Ever since society embraced the airplane, the world has been on the look out for the next great form of transportation. Monorails proved a flop. High-speed rail is struggling to gain acceptance. But could a network of vacuum tubes not unlike those seen in the animated series Futurama really be the next big thing in global travel? To find out, a recent BBC column looked into "vactrain technology," finding a lot of promise and a lot of hurdles.
Dubbed "space travel on Earth," the new tech combines the idea of maglev — trains that are suspended by magnets — with vacuum tubes. By removing air resistance and friction from the equation, the new vactrains could reach speeds of up to 4,000 miles per hour. You could travel from New York to Los Angeles in only 45 minutes, or from New York to London in an hour. At those speeds, you would arrive at your destination at a time before you left.
Vactrains trade large, crowded vehicles for a more intimate, automobile-like setting. According to Daryl Oster, the owner of ET3, a company that licenses vactrain technology, a 51-inch diameter capsule that is 16 feet long could accommodate six people. Smaller and larger capsules would also be possible.
The unusual travel tech has proven successful in a laboratory setting, but has yet to make its way into the real world. The biggest barrier to the technology is, predictably, the cost. A 350mph local system would cost about $2 million per mile to install. Once built, however, the system would cost very little to operate — according to Oster, the cost of travel will be less than a penny per mile.
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