sense it is) or it could be widely profitable. There’s no way to know.

Paul Penrose
Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
February 5, 2021 9:25 am

In China, it’s likely that they merely seized all the right-of-way property that they needed. In the US, you have to buy it, and even one reluctant property owner can tie up a project for years. There’s also a massive difference it labor costs.

Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
February 5, 2021 1:15 pm

China rail in particular can easily be profitable because the government will clear the land for them for free (one of the largest and most time consuming part of the process in countries where people have property rights).

JP Guthrie
Reply to  Retired_Engineer_Jim
February 5, 2021 4:55 pm

They are profitable, for the moment anyway. The capital costs are lower in Japan largely because there is less legal red tape to unravel. Regulations regarding noise, environmental impact, etc are minimal. A train line can be built next to your home, business, or school, and there is nothing you can do about it. In America the legal costs can exceed the costs of construction, machinery, and materials, in Japan it does not. The lack of building regulations has an unintended benefit, it allows one to easily find affordable housing in the world’s most expensive cities. A home or apartment only an arm’s reach from passing trains is quite cheap.

Reply to  JP Guthrie
February 5, 2021 8:35 pm

In France people have seen a high speed line appear near their home, built on high ground so the sound travels easily, and nobody asked their opinion on the matter or proposed to indemnify them.
Still, these new lines cost around 10 € per mm.

peter schell
February 4, 2021 7:13 pm

There is a guy called Thunderfoot who has done a lot of debunking videos of the hyperloop, and other things. He brought up a lot of points that never seem to get mentioned, and are scary as heck to think about.

Frankly, after seeing the points he brought up I can’t understand how any serious engineer could possibly think the hyperloop could ever be a real thing.

Reply to  peter schell
February 4, 2021 10:01 pm

While going to the ISS, the astronauts have a spacesuit, even though f.ex. the SpaceX Crew Dragon is pressurized the whole time and there is no EVA: just in case.

I wonder if the general public realizes that for practical Hyperloop “EVA”/pods human failure survival purposes, the tunnel is exactly at the same pressure as outer space: zero pressure.

(For near speed of sound travel in a very narrow tunnel, the huge amount of air molecules still present in the Hyperloop is an extremely difficult problem.)

Jim Whelan
Reply to  niceguy
February 5, 2021 8:17 am

I always think the big problem will be pressurization failures. Air leaks in, The pods experience sudden deceleration leading to dead occupants. An accident could cause a serious breach causing the tube to collapse, perhaps miles from the original incident. Pods pile into each other like a highway rear-end chain reaction.

D. Anderson
Reply to  peter schell
February 5, 2021 2:53 pm

He also points out it’s a very old idea, over 100 years. And in 100 years nobody has figured out how to make it work.

February 4, 2021 7:16 pm

A lot of leftists in France now hate high speed train lines because they think they can make them (as a uniform whole) responsible for the sorry state of the French traditional railways. It’s nonsense obviously. Each line has its own difficulties, number of costly bridges and tunnels, and economic equation. One is not like the other. Some have a real market and are useful, others are political toys.

Ed Zuiderwijk
February 4, 2021 7:19 pm

France has a successful high speed network, TGV, train grande vitesse. In operation since 1981, expanding all the time. Speed typically 200 m/hr. It holds the record for fastest train at 360 m/hr.
Been on it, merveilleux!


Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
February 4, 2021 7:39 pm

That’s KPH, not MPH.

Ed Zuiderwijk
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
February 5, 2021 1:44 am

No. It is miles per hour.

Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
February 5, 2021 8:24 am

You’re right, sorry. I searched for 360 in the wiki article and it only showed km/hr.

Climate believer
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
February 5, 2021 2:05 am

Jeff, the world record is held by a French train 574.8 km/h (357.2 mph).

Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
February 4, 2021 9:39 pm

1) TGV typically does a little more than 200 meters per hours. When the workers are not on strike, that is.

2) TGV is not “merveilleux”. It has ridiculously little storage for big suitcases, there is the overhead case but nobody is available to help you put it there, and it’s small.

Also, there is the case where one bathroom has no water, the next one no paper, the next one is closed, and you travel several cars before finding a properly operable one!

Ed Zuiderwijk
Reply to  niceguy
February 5, 2021 1:44 am

Are you talking about British Rail? Obviously never been on a TGV.

Climate believer
Reply to  niceguy
February 5, 2021 2:00 am

Anecdotal stories of paperless toilets don’t make much of an argument, unpleasant as that might be niceguy.

Example: If you want to get from Paris to Bordeaux, a distance of about 500km or 310 miles as the crow flies, you can go…

By car on a motorway:  €103.71 (tolls €56.20 + fuel consumption €47.51) takes about 5 1/2 hours

By Air: €154 minimum, takes 1 1/2 hours + airport time, 8-13 flights per day

By TGV (train) takes 2-2 1/2 hours, no waiting, no airport security, prices vary a lot depending on time of day, student, OAP etc. €13- €100 14 trains per day.

I would suggest always try avoiding school holidays and go 1st class it’s really not that more expensive and they always have paper in their toilets. 😉

Journey example details for Monday 8th Feb:
10:52 PARIS MONTPARNASSE 1 ET 2 12:56 BORDEAUX ST JEANdirect 2nd class from €65, 1st class from €71
12:52 PARIS MONTPARNASSE 1 ET 214:56 BORDEAUX ST JEANdirect 2nd class from €47 1st class from €53
…. seems reasonable.

Reply to  Climate believer
February 5, 2021 3:45 am

Call me crazy but when I travel I always carry a small roll of toilet paper. Started doing so when I was traveling in Indonesia and never stopped.
I am a bit of a supporter of Middle Speed Railroads. 100mph to 150mph is a decent speed that doesn’t cost as much to build or to maintain. It does cost money to support it but for that money you get an entire mode of passenger transport and the strength that brings to a nations transportation system. Plus it gets the plebes off the roads I am using so I can drive faster with fewer traffic jams….

Ben Vorlich
Reply to  ZivBnd
February 5, 2021 7:47 am

One of my mothers best pieces of advice when I started making long journeys on my own in my teens. Always have some soft toilet paper with you. Google Izal and Bronco

Reply to  Climate believer
February 5, 2021 4:24 am

Mahoosively subsidised. Whereas the car is mahoosively taxed.

Gary Ashe
Reply to  Climate believer
February 5, 2021 4:28 am

why dont you just go with the crow.

Trying to Play Nice
Reply to  Climate believer
February 5, 2021 4:51 am

Is Bordeaux a small tourist town where you just walk everywhere? Or do you need to spend time in line getting a rental car and then returning it when you are returning to Paris? The drive doesn’t seem that long when you include travel to and from train stations and the convenience of having a vehicle at your disposal when you are out of town. I guess it depends on the length of your trip and your planned activities.

Climate believer
Reply to  Trying to Play Nice
February 5, 2021 5:52 am

Right, so it’s all about choice and practicality. If you’re going to pick up several cases of Château Bellevue, probably take the car. If you’re a student going to college, take the train.

French train tickets are about 20% of the real cost of the transportation.

As Chaswarnertoo says “Mahoosively subsidised”, but not everyone has a car, so what do you do?

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  niceguy
February 5, 2021 7:52 am

Niceguy posted: “1) TGV typically does a little more than 200 meters per hours.”

I don’t think so. 200 m/hr would be about 0.12 mph.

Bryan A
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
February 5, 2021 7:53 pm

Probably meant 200kph 200 meters is 650′ or about 10.8′ per minute
Unless the train truly does travel at a Snail’s pace

Reply to  Ed Zuiderwijk
February 5, 2021 4:00 am

They are also amazingly on time. They must be subsidized as I have rarely seen trains with all seats filled. I have taken the train from Lyon to Paris, arriving on the exact minute scheduled, from Strasberg to Paris and from Paris to Tours.

Climate believer
Reply to  Stu
February 5, 2021 6:00 am

They must be subsidized as I have rarely seen trains with all seats filled.”

They have, surprisingly, quite a high economic efficiency of bums on seats, i.e. an average of 227 passengers per train.
By comparison, Deutsche Bahn trains only carry a little over 100 passengers per train on average. 

Reply to  Climate believer
February 5, 2021 1:00 pm

I used to commute on Southern Railways, into London Bridge Station. Rush hour, there were an estimated thousand- plus passengers on an eight carriage train [About 710 seats].
More when really busy, or if an earlier train was cancelled . . .

Happily Retired!

Reply to  Climate believer
February 5, 2021 7:48 pm

high economic efficiency of bums on seats, i.e. an average of 227 passengers per train”

But but but that isn’t how ecoloons define efficiency. They define inefficient as “one ton to move one or a few people in car”. That way, well filled, economically efficient trains utterly fail the test. Their test. They can suck it up.

Jeff Alberts
February 4, 2021 7:25 pm

Professor Bent Flyvbjerg

Come on man, that’s a fake name.

Joel O'Bryan
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
February 4, 2021 8:07 pm

It wouldn’t be the first time a reporter was just MSU* in a story and sending it to his editors for publication, with zero checking before publishing. Happening all too frequently now in the media. As long as it fits expectations, no one is checking, which just abets evermore of the same.

*making shit up

Reply to  Joel O'Bryan
February 5, 2021 9:32 am
Jeff Alberts
Reply to  Eric Worrall
February 4, 2021 9:37 pm

I bent my Flyvbjerg once, a good time was had by all.

Dr Trevor J. Hutley
Reply to  Jeff Alberts
February 7, 2021 3:35 pm

Bent Flyvbjerg is a Danish economic geographer. He is Professor of Major Programme Management at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School and the first Director of the University’s BT Centre for Major Programme Management

Bryan A
February 4, 2021 8:33 pm

He’s hopeful that Elon Musk’s Hyperloop – whereby pods containing passengers travel at great speed through vacuum tubes – might turn out to be a better, more cost-effective alternative to high-speed rail.

It will absolutely will prove to be a cost effective better alternative…
Until the first pod has a pressure leak on the trip from LA to Hawaii and the passengers blood boils before they’re half way there.
No one will know about the leak or the unfortunate circumstances until the pod arrives and all aboard are dead. OR the breaks fail and the passengers all go SPLAT

Reply to  Bryan A
February 5, 2021 5:12 am

The airline industry has been using pressurized cabins since 1949. Above the altitude of Aspen, Colorado, grandma needs a mask to stay alert. Concorde flew at 0.07 atm. Above ~0.15 atm. everyone needs hospital style ventilators, to keep their lungs inflated.

So it can be done. It only costs as much as a high-speed rail line PLUS the cost of a commercial airliner PLUS the cost of a tunnel PLUS the cost of an oil pipeline.

Hmm, maybe the workers from Keystone XL can do it. /s

Bryan A
Reply to  RLu
February 5, 2021 7:56 am

Except that in the case of air travel, should the Cabin pressure fall the airline reduces altitude to a higher pressure zone. If the Pod pressure seal fails, there is no increasing external pressure in the vacuum tube. Just like in the ISS, should a catastrophic pressure leak occur, the astronauts can’t just step outside.

Reply to  Bryan A
February 5, 2021 7:45 pm

Not only that, planes have been lost because pressurization was lost and the crew would not notice it. Also, you have to actively put your masks on; that implies someone has to be conscious.

The plane analogy is just idiotic. The Hyperloop is space travel. But with the added issue of air. (Like reentry but at minuscule speed.)

Jim Whelan
Reply to  RLu
February 5, 2021 8:59 am

Planes and Hyperloop pressure issues are different

  1. It’s a lot easier to work with a tube that’s only a few hundred feet long than one that’s hundreds of miles long.
  2. Most importantly a tube pressurized on the inside is much easier to build. The pressure is contained by tension in the containing material which needs no rigidity or internal structure to keep its form. Containg a vacuum is much more difficult. Either there must be internal structures to resist the outside pressure or the tube itself must be extremely rigid and strong. Minor differences in structural strength can result in structure failure.

Consider a simple plastic soda bottle made of thin plastic. If can contain several atmospheres of internal pressure without exploding. But attach a vacuum pump and it will collapse before even a small amount of air is removed. I’ve seen thousands of balloons but not many simple vacuum chambers.

Reply to  Jim Whelan
February 5, 2021 7:27 pm

OTOH the plane must cycle between pressurized and unpressurized (inducing fatigue), while the Hyperloop would probably stay at constant “negative pressure”.

Jim Whelan
Reply to  niceguy
February 6, 2021 9:16 am

The negative pressure situation is unstable and very small problems will increase rapidly. And I suspect that the stresses from the pods moving through the tube will be significantly larger than the pressurization/depressurization cycles.

Reply to  RLu
February 5, 2021 7:36 pm

The airline industry has been using pressurized cabins since 1949.”

That’s a really lame comeback. Like suggesting that 300 bar H2 fuel tanks for cars is safe because people have been transporting pressurized colas in cars since forever.

Outside the pod there is practically (for the purpose of survival – not for pod travel purposes) the vacuum of outer space. Obviously you don’t believe that actual planes (not rockets) travel in outer space, or that Himalaya hiking is like Moon walking.

And then there is that nasty issue that outside the pod there isn’t a vacuum (like outside the ISS): there is a lot of air, that will accumulate in front of it when it travels. I still don’t see any practical proposal to handle that overpressure.

And the breaking the sound barrier for all that air trying to go around the pod isn’t discussed either!

Jim Whelan
Reply to  Bryan A
February 5, 2021 8:24 am

I suspect the real problem with a leak won’t be the lack of air for the passengers. The pods will encounter resistance and the pneumatic flow will drive the pods into the side of the tube. The passengers will be killed by the decelleration and impact. the tube will experience a catastrophic failure from the impact and collapse. Pods pile into the accident from behind …

Paul Johnson
February 4, 2021 9:06 pm

The key to any infrastructure project is to spread construction costs by maximizing utilization. Even with 30,000 trips a year, a dedicated passenger rail segment is idle 94% of the time. Roadways carrying mostly short-haul passenger cars during the day and mostly long-haul freight trucks at night are far more cost-effective.

Note that Elon Musk, after getting a big PR boost from HyperLoop, has left it to others to waste their time and effort on the concept. There’s a reason he’s rich.

Reply to  Paul Johnson
February 4, 2021 10:01 pm

He does seem to be very adept at attracting “cargo cult” type followers of anything & everything “green”, doesn’t he?

Tom in Florida
Reply to  Mr.
February 5, 2021 7:31 am

If Musk lived in the 1880’s he would no doubt have been the king of snake oil sales.

Paul Johnson
Reply to  Mr.
February 5, 2021 9:53 pm

That was not my point. One can judge his faith in the technology by how closely he holds the company. Compare SpaceX and The Boring Company (privately held), to Tesla (public stock), and HyperLoop (abandoned) then guess where he sees the greatest potential.

Reply to  Paul Johnson
February 5, 2021 9:24 am

He sells the sizzle. Cooking the steak is the patsies’ job.

Tom in Florida
Reply to  drednicolson
February 6, 2021 5:41 am

Buying the steak for him is the dummies job.

Clyde Spencer
February 4, 2021 9:53 pm

“… another problem with large-scale high-speed rail projects is that they take so long to complete that better alternatives might be available before completion.”

I remember someone — it may have been Carl Sagan — saying that if the Conestoga Wagons of the 49ers could have flown, and had left for the moon in 1849, they would still not have arrived by the time the Apollo astronauts arrived.

No technology before its time!

Jim Whelan
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
February 5, 2021 8:30 am

The better analogy is that the pioneers in the Conastoga wagons should have waited for the interstate highways. Another point is that the new technology also takes a long time to build and have operational. That logic means you never build anything because you’re always waiting for the next breakthrough.

February 4, 2021 10:40 pm
February 4, 2021 11:09 pm

oops, posted in wrong thread.

February 5, 2021 12:16 am

Prof Flyvbjerg says another problem with large-scale high-speed rail projects is that they take so long to complete that better alternatives might be available before completion.”

Well the Chinese know how to do this. While travelling on the first high speed line Beijing to Jinan, I was lucky to witness the second parallel line being built. I can tell you that construction was underway along the whole 800km or so. The next time I was there, 2 years later it was in use.

Peta of Newark
February 5, 2021 1:22 am

Back in the time when ‘railways’ were just kicking off here in Gt. Britain, one of the pioneers wanted to build a railway with (I think) a track gauge of nigh on 8 feet.
Also he wanted, one of the reasons for the wider track, was to give the engines and carriages much larger wheels.

As we see, his idea/dream was smashed down by penny pinching brain-deads (what’s the opposite of a ‘visionary’) and railways arrived at the 4ft something gauge.
The Non-Brain-Deads of wuwt and those of an engineering bent will quickly realise manifold benefits of the wider track and bigger wheels.

  • Trains will be able to go round corners faster without fear of falling off
  • Passengers will have a nicer ride because the larger wheels
  • Trains need not need be so goddam heavy, just to keep themselves on the track
  • Passenger compartments will be spacious – just as one might find on a Cruise Ship
  • Lighter trains can stop and start much more efficiently
  • The extra track width will allow ‘double-deckers’
  • Larger wheels give greater & improved ‘track contact’ for the locomotives so they can be lighter and safer, esp in emergency braking situations

Just look at the win-win in all that.
Wider = double the possible passenger numbers, getting a smoother & nicer ride in better seats & furniture, more ‘normal’ snack bars and facilities with the option of a further doubling by going double-decker.

And Social Distancing.
Eat that shit Boris et al…

All inside trains that can stop/start much more efficiently, that being THE BUGBEAR of all Hi-Speed-Trains.
Stop/start is primarily what trashes the Hi-Speed bit

and the chances of that happening……..
not good is it – not looking good at all for the Antroposeen- much more like the Terminally Dumb-o-Scene
terminal being the operative

Oh God, I actually did it.
‘terminal’ ‘railway

Reply to  Peta of Newark
February 5, 2021 1:30 am

Are trains with wide tracks more confortable, at the same speed, for equivalent construction quality?

I know narrow tracks (like 800 mm) are ill behaved at high speed but it isn’t the question. Is 1600 mm f.ex. more confortable?

Reply to  Peta of Newark
February 5, 2021 6:52 am

It was done. Brunel engineered the Great Western Railway with a much wider gauge. It worked very well: journey times from London to Bristol were not so different from today.
Unfortunately the other rail companies all adopted a narrower gauge. The 2 systems could not co-exist so GWR changed over to be the same as the others. The work was very well planned so it was carried out over a weekend.
Afaik Russia still runs a wider gauge than Europe.
Lastly you don’t need a wider track gauge to run doubledecker carriages: it’s the loading gauge which dictates that – the width of bridges, tunnels, etc.. Much of Europe uses doubledeck carriages.

Jim Whelan
Reply to  Mikehig
February 5, 2021 8:32 am

Amtrak uses double deck throughout.

Jim Whelan
Reply to  Peta of Newark
February 5, 2021 8:34 am

I think acceleration/deceleration rates have more to do with passenger comfort than gauge.

Reply to  Jim Whelan
February 5, 2021 8:30 pm

Acceleration and jerk have a lot to do with tracks!
French trains are uncomfortable and very instable. Unless you have a lot of practice, it’s hard to walk straight without touching every other chair to balance yourself.

Gary Ashe
February 5, 2021 4:21 am

Wrong title.

Another Climate Friendly High Speed Rail Project Bites the Dust
Not bite the dust but comes off the rails

Peter Morris
February 5, 2021 5:01 am

Hyperloop will never work, in the same way that a wooden ladder will never be built to the moon. The fact that so many people believe it will be built demonstrates the appalling lack of basic scientific education in America.

February 5, 2021 5:41 am

They should have hired Jerry Brown to help get more funding for extra miles…..before pulling the plug. Antarctica is great for that, right Jerry.

Stephen Skinner
February 5, 2021 6:04 am

 “the impact of Covid-19 pandemic on the Malaysian economy”.
No, No, No. It is the reaction to this virus, based on in most cases an exaggerated threat, that has caused the global damage to economies. A virus will only cause damage if a sizeable number of key people are incapacitated or die. This hasn’t happened, except everyone has behaved as if they are incapacitated. All the damage has been self inflicted and unnecessary.

Reply to  Stephen Skinner
February 5, 2021 8:31 pm

It’s the cult of RCT and lack of treatment for a common pneumonia that caused many of those people to be incapacitated.

February 5, 2021 7:10 am

“…there are 21 profitable high speed rail routes in China…”

And where did that claim come from? China? If so, why do you believe it Eric?

Gordon A. Dressler
February 5, 2021 7:42 am

From the above article, as reported by Tim McDonald, BBC News: “Prof. Flyvbjerg says . . .
He’s hopeful that Elon Musk’s Hyperloop – whereby pods containing passengers travel at great speed through vacuum tubes – might turn out to be a better, more cost-effective alternative to high-speed rail.”

Really? Among the MANY basic problems associated with Musk’s concept for a “hyperloop” moving people inside a vacuum tunnel at 400+ mph speeds (not a technological concept that Musk originated, by the way) are the following:
(a) the need to carry stored compressed oxygen or oxygen-generating equipment and CO2 scrubbers for the passengers since the vehicle is operating within the near-vacuum inside the hyperloop tube,
(b) needing 3+-mile radius turns to keep g-loads on passengers at tolerable levels at full speed, and
(c) a means to rescue passengers from the extended hyperloop vacuum tunnel in event of pod/train propulsion or levitation failure, or in event of earthquake-caused tunnel displacement/breach. 

Mark L. Gilbert
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
February 5, 2021 9:45 am

I actually work for a company that does vacuum better than any other. You are seeing problems in the comparisons you are making but missing something very important. They will be building in an ambient pressure of atmosphere. The tunnel will have a smaller companion tunnel that must be vented to atmosphere to exhaust the vacuum pumps. That same tunnel can be used to re-pressurize sections. The entire tunnel would not be the same vacuum vessel. It would need be in sections I am sure.

Sudden depressurization would be rather hard to do. Slowly and safely repressurizing a section for passenger safety would be quite easy, which would automatically slow a train. Rapid depressure would need a HUGE violent event, that would probably have far more dangerous consequences than the vacuum.

Anyone can invent obstacles. Musk has proven with vision the impossible seeming can be engineered.

Mark L. Gilbert
Reply to  Mark L. Gilbert
February 5, 2021 10:21 am

Also, I did 11 years in the US Navy on Submarines (boomers) so I know about survival in a differential pressurized environment. The tunnels worst differential would only ever be 1 atmosphere. We made our own air on the boat, and scrubbed the contaminants. This is not new technology. We didn’t wear spacesuits. I fail to see how an atmospheric problem could not be solved by simply stopping the pod, and using a device to connect to the companion air tunnel.

It is fairly simple to imagine a functionally one piece vacuum tunnel that could very quickly be isolated into sections for safety or maintenance. All you would need are something like a plug in a recess to the side, that could be pushed in and forward or back to seal off sections. You build the plug in a bulge that extends the vacuum environment to the side.

Proper risk assessment and engineering, then testing, can conquer all of those challenges with existing technology. Again, this is not even particularly tough engineering, as all of the technology exists and has for many years. You should see some of the amazing machines we build for manufacturing.

Ideally there should be tandem tunnels for maintenance and repairs. Then parts could be taken down for maintenance or rescue while service continued on the tandem track.

I worked on the missiles, so I know enough to be amazed at what he has done with rocketry.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  Mark L. Gilbert
February 5, 2021 1:27 pm

Since you claim to have worked for a “company that does vacuum better than any other”, you must surely be aware that it will take a significant amount of time to vent a vacuum tunnel to ambient pressure thru orifices (i.e., valves, near the vacuum pumping stations), assuming they are located every mile or so along the Hyperloop vacuum tunnel. This is so because the atmospheric-pressure driven flow through such valves will be sonic-choked (i.e., flowrate limited) until the vacuum tunnel pressure reaches 7 psia or higher, as you know from your work experience.

Of course, the Hyperloop tunnel could be designed to have vacuum pumping/venting stations and valves located every five hundred feet or so along the Hperloop tube—which may run 20 miles or so between passenger onload/offload stations . . . to increase the emergency venting rate, but the cost of such would be extraordinary.

Engineering-based obstacles to Musk’s “vision” for a Hyperloop don’t need to be invented.

By the way, do you happen to have an update for how Musk’s plan to have his Boring Company put in a massive underground tunnel system—with electric-powered platforms to carry passenger cars at high speed so as to avoid surface street congestion in the Los Angeles area—is going?

It’s been more than 3 years since Musk first announced his plans for this (see the video of the the initial plan at https://www.dezeen.com/2017/05/02/elon-musk-boring-company-plan-beat-traffic-underground-car-skates-transport-technology/ and the video for the subsequently “scaled back” version at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=icaroxniCyc ). It had quite the buzz for a while.

February 5, 2021 7:58 am

How can anyone says anything about China being profitable. The CCP says it is therefore it must be?? Japanese routes may be profitable but look at the population density. Nothing like it in America.

February 5, 2021 8:56 am

I was hoping it would be California’s boondoggle. No such luck.

Steve Oregon
February 5, 2021 9:02 am

The nostalgic enamor for rail transit never dies with the alternative modes crowd.
They support it even if only for the sake of alternativism itself.
It’s notion driven.

February 5, 2021 10:04 am

The Future is ‘Catapults’….they are individualized and you don’t have to invest billions…

Paul C
February 5, 2021 11:01 am

Funny how the original cost of HS2 went down the memory hole.
The 2011 cost was supposed to be £32.2bn according to this BBC article, so the cost has more than trebled. It’s worse than we thought.
I have also seen claims that the development is in reverse. Apparently, the northern sections of the line could have been more easily built, faster, at lower cost, and with greater economic benefit than the southern (London) sections.

Paul C
Reply to  Paul C
February 5, 2021 11:34 am
February 5, 2021 1:13 pm

It’s easy to be profitable in China if you are doing something the government approves of.

JP Guthrie
February 5, 2021 4:35 pm

I live in Japan, and the shinkansen (bullet train) is heavily used. These trains are fast, clean, and punctual, I can get from Tokyo to Kyoto in a little more than two hours. The trains are long, have huge capacity, and run every few minutes. Seats fill quickly, and often you have to stand during your commute if you don’t pay extra for a reserved seat.

The shinkansen is somewhat profitable because costs are low, particularly labor and legal costs. No Japan Railways executive earns even half what an American or European executive would get, and JR employees, the engineers, ticket agents, and maintenance people generally earn less than the national median income. Legalese and red tape (and their high costs) are minimal in Japan, which probably has the lowest number of lawyers per capita of any developed country.

Despite the low overhead and minimal regulations, these railways are barely profitable. This is despite the fact that fares are high (they lost vast amounts of money until they were privatized). It will cost me more than $200 for a one-way ticket to Kyoto, more than $300 for a ticket to Osaka. It costs significantly less to fly.

But the shinkansen is about to become unprofitable due to a change in Japanese law, the government is largely eliminating the “hanko” system, a system which requires the use of personal and company seals for business agreements and deals. Official documents have long required seals be affixed in front of witnesses, who then apply their own seals. Abandoning the hanko system will greatly reduce the cost and complexity of doing business in Japan, and greatly reduce the need to travel in person for business.

This being the case, it is likely that shinkansen service will be reduced, and it is unlikely that it will ever be profitable again.

February 6, 2021 1:03 am

“As for Hyperloop, I’m happy to give Musk a Covid pass for not hitting his 2020 / 10km prediction, but a few hundred metres of Hyperloop in the Nevada desert is not exactly proof the technology is ready to solve the world’s transportation problems.”

That’s Virgin or Sir Richard Branson
And Musk put Starship up 10 km but didn’t “successfully land” – big fireball. And did it twice
each time with crash and fireball. And going to try it again.

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