Hyperloop: Do We Really Need It?

Last week, Virgin Hyperloop “completed the first test of its high-speed transportation technology with humans on board,” as reported by CNN. “The company’s hyperloop pod traveled 500 meters and reached speeds of 100mph.” Here is a video report from the Today show:

I first wrote about Hyperloop more than 7 years ago in “Hyperloop And The Quest For A New Transportation Mode.” This was just after Elon Musk introduced his vision for this “fifth mode of transportation” via a fifty-seven page technical paper. Here is part of what I wrote at the time:

Considering his past successes, I will give Elon Musk the benefit of the doubt that he can build a Hyperloop, but probably for a whole lot more than the $6 billion he currently estimates. The bigger question for me is, do we really need it? Is this another example of us going after the “next new shiny thing” versus investing to improve what we currently have?

More than 7 years later, the question still remains: do we really need Hyperloop?

I’m mainly asking with regards to using Hyperloop for cargo transport, although the question applies to passenger travel too. Are we better served, for example, investing our time, money, and resources to eliminate the vast waste that exists within our existing transportation networks and processes? In other words, as I wrote in “Forget Innovation, Just Execute Better,” should we just focus on executing better with the systems and processes we have than chase the next technological or process innovation?

Then again, as I wrote in May 2018 when Virgin Hyperloop One and DP World introduced DP World Cargospeed (watch video of concept):

You can argue that in order to meet the supply chain and logistics challenges of tomorrow, defined by a growing demand for faster and cheaper deliveries of smaller orders, we have to transform and modernize the way we transport goods around the world. More than a century ago, visionaries and entrepreneurs, while traveling on horseback through unpaved dirt trails, looked out and saw the need to build railroads and highways to make commerce more efficient. Today’s visionaries and entrepreneurs, while stuck in traffic on the interstate, see a similar opportunity.

Is Hyperloop the future of passenger and cargo transportation or a sexier version of California’s bullet train and other similar projects that bleed a lot of money and ultimately go nowhere?

Depending on the day and my mood, I could go either way. What do you think?