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MarketInsight | The first hyperloop

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The hyperloop has been in the news again recently. If you don’t know what the hyperloop is, let me tell you. The hyperloop is an alternative form of transport popularized by Elon Musk. It is a giant vacuum tube through which “pods” are shot on a cushion of air, similar to the way a puck moves on a cushion of air across the surface of an air hockey table. Because of the lack of friction, it is possible to obtain extremely high speeds, in excess of 750 miles per hour.

In many ways, the “loop” resembles the pneumatic tubes that banks use at the drive-up window. Musk’s original proposal was to build a system connecting Los Angeles to San Francisco. More recently, talk has centered around a system running from nearby Orlando to Miami. If constructed, the trip would take just 26 minutes. That feels almost like time travel! Now, I don’t know about you, but I really want to be able to go from Orlando to Miami in 26 minutes or less. My daughter goes to the University of Central Florida. If parents’ weekend gets too stressful we can always head to Miami for a few hours.

What many people don’t know is that pneumatic railroads are not new at all. A number were built in the 1800s, the most famous in London. They were early steam-punkers. The London Pneumatic Dispatch Company opened their underground pneumatic railroad in 1863. Small enclosed cars with vulcanized rubber flaps were pushed through the tube on a small gauge railroad track at what was, for the time, the breath-taking speed of 40 mph. The entire thing was powered by a steam engine which drove a giant steel fan. The system was designed to carry mail from the railroad station to the post office, a third of a mile away. The cars, carrying 35 bags of mail each, covered the distance in less than a minute.

As much as I want to go from Orlando to Miami in the time it takes to buy car insurance, the system is not being built for me — or for you either. The primary purpose is the same as it was in 1863: to move parcels as cheaply as possible. We are on the cusp of a transportation revolution, but I am not sure the hyperloop as envisioned above will ever be built. As it turns out, there are competing technologies.

A Japanese firm has proposed building a bullet train from Boston to Washington. The train would travel at 575 miles an hour. There is also a competing vacuum loop train proposed in Europe that runs on magnets instead of air. What I do know is that technology increases geometrically.

Scott A. Grant is local historian and writer. He holds degrees from Cornell University and The Rutgers School of Law. Currently, Grant is President of Standfast Asset Management in Ponte Vedra Beach. He welcomes your comments at


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