Vail Daily column: Quick trip to Denver | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Quick trip to Denver

Last summer, when CDOT announced a new bus service from Glenwood Springs to Denver, I should have been happy. The Bustang meant fewer cars on the road and more public transport options. And I would have been happy, if on the same day I read about Bustang service I had not come across a story on Japan’s new maglev train setting a new world speed record of 373 mph. The Japanese already have the Shinkansen, I whined to myself. Now the estimates are that by 2027 their maglev will whisk passengers between Tokyo and Nagoya (a distance of about 160 miles) in 40 minutes. DIA to Vail could have been even faster.

I tried not to obsess about the Japanese and their maglev but the Vail Daily unknowingly encouraged me with their latest iteration of “Hits and Misses.” One “Hit” in particular: “To continuing efforts to make the I-70 trip into and out of the mountains faster and safer.” I agree, which is why I will be closely following the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition.

Elon Musk proposed the idea for the hyperloop in 2013, although Robert Goddard wrote about many similar ideas more than a half a century ago. Chris Anderson of TED has called Musk, “the most remarkable entrepreneur alive.” Musk was one of the creators of PayPal. After selling PayPal to Ebay, he created Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity.

Whereas the maglev uses magnetic levitation to create both lift and propulsion to move cars along a guideway, hyperloop sends pressurized pods through a tube on an air cushion. SpaceX, which supplies rockets to NASA, is building a 1-mile test track for competition participants to test human-scale pods. The deadline for design submissions has passed. Pod testing is currently scheduled for June. For more information, http://www.spacex.com/hyperloop.

Inevitably radical, new technology concepts, especially those involving alternate forms or energy and transportation, get mired in discussions of feasibility and cost. Neither is inconsequential, but as John F. Kennedy explained at Rice University in 1962 about the U.S. effort to reach the moon, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

The issues with the hyperloop technology are formidable. However, according to Wired.com the hyperloop is “starting to look a little less crazy.” They report that Oerlikon Leybold Vacuum, who contributed to the large hadron collider project, and engineering design firm Aecom are joining Boeing and SpaceX to work on the hyperloop.

In the 19th century the railroad was the primary overland long-haul mover of people and cargo. The 20th century saw the emergence of passenger vehicles spawning both the American love affair with the car and the phenomena of gridlock and road rage. Within a few decades of the first transatlantic flights, intercontinental travel would become routine and economy cabins would become miserable.

This century is still young and it is too soon to predict what modes of transportation will dominate. Currently some old technologies are being re-thought. For instance, next year the little Swiss town of Sion on Lake Geneva will put into service driverless buses and Google is developing driverless cars. But hopefully our answer to increased congestion, exhaust and fossil fuel use is not more cars, more lanes and bigger parking lots. No offense CDOT, but I would rather see one hyperloop from Glenwood Springs to Denver than a fleet of Bustangs.

Claire Noble is the author of “State-Sponsored Sex and Other Tales of International Misadventure.” She can be found online at clairenoble.org or follow her on Twitter @byClaireNoble.