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Will U.S. hyperloop dreams be left behind because of old-fashioned regulations?

The China Aerospace Science and Industrial Corporation (CASIC) has begun development of a Supersonic transportation technology, which would shatter Musk’s initially proposed 745 mph design should it come to fruition. Advantage China. (Photo/Shutterstock)

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First, let’s get something straight: it doesn’t matter whether the hyperloop or the “flying train” can reach Transonic speeds and not Supersonic speeds. How about 500 mph if that transcends the antiquated regulatory approval process? That’s about as fast as any freight or passenger plane flies. In case you’re wondering, the Concorde reached 1,354 mph, but hasn’t been in action since 2003 when rising maintenance costs finally put them to rest after 27 years of service.

But this is about China and America and hyperloops and the T Flight “flying train,” which purports to eventually zoom upwards of 2,300 mph. Yes, the China Aerospace Science and Industrial Corporation (CASIC) has begun development of a Supersonic transportation technology, which would shatter Musk’s initially proposed 745 mph design should it come to fruition.

Advantage China. CASIC has enormous resources, netting nearly $1.5 billion last year, and a state-run system, employing 150,000 workers. The proposal is part of a massive $3 trillion Chinese global infrastructure proposal known as One Belt, One Road. Essentially, it's a modern-day Silk Road, a collection of ancient trade routes dating back 2,000 years that are credited with promoting the exchange of goods and intellectual ideas throughout China, Korea, Japan, India, Persia, Arabia, Africa, and Europe

The speed comparisons sounds like the stuff of elementary schoolyard brawls: “My dad can beat up your dad.” They may be the stuff of headlines and bravado, but what’s the fundamental issue for seeing them in action? We may never see the hyperloop in action, but it’s not because we don’t have the technology. That’s the frustrating and all too real part, at least for Americans, where the technology was first conceived.

Exhibit A: America still doesn’t have high-speed rail, and that technology has existed in Japan since 1961, and has been implemented in France since the early ‘70s. Ouch.

So, don’t believe the hipster hyperloop naysayers, the haters who want to grab a headline and say ‘don’t believe the hype’. The potential is real, not hype.

According to CASIC, T Flight would use the same magnetic levitation (maglev) model as Musk’s designs, but will seat 16 people and be propelled down a 7-by-7-foot tunnel. It will also feature a turntable to launch capsules on a prospective route every 3 to 4 minutes.

CASIC aims to complete research for T Flight by 2020, and has already registered around 200 patents for the technology. The company is aiming to partner with 20 companies to develop and implement the technology in Wuhan, China.

What will lead us to get left behind is the same thing that has always left America behind along infrastructure lines, regulation policies, byzantine governmental red tape, and also privately held land and corporations who either want a slice for themselves or fear the competition. To this day, the sad reality is that America doesn’t have high speed rail anywhere.  

To be fair, CASIC isn’t claiming to “launch” with a 2,300 mph flying train. The company is taking things one step at a time. The first stage of T Flight would transport around 8 million people around the region at speeds ranging from 370 to 620 mph. Only after their goal of connecting major inter and intracontinental cities would they make the jump to the 2,300 mph goal.

They’re also reaching deals with other countries. Teslerati recently reported that HTT reached an agreement with the Indian government to build its infrastructure in India between Vijaywada and Amaravati.

In addition to sponsoring hyperloop development competitions, Musk is doing what he can to promote his vision, not the least of which was the announcement of his desire to develop a hyperloop between Washington, D.C. and New York City. Unfortunately, that's also connected to Musk sending his infamous quote about getting informal governmental approval, which was immediately shot down by corrective policymakers.

This may be a stretch, but if Spread Networks can quietly build an 827-mile cable line that cuts straight through mountains and rivers from Chicago to New Jersey with the sole goal of reducing the transmission time for data from 17 to 13 milliseconds for high-speed trading in a matter of months, can’t the United States figure out a way to get The Boring Company to do their job and bore some tunnels? Yes, it’s expensive to bore tunnels beneath the ground, but if there’s a company on the bleeding edge and proactively seeking solutions, it would be them. Why else use tunnels? As they tell us on their website:

"There is no practical limit to how many layers of tunnels can be built, so any level of traffic can be addressed. Tunnels are weatherproof. Tunnel construction and operation are silent and invisible to anyone on the surface. Tunnels don’t divide communities with lanes and barriers."

It’s not just Elon Musk’s (or Richard Branson’s) hyperloop companies that are bringing on the new transportation realities, it’s becoming an actual industry, with rival Arrivio putting together a system of its own.

Yet, rather than seeking solutions ahead of time, the United States seems to be positioning itself in a wait-and-see attitude, standing on the sidelines and smirking at Elon Musk’s every Tweet. People are already theorizing on what it will mean for urban communities and real estate, depending on where the pod stations are located. Others say it’ll work for freight but not for commuters - or maybe not even for freight. Still others just don’t believe "the hype."

In an interview with Recode, the former Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx said the government may not be ready to create a legal framework for the technology.

“We in the U.S., one of our greatest virtues and one of the biggest challenges for us, is that when new transportation technology is introduced, something like hyperloop, [they] say ‘We want to be first.’ A lot of the time, we say, ‘We want to be safest.’ And I think that’s a good thing for us.”

Meanwhile, China is taking America’s place as the global leader, thanks in part to a president who seems to really believe that everything outside its borders is a waste of money. While the United States stammers about like an austere dysfunctional family from the 19th century, wagging its fingers at the little kiddies taking too many chances in the backyard, places like China and Dubai and Russia and Switzerland and, of all places, Slovakia, are ready and willing to implement the fruits of our labor. In fact, according to Trucks.com, if successful, "Hyperloop One could potentially claim $12 billion of the $35-billion cargo transportation market in the Arab world, excluding short-haul, intra-city shipping and low-value commodity freight."

Why is it that we’re focusing on ourselves rather than the global community? Oh yes, it’s for things like developing and improving aging infrastructure. Looks like we have some solutions right in front of us—or tunneling right below us.

The question is when will we—or will we ever—figure out the answers while the rest of the world whirrs around us, their cargo and commutes flying about at hyperspeeds. By then, the United States would be grateful for some 1960s-era, high speed rail that could at least move a little freight a little faster.

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