Why There's No Hyperloop Speed Limit | Hyperloop One
Speed limit

Why There's No Hyperloop Speed Limit

Taylor Matalon
Strategic Communications, Virgin Hyperloop One

In 2019, after decades of innovation in the aerospace industry, getting from New York to Paris takes 7.5 hours –– the same amount of time it took in the 1960s. Similarly, highway speed limits have been the same for more than 50 years. Despite impressive innovation in each sector, there are various non-technological factors that limit the speed of traditional transportation.

The one plane to break the mold of standard flight was the British Airways Concorde.  It could make that same journey from New York to Paris in just under 3.5 hours –– even in 1986. Why, then, don’t all planes fly as fast? Surely everyone would want to shave their travel times in half. To achieve such high speeds, the Concorde burned fuel only around half as efficiently as traditional air, costing the airline services a lot more. To offset these higher fuel costs, tickets for the Concorde were much higher than average. The Concorde eventually was retired due to low ridership, no doubt due to the high ticket prices.

Hyperloop not only has the technological advantage over aviation, but is has the economic advantage as well. Our electric propulsion system is far more efficient, in terms of both energy and cost, than planes’ internal combustion engines. Energy efficiency is measured by how much energy is actually used to move the vehicle, with the rest being lost to heat, sound, and friction. Jet engines operate at around 30-40% efficiency, while our system can operate at almost 85% efficiency. Thus, with the same total energy, our system would be able to actually use more of it to go much greater distances. Additionally, the source of our energy – electricity – is much cheaper per unit than jet fuel and can be sourced from renewable energy. This means that, for the same cost, we use more energy more efficiently than commercial jets, allowing us to reach speeds over 1000 km/h all while keeping the price of our tickets reasonable. Current estimates, like in our Missouri feasibility study, suggest that our ticket prices from point A to B would be as cheap as the cost of gas to drive.

Another barrier to high-speed flight is one of convenience and safety. Supersonic flight is possible, with military jets regularly breaking the sound barrier in test flights. These tests are only done over remote areas, however. If thousands of commercial jets started making sonic booms all over the world, windows would be shattered, eardrums burst, and peaceful thought would be impossible. This, again, is no concern for hyperloop. Our system is designed to be quieter than current modes of mass transit.

In automobiles, the main limiting factor for speed is human capability. Safety administrations around the world have determined that the average human reaction time cannot safely suit speeds higher than 80 or so miles per hour. The main reason behind this is the fact that the average driver’s reaction time to an obstruction on the road is about 2.3 seconds. If a car is traveling at 80 mph, it would travel almost a football field’s length in those 2.3 seconds. We are all, technically, unsafe drivers; 94% of all automobile accidents are due to human error. With our system, however, there is no need to worry. Everything is run autonomously; this makes it so our speed is not dependent on how fast a human operator can react.

Another barrier to speed with automobiles is congestion. Crawling at 5 mph in bumper-to-bumper only scratches the surface of your car’s potential. With an overcrowded road, there simply isn’t enough room to move at high speeds. The Transportation Research Board estimates that the passenger capacity of a multi-lane highway is only 2,500 passengers per hour per direction. Hyperloop, on the other hand, is a mass transportation system, capable of transporting more than 10x as many passengers per hour per direction. For a deeper dive into traffic, congestion, and how to solve it, head to our recent blog post on the subject.

Time is the most finite and irreplaceable resource we have. Behind safety, assuring that we are maximizing peoples’ time saved is our biggest priority. Our technology is the most advanced form of mass transportation transportation out there. On top of the tech, through our system’s design, we have mitigated many of the non-technological barriers to high-speed that traditional modes of transportation face. Our energy use is cheap and efficient, our noise is of minimal concern, we leave no room for human capability to be a limiting factor, and we can mitigate congestion with our high throughput. If you want to get the most speed out of planes, become a test pilot in the air force. If you want to get the most speed out of cars, become a formula 1 driver. If you want to get the most speed out of a hyperloop, just buy a ticket.