August 12, 2013


 Elon Musk's much hyped and speculated about design for a transportation system which was unveiled today. The 57 page PDF is here. One of the Brickmuppet's Crack Team of Science Babes is on the case trying to digest all that info...(or at least digest a sweet potato).

It turns out that this concept is not the vac-train many people predicted so it doesn't have the same technical issues that people have been bringing up for the last few months. It has completely different technical issues.

 I think the notion that right of way issues are no greater than power-lines is wildly optimistic as well as discounting what a legal pain running powerlines can be. The idea of using Inrerstate Medians is a good one that we here at Brickmuppet Blog have long thought to be the only viable right of way option for new rail lines...assuming they could be made economically viable (a BIG assumption). However, keep in mind that attempts to expand a commuter rail system ON EXISTING RAIL LINES here in Hampton Roads faces environmental impact statements and studies that will take up to a decade for some proposed lines. An attempt to install high speed rail tracks next to the existing AMTRAK rail lines is facing a similar issue and delay. The extension of the northeast highspeed rail corridor south is actually an idea which makes good economic sense (unlike most US HSR proposals) but even using existing infrastructures for a well understood technology is taking decades and costing millions before any tracks are even laid. This new tech will give the regulators all sorts of ammunition to mandate all manner of studies. So there is at least one huge political/legal hurdle not addressed.

As to the technical issues, this is a bit out of my comfort zone, but I'm a tad skeptical of the 100% solar power idea (particularly north of the Mason Dixon Line)  and maintaining pressure differentials in well traveled tubes measured in megameters looks to be challenging to say the least.

Brian Wang (who tends to be very sanguine regards mass transit in any form) is running the numbers here, here and here. He looks at the costs here.

That little potential asphyxiation issue notwithstanding this is a very interesting proposal and I'd really like to see something like this made viable.

However, the biggest red flag is not technical or's Elon Musk. This is something that Ace touched on the other day and I think it's valid. With the exception of Pay-Pal, all of Musk's business ventures have involved government (via taxpayer) subsidies. Tesla and SolarCity are totally dependent on this sweetheart deals and strong-arming rivals via his patrons in congress and CalGov. Even Space-X which is an inspiring and innovative endeavor, exists because it was awarded the space station contract while other less politically connected companies were passed over (perhaps justifiably, perhaps not).

We here at Brickmuppet Blog would dearly like for this to work... But given Musk's past business models the thing this most reminds us of is.....

"Science Babe" is actually Anzu Katodani from Girls und Panzer.

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at 08:50 PM | Comments (5) | Add Comment
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1 At least in this part of the country, interstate medians are largely wetlands, and trying to build in them would cause the enviroweenie law-scorpions to strike until they break the stinger off in the proposal.

Posted by: Mitch H. at Tue Aug 13 10:52:21 2013 (jwKxK)

2 There is at least one other company that's got a contract to deliver to ISS, but they're probably another year from launch.  Orbital Science, at
That doesn't detract from your point about Musk. 

Posted by: RickC at Tue Aug 13 18:49:07 2013 (WQ6Vb)

3 First Antares launch with Cignus to ISS is slated NET Sept. 15, 2013. So I would say that Orbital are "probably" less than another year from launch. This will be the last COTS flight. However, the Orbital CRS delivery is planned to commece with a December flight, which is still significanly less than a year from now.

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at Wed Aug 14 19:19:34 2013 (RqRa5)

4 By the way, I'm wondering just who the "other less politically connected companies" might be. Does Ace even know that ATK tendered an entry too? Or perhaps he liked George French wasting 168 million dollars?

Posted by: Pete Zaitcev at Wed Aug 14 19:25:22 2013 (RqRa5)

5 T-Space was the big one that comes to mind. IIRC Space-X got a big infusion of government cash about the same time Tesla did. Whether or not this pushed them ahead of their competition is debatable. Space-X already had some successes. However Musk's other post-Paypal outfits certainly  exist because of government largess.

Don't get me wrong I really like what Space-X has done and am not nearly as down on them as this fellow is.

In fact I think including Space-X in this post was a bit ill-conceived on my part.

I confess I read ACE's post but not he article he linked...which focuses a bit too much on Space-X and in fact is written by a fellow with connections to ATK. (See my later post)

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at Thu Aug 15 16:36:53 2013 (F7DdT)

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