California’s plan to build the first high-speed rail system in the country could face another challenge. This time it is not political opposition, an ever-rising price tag, or an angry homeowner. It is a newer technology.
The challenge comes from green transportation design company ET3. The company founder and CEO Daryl Oster, has proposed a new, magnetic tube rail system to replace the current high-speed rail plan, which he claims can be built for one tenth of the cost of traditional rail. Oster hopes to get an initiative on this November’s ballot that would authorize the state to provide the funding he needs to prove his technology is a better way to go than high-speed rail.
Oster describes his system as “space travel on Earth” and compares it to the way we as humans experience high-speed, frictionless travel around the sun, unaware that we are traveling through space at upwards of 67,000 miles per hour. The three Ts in the company name stand for Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies.
In a 2013 presentation at IdeaCity in Toronto, Oster explained that his plan is to build a tube system, that uses vacuum pumps to remove all of the air from the inside of the tube. Inside, a capsule capable of holding approximately six people, would levitate on magnets. The absence of air would create a frictionless environment which would allow the capsule to travel at very high speeds, and at only a fraction of the cost of other forms of transportation.
Oster also claims that, when fully implemented, a passenger would be able to travel from New York to Beijing in around two hours with a round-trip cost of about $100. In order to be able to do that, the capsule will need to travel at speeds of around 4000 miles per hour. If those kinds of high speeds and low costs can be achieved, it would pose quite a challenge not only to California’s high-speed rail plans, but other forms of transportation as well. He has started a consortium of interested individuals to support his idea.
If high-speed, magnetic, frictionless travel sounds a bit too good to be true, it just might be. At this point, the most obvious hurdle is that the technology has not been tried yet. Within the next two years, Oster hopes to find a three-mile stretch of land on which he can build a prototype that travels at 375 miles per hour. Within five years, he hopes to have a 300-mile network built, which connects several major cities. And in twenty years, he hopes to see his transport system used globally.
The Hanford news is reporting that ET3 has received the go-ahead from the California Secretary of State’s office to begin collecting the 504,000 signatures needed to be placed on the upcoming November ballot. If ET3 is successful, high-speed rail will face another challenge in the form of California voters who will decide which plans and which technology they want to sink their money into. If Oster’s initiative gets the thumbs-up, it would stop the sale of high-speed rail bonds and effectively kill the current plans for a bullet train.
By Dan Reyes
California Secretary of State