High-Speed Vacuum Trains, the Future in High-speed Rail

Imagine traveling around the world and back in under 4 hours.  Well that could be possible in a not so distant technological future.  Engineers in the U.S. around the world are working on developing technology for trains that can speed  through airless tunnels traveling at speeds up to 2,500 miles per hour reports the BBC.  The transporters, which remain at least a decade away, could eventually cut travel time between New York and Beijing to about two hours.  Todays high-speed rail travels at an average of 200 mph.

The concept combines magnetic levitation, which floats vehicles on a bed of magnets to reduce friction, with a tube from which air has been drawn to create a vacuum.  Traditional trains moving through a tunnel push the air ahead of them, which creates resistance.

The vacuum concept is not a new one.  Robert Goddard, who created the first liquid fuel rocket, designed a prototype over 100 years ago, with the idea of zipping people around between U.S. cities.  His concept has not been economically feasible nor fast enough.  American engineer Daryl Oster has designed a 6-person capsule traveling through a 1.5 meter (5 feet) diameter vacuum tube.  He has sold 60 licenses for his patented evacuated tube transport technology (ETT), including 12 to China.  Osters technology can reach possible speeds of up to 4,000 mph.

Oster has designed systems for local, continental, and inter-continental travel.  The local systems require lower technology and would travel at speeds of around 370mph.  The systems designed for intercontinental transport would travel at the 4,000 mph range.  It claims that it could "provide 50 times more transportation per kWh than electric cars or trains," that construction would cost a tenth of high-speed rail and a quarter of freeways, and the a New York to London trip would take 1 hour, New York to L.A. in 45 minutes.

Oster's projected construction costs are relative to the current costs of high-speed rail proposals in the United States.  He states a 2003 analysis of his technology by a team of experts concluded the cost of a 350 mph system would be about $2 million per miles.  Oster believes his transportation concept could become a reality within the next decade.  His company does not plan to build any syatems, rather it sells licenses to the patented technology.