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We have serious passenger rail problems in Canada and the USA. We are almost half a century behind in the development of modern high speed trains.

To his credit, President Obama realized this problem and in 2009 announced his vision for modernizing the outdated U.S. passenger rail system. Perhaps they should have used the phrase "higher speed rail" instead of high speed rail, since most money would go to upgrading existing rail infrastructure. The President knew the economic, social, and environmental benefits that could happen.

While progress has definitely been made, the current political quagmire of American politics has made acceptance and implementation of his plan difficult.

The national passenger rail carrier Amtrak is carrying record ridership. In June 2013 more people rode Amtrack that month than in its history: 2.9 million people. Its signature high speed train the Acela Express has done very well.

In Canada the situation is very grave for the future of any passenger rail train service.

Prime Minister Harper has no vision for passenger rail service and VIA Rail, our National carrier, is cutting routes and ridership is decreasing.

Both countries suffer from a cultural vacuum when it comes to understanding that high speed passenger rail can be an effective way of moving people in a sustainable fashion. Why? Since we have let our passenger rail system fall so far behind the rest of the world we think traditional high speed rail is still futuristic. This belief despite the fact high speed trains have been running in many countries for decades. In the case of the Japan, the HSR has been running safely since 1964.

In Canada in the 1970s the UAC Turbotrain routinely traveled over 200 kph. Yet, in Canada and the USA in 2013 we fight for the most basic of passenger rail services.

So this brings me to the subject of the futuristic Hyperloop and Magline transportation proposals that are being flaunted.

Quick questions:

Why support technologies that do not exist and that lack factual data to support their safe use (Hyperloop - vacuum tube) or

Why support a technology (Magline - maglev) that despite being around for 40 years only has two commercial systems in operation? One of these systems (China) has decided not to extend their existing system and has used conventional high speed rail instead.

A consideration of how these ideas are even allowed to get media attention and review harkens back to our cultural abyss for what modern passenger rail systems are.


When Billionaire Elon Musk, Telsa (electric cars), SpaceX (space transport) talks people take notice.

Mr. Musk sees high speed rail as a no go. He bases his opinion on the California high speed rail experience in implementing America's first true high speed rail system instead of basing his views on the over 40 years of experience in 20 countries with over 21,365 km of high speed rail track.

Unfortunately, the HYPERLOOP document that Mr. Musk proposes his futuristic idea of moving people by a vacuum tube of air seems critically short on details. When he talks about cost comparison his cost analysis is primitive, overly simplistic, and lacking in a comprehensive analysis. He doesn't even bother with the total lifecycle cost of the project.

Vacuum tube travel has been proposed as long as ago as 1954 when Dr. Robert Goddard, famed rocket scientist, had designed a VacTrain early in his career.

The Hyperloop idea also suffers from a cursory overview of safety and its tube design has the potential to cause catastrophic loss because the person could be trapped in the pod and tube during an emergency. No detailed Risk Assessment has been done so one cannot make statements like. "Hyperloop is intrinsically safer than airplanes, trains, or automobiles."

Many have suggested that this idea is similar to The Jetson cartoon TV show. The comparisons are fair since both are fantasy. But the Jetsons lasted 25 years on TV where has the Hyperloop is already a non-starter.


Next up in Fantasyworld of transit systems is the Edmonton-based Magline Transit concept that basically will shuttle pods of people by way of magnetic levitation (maglev). This idea suggests people will move between Calgary and Edmonton in 45 minutes. A reality check is in order.

Let us look at the existing 3 maglev type systems in the world. The one in service in Japan now is only 6km long and speeds along at only 100km/h and loses approximately $22 million a year.

In Korea, there is an airport people mover maglev that will be running this year. It will go a maximum of 110 km/h. Here is a video showing it:

The only fast maglev train runs in China from Shanghai airport and connects to Shanghai metro. The 30km line takes about 7 minutes and travels at an amazing 430 km/h. Sounds like a success, correct? Look a little closer and you will see that the Chinese have abandoned the technology.

The Chinese were going to run a line from Shanghai to Hangzhou. Citizens complained along the line about noise and radiation fears. The Chinese decided to use traditional high speed rail lines and maglev was abandoned. Now if a mass transit powerhouse like China says no to maglev in favour of traditional high speed rail, we should be listening.

It is an absolute tragedy in Alberta that there is no passenger rail between Calgary and Edmonton. Alberta High Speed Rail is a private company that has tried to convince politicians of the importance of HSR along the corridor.

The MAGLINE is just another fantasy. Albertans should be talking about how to connect the two communities with proven higher speed passenger rail technologies.

What Hyperloop and Magline have in common is that both continue perpetrating the North American myth that modern high speed trains are futuristic and not realistic. The reality is that high speed rail has run reliably for over half a century in other parts of the world.


  1. Great post! I don't understand why all of a sudden we should go with the hyperloop. When there has been conventional high speed rail technology for a while now. The French might have been taking a huge risk in developing the TGV in the 70s, but it has proven to be successful. Keep in mind too that just before that they had another crazy concept; the Aérotrain. This was basically like an airplane on a monorail. This was too capital intensive and it did not offer the flexible advantage that the TGV always had; they can use existing classic railroads at low speeds, such as when entering existing railway stations. The TGV, also being electric, can be fueled centrally by any means and not just something like diesel.

  2. 1. The "vacuum tube" concept was proposed for one of the early subway tunnels under the Thames River in London, England in the mid 1800's. It was not implemented. The concept has proven practical for tranporting documents in tubes a few inches in diameter, years ago in businesses and currently at least in some hospitals. Upscaling is not really practical.

    2. Right now our mainline railroads are operating near capacity with freight across the continent and so any passenger rail and especially HSR needs its own tracks.

    Bob Trotter, Victoria, BC

  3. To promote high-speed rail, do it like the German Railways did in the seventies against the Autobahn and the airplane.
    "Twice the speed of the automobile, half the speed of the airplane", and they were able to do it and have the ICE today, which matches this slogan with ease. I did experience this in person, but live now in Alberta.

    May be that would be needed to get Alberta going.

    Michael Rademacher

  4. The biggest criticism in this article is the lack of in depth research into hyperloops. Yet we're supposed to write the entire concept off as impractical because of this? Why not instead actually do the research required and build the thing.


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