This is a newly corrected version (fixing dead links and minor errors) of a paper originally published in the Fall of 2013 right after the publication of the Hyperloop Alpha Specification. Because there have been many changes to Hyperloop since then, a new version of this paper is being prepared.
“We have a lot of people revolutionizing
the world because they’ve never had to present a working model.”— Charles Franklin Kettering, American inventor, longtime GM head of research (1876–1958)
Let me first introduce you to our “cast of characters” — the different technologies that are vying to replace current transportation systems:
Hyperloop (www.Hyperloop.com) is Elon Musk’s recent proposal for a high-speed transportation system linking Los Angeles and San Francisco, using a pair of partially-evacuated transportation tubes. (The term “transportation tube” is used here for any enclosed pneumatric, partially-evacuated, or fully-evacuated large tube for conveying vehicles long distances.)
The California High-Speed Rail Authority (www.hsr.ca.gov) hopes to build a 200-mph high-speed conventional rail line linking Los Angeles and San Francisco by 2029. Elon Musk thinks he can do better, faster, and cheaper with Hyperloop. Some have accused him of wanting to put that California High-Speed Rail system out-of-business so he can make money by providing an alternate system. I don’t believe them. I think that Mr. Musk is simply concerned that the public may be wasting a lot of money building a system that is only marginally better than what is in place now. I have the same concerns about the proposed national HSIPR system. I feel that both are simply conventional, steel-wheel-on-steel-rail high-speed trains, using the latest incarnation of a 200-year-old technology. I agree with Mr. Musk that we should not be wasting money on them, when there are other, better ways to provide transportation. I just disagree with him about what the better system is.
LeviCar and RoboTrail (www.LeviCar.com) are my own proposals for high-speed transportation, for both passengers (LeviCar) and freight (RoboTrail). LeviCar involves having passenger cars being driven, on roads, to local depots, where they are deposited on a Magnetic-Levitation (MagLev) rails. They then travel at 300 mph to another depot, from whence they are driven, on roads, to their final destinations. It is preferable to use modular cars, such that only the car body (containing the passengers and luggage) travel on the MagLev rails, leaving behind the chassis (containing the drive train, wheels, energy store, and some other parts), with new chassis being supplied at the destination depot. RoboTrail is LeviCar’s big brother, doing much the same for freight, using the same MagLev network, but with different depots. The network is a hexOgrid (www.hexOgrid.com), which is based on the concept that it is more useful to provide shorter door-to-door transit times to most people, than to provide really fast transportation between select cities.
LeviCar and RoboTrail are heavily dependent on the Danby-Powell superconducting MagLev architecture (www.Maglev2000.com). This is unique among MagLev systems in that vehicles can instantaneously switch from one rail to another. This is important for hexOgrid systems, including both LeviCar and RoboTrail. It is also relatively low-cost, because the superconducting coils are on the vehicles, not the rails; the rails contain inexpensive aluminum loops.
Now that we know who’s who and what’s what, we can look to see why MagLev is superior to Hyperloop, and how it might be possible to combine the best features of both.
♦MagLev: Most MagLev systems use either heavy monorails, or otherwise use troughs, and switching between rails is therefore very slow, or is so difficult as to be impossible for moving vehicles. The Danby-Powell MagLev architecture is unique among MagLev systems in that it provides for instantaneous switching between rails. This is shown in the illustration on the right. Danby-Powell MagLev vehicles can ride either on a monorail, or in a “double-rail” configuration, the latter supporting easy, instantaneous switching between rails. Click on the picture to learn more. This allows individual vehicles to be switched off onto other rails, or onto sidings. The same strong superconducting magnetic fields that levitate the vehicle, also stabilize it in the double-rail configuaration.|
… and the final reason why Elon Musk should use MagLev:
Of all the automobile manufacturers in America, the one best equipped to built LeviCars is (drumroll, please) Tesla, Elon Musk’s company. So, backing the LeviCar / RoboTrail MagLev system can be a very smart business move for Mr. Musk. Tesla owns the IP rights to many of the components that can be used in a LeviCar vehicle, and even if Tesla does not have the capacity to manufacture all of them, they certainly could license the technology to other companies, and make millions from the royalties.
There are problems with the curent version of Hyperloop, many of which are related to the use of long uninterrupted transportation tubes [see items (5) and (2), above]. Basically, this section discusses how to add a MagLev rail to a transportation tube, or else to incorporate a MagLev trough into such a tube.
But first, we need a thorough technical description of everything that goes into this:
I will use the term “D-P MagLev” to mean any sort of Danby and Powell MagLev system. Like all practical superconducting MagLev systems, D-P Maglev is characterized by having the superconducting magnetic coils on the vehicle, not the transportation conduit (“rail”), as many people suppose. The conduit contains two sets of inexpensive aluminum loops. The unpowered loops in the first set interact, by means of induced current, with the moving vehicle’s superconducting magnets to provide not only levitation, but also a great deal of stability. The second set consists of energized loops providing propulsion and braking, using a Linear Synchronous Motor (LSM). Please refer to www.maglev2000.com/works/how-03.html.
The conduit could be a full monorail, a pair of virtual rails, or a trough (the Japanese MagLev, based on Danby and Powell’s work, is a rectangular trough), and the trough could conceivably be circular. Since these two sets of aluminum loops overlap each other without touching, they could be flush with the bottom of a circular trough, equivalent to the bottom part of a cylindrical tube. A circular-trough MagLev has not yet been designed, but, in consideration of the stability afforded by D-P MagLev, it should work well as the lower part of a transportation tube. Thus, it possible to combine the advantages of D-P MagLev with those of transportation tubes.
I believe that Mr. Musk is overestimating the cost of MagLev, while underestimating the cost of Hyperloop. (Perhaps he also assumes that the rails must contain expensive supeconducting magnets, rather than cheap aluminum coils.)
A transportation tube is any enclosed large tube for conveying vehicles long distances. Let us consider three exemplary kinds of transportation tubes, the first two being “low-pressure” and last being “high-pressure”:
• Hyperloop: Very low pressure with a suction turbine in front of each vehicle;
• “Vactrain”: This term will be used for Vactrain, ET3, and all similar evacuated-tube systems (see also a proposed Chinese system); and
• Pneumatic: Tubes in which high-pressure air pushes the vehicle.
(Some of the following discussion is from a conversation I had with a man who has worked with the very-smooth highly-evacuated tubes used in research particle accelerators.)
First, let us consider some important disadvantages of all three kinds:
(1) These are long, solid tubes. If a vehicle gets stuck in one, the tube is closed down completely, and the people inside all the vehicles will have to be rescued. This can be particularly dicey for underground tubes. The tubes can be equipped with escape hatches, but resetting and reasealing the escape hatches can be a major operation, and may shut down the system for days. The hatches will also cause irregularities in the inner walls of the tube, which, in the case of Hyperloop, might cause extra friction at best, or collisions between the pods (or their skis) and the inner walls at worst.
(2) The tubes can leak due to many causes, ranging from stress and torsion due to seismic activity, to deliberate sabotage. For low-pressure tubes (Hyperloop and Vactain), an air leak into the tube can pretty much shut it down by increasing the air resistance. The air from the leak has to diffuse towards the vacuum pump, and that takes time, and would undoubtedly cause air currents within the tube.  There would have to be multiple pumps, and lots of them, nearby each together. For higher-pressure pneumatic tubes, leaking is less of a problem.
(3) Because these are solid tubes, you cannot see out of them. Both Hyperloop and ET3 suggest using display screen showing virtual scenery. It is long established that people like to see where they’re going.
In addition, Hyperloop has the following problems:
(4) Hyperloop’s air-bearing skis run very close to the walls of the tube — 0.020" to 0.050" (about 0.5 mm to 1.3 mm). [In contrast, ET3 uses a different kind of MagLev, and has a 4" (10 cm) clearance, about the same as D-P MagLev.] At the high vehicular speeds, any irregularities or vibrations in the wall can lead to a collision between the wall and the pod (or its skis). Both overground and underground tubes are subject to seismic activity. Overground tubes could sag or be affected by collisions with other objects. If the tubes are mounted on pylons near highways, a wayward truck could disrupt the tube.
A recent news article desribes a simulation that indicated two previously-unknown problems:(5) The pods get very hot, due to the high speed and confined space, even though the air is very thin. (It seems to me that the partially-evacuated tube has none of the advantages of a fully-evacuated tube, but also none of the benefits.)
(6) Hyperloop pods tend to roll, that is, rotate within the tube, with a chance that the pod could travel upside down.
Specifically, Hyperloop’s Alpha
Specification, on the top of page 25 (section 4.2), states:
The Hyperloop travel journey
will feel very smooth since the capsule will be guided directly on the inner surface of the tube via the
use of air bearings and suspension; this also prevents the need for costly tracks. The capsule will
bank off the walls and include a control system for smooth returns to nominal capsule location from banking
as well. Some specific sections of the tube will incorporate the stationary motor element (stator)
which will locally guide and accelerate (or decelerate) the capsule. More details are available for the
propulsion system in section 4.3. Between linear motor stations, the capsule will glide with little drag
via air bearings.
Other problems inherent in the above quote, but not mentioned in the news article are:
(7) Even if the pod does not travel upside-down, lack of roll control might make for a nauseating ride.
(8) Unless the pod’s rotor, and the stators (which protude from the tube’s inner wall) are perfectly aligned when they meet, there will be a collision.
(9) Periodic acceleration can make for a bumpy ride.
Since D-P MagLev provides inherent stability and can be built into the transportation tube as a circular trough, it can solve all these problems without requiring the addition of tracks.
In general, the use of Pneumatic tubes in which high-pressure air pushes the vehicle, is rejected, by Hyperloop and others, mainly because it would require a high-speed or supersonic air stream to rub against the inside wall of the transportation tube. Pneumatic tubes are, however, more tolerant of leaks than low-pressure transportation tubes.
My own feeling is that there might be a solution out there, that would permit air to go at very high subsonic speed, or at supersonic speed, without causing a lot of friction. The history of aerodynamics is riddled with “impossible” things being true. After all, golfballs counterintuitively travel twice as far with dimples than without, and, when the curve ball was first demonstrated in baseball, some scientists even pronounced it “impossible”. The following is almost-pure speculation: Perhaps a shark-skin pattern or some sort of plasma device could be used.
Again, speculating: One possibility is to use a D-P MagLev system with a Linear Synchronous Motor (LSM) in a monorail within the transportation tube. The monorail would also contain both high- and low- pressure pneumatic pipes, with computer-controlled electrically-activated valves that can suck air from the transportation tube ahead of the vehicle, and vent air into the tube behind the vehicle, providing a pneumatic assist.
There would not have to be a perfect seal around the vehicle — a small amount of air could leak forward or backward with minimal effect on the functioning of the system. Perhaps some sort of huge valve, resembling the tricuspid valve of the heart, made of actively-controlled elastic sheets, could prevent backward flow of air in the tube. It would be retracted every time a vehicle comes through.
In this brief section, I have not expounded any firm solutions, but rather called for more research to be done. Of course, all this is sheer speculation — I haven’t solved any problems, just posed them.
The higher-speed transportation conduits would supplement the standard-speed Maglev. In all likelihood, these higher-speed conduits would be more expensive than the standard-speed rails, and will also take some time for research and refinement before they are built. Therefore, long-term plans should be for the standard-speed network to be developed first, and the higher-speed systems added later. An examination of traffic patterns can tell which corridors need the higher-speed links more. These higher-speed segments would be for passenger service only. Freight can move fast enough at 300 mph, but passengers would want to move yet even faster.
Ordinarily, without the higher-speed segment, a vehicle would typically be driven from its original source to a MagLev depot (no more than ten miles in any built-up, urban or suburban area) where it would be placed on the hexOgrid, and travel at 300 mph (500 kph) to another depot, from whence it will be driven to its final destination.
With the high-speed system, the vehicle would travel from the first depot, at 300 mph, to a transfer point where it would accelerate and be inserted into a higher-speed conduit, likely a transportation tube. It would then travel hundreds or even thousands of miles to another transfer point, where it would decelerate and be placed on the standard-speed MagLev network. It would travel on this network to a final depot, and then be driven the few miles to its final destination. It is also possible that the trip might be in five (or seven or nine) alternating segments of standard-speed and higher-speed conduits.
When traveling on a MagLev rail, the vehicle is mounted on a bogie, an undercarriage containing the superconducting coils, power supply, and any other devices needed to interface with the MagLev rail, plus other systems that may be needed or personal comfort and safety. Often, when traveling in a transportation tube, the vehicle must be fitted with a dome or fairing, to manage air resistance at the higher speed, or to keep the air in while traveling in an evacuated tube. It would be better to use these on the entire trip, both in the standard-speed and higher-speed modes. The MagLev undercarriage and dome or fairing can be applied at the depot where the vehicle enters the standard-speed network for the first time, and removed at the depot where it leaves it for the last time.
Once we have a MagLev rail in the transportation tube, we might as well use something like the pneumatic assist mentioned above, except with only the low-pressure suction pipes and valves, sucking air from ahead of the vehicle. For Hyperloop, this would reduce air friction and help counteract the Kantrowitz Limit. The vehicle-mounted suction turbine would still be needed, but it could be smaller. For Hyperloop and Vactrain, these pipes could also be used to maintain the vacuum.
This leaves us with two major questions about the higher-speed system: (1) Whether or not to use switching between conduits; and (2) Whether to use a MagLev trough that conforms to the lower half of the transportation tube, or to use a MagLev rail inside the tube.
If it is not feasible to to have such switching points for the higher-speed conduits, all is not lost. [Note that the there are a lot of complications in switching using transportation tubes, including having to maintain a (near-) vacuum over an even larger volume, or having complicated relationships among higher- and lower- pressure volumes for pheumatic tubes.] All we need is to have shortcuts between one part of the standard-speed network, and another part, far away. These could be straight transportation tubes, with no switching points. I propose calling such a shortcut tube a “wormhole”, after the popular name for an Einstein–Rosen bridge, as mentioned in Star Trek, Deep Space Nine.
Further examination shows that hexOgrid is appropriate for the standard-speed network because it provides depots close to any point, and comfortable changes in direction. The first is not important for the higher-speed system, and the second is irrelvant if you have a straight tube. Examination of traffic patterns can show where wormholes are most needed. Wormholes could also be built on a
In making the choice for the higher-speed mode, it should be straight transportation tubes, with no switches, called “wormholes”, with D-P MagLev monorails inside them.
This is a very speculative idea: When a MagLev vehicle is on a standard-speed rail and is about to enter a wormhole, it is mated with a Hyperloop-like front compressor. The compressor’s housing has a fairing in back, that matches the front of the vehicle’s fairing. The compressed air from the compressor is fed into a front-to-back pipe in the MagLev bogie, and leaves the rear of the bogie. There is no need for air-bearing skis. This truly combines D-P MagLev, LeviCar, and Hyperloop!
It might also be possible to have one compressor in front of several MagLev vehicles in tandem, but assembling such a “train” might be too complicated to do at 300 mph.
If the wormholes have a hub-and-spoke pattern, the compressor would stay with the vehicles on the ramps connecting different wormholes.
After introducing several forms of high-speed transportation, a comparison is made of MagLev and Hyperloop. There is then a detailed discussion of Hyperloop’s problems, and how MagLev can be used to fix them. It could be possible to use Hyperloop, or something like it, to provide shortcut tubes between distant parts of a MagLev network. After exploring several options, the conclusion is that such tubes (“wormholes”), without any switches and containing MagLev rails, would work best. As an afterthought, there is a description of a way of adding Hyperloop’s front compressor to a MagLev vehicle, when it runs in a wormhole.
© 2013-2016 Joshua Zev Levin, Ph.D.,including LeviCar logos and diagrams,
but excluding other graphics and
pictures derived from other sources.
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The original copyright owners retain all rights to their content.
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Text and links last updated: 2016 February 16Update History
2016/02/16 — Updated links; Corrected errors
2014/05/28 — Minor changes
2013/10/11 — Copied material from blog to this file
2013/10/07 — Changed terminology; removed some sections
2013/10/06 — Added pneumatic hoses in MagLev rail
2013/10/01 — Rewrote “Summary and Conclusion”
2013/10/01 — Many small changes
2013/09/29 — Higher-Speed System
2013/09/26 — Corrected typos; Releasable draft
2013/09/26 — Added Technical section on Hyperloop problems
2013/09/25 — Minor changes
2013/09/24 — Added Further Discussion
2013/09/23 — Added Introduction and made many changes
2013/09/16 — Minor editorial changes
2013/09/15 — Added Quote and Mentioned Banking
2013/09/13 — Initial Published Draft
2013/09/12 — Initial Published Draft (partial)
Important links: (See Disclaimers to the left)http://evworld.com/blogs.cfm?blogid=1170