Could High-Speed Transportation Tubes Replace Airline Travel?

Joe Goldman  |

Jeremy, an investment banker from Los Angeles, wants to travel to Shanghai to close a business deal, return to LA to enjoy some quality beach time with his kids, and catch the Yankees take on the Mets with a client at Yankee Stadium – all in one day.

Sounds expensive and physically impossible, right? With today’s transportation options, yes, but Jeremy’s action-packed day could soon become an affordable reality sometime in the next decade.

ET3, or Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies, is a company that is in the process of developing a high-speed magnetic levitation transportation system. Their prototype transportation system is silent, low cost, faster than jets, and fully electric. So how exactly does this crazy device work?

According to the prototype, up to six passengers sit in a 1.5-meter capsule, which travels through frictionless, airless tubes. Electric motors initially accelerate the capsules, which are able to maintain momentum for the remainder of the trip without the use of additional power. Most of the capsule’s energy is then recovered at the end of the trip, which means that ET3 leaves virtually no carbon footprint.

Capsules would reach speeds up to 4,000 miles per hour, enabling passengers to travel from LA to New York in 45 minutes or LA to China in only two hours. A ticket would only cost around $100, according to preliminary estimates.

The idea is both ambitious and bewildering, so here are some pros and cons surrounding the ET3 system.

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Pros of ET3:

  • Speed: ET3’s ultra-fast capsules would enable international commuting, which open up infinite doors for businesses worldwide.
  • Low Building Costs: ET3’s website claims that a given stretch of its tubular network can be built for a tenth the price of a high speed rail or a quarter the price of a freeway. Thus, funding shouldn’t be much of an issue if the system ever comes to fruition.
  • Affordability: Preliminary estimates state that a one-way trip from New York to Los Angeles would cost $100, just a fraction of an airline ticket. Ticket demand, therefore, should come extremely easy for ET3.
  • Government Subsidies: The government, which helped facilitate the proliferation of electric cars and green energy through loans and tax credits, could offer similar resources to ET3.
  • Elon Musk’s Blessing: Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla (TSLA), SpaceX, Paypal, and Solar City (SCTY), has publically raved about the Hyperloop’s potential, according to Yahoo! Finance. As the de facto king of green innovation, Elon Musk has the Midas touch when it comes to getting new technologies off the ground running, so he could be instrumental in ET3’s establishment as a legitimate company with a legitimate idea.

Cons of ET3

  • Consumer Trust: Will people really trust enclosure in a device that travels 4,000 mph in a tube?  
  • Travel Limitations: ET3 tubes would cost considerably more to build overseas than over land, which means travel to remote islands is likely out of the question.
  • Politics: Although the government supports green technology, it may think twice about funding a direct competitor to the airline industry, which receives heavy federal subsidies and employs hundreds of thousands of Americans.
  • Danger: While ET3 claims that its proposed transportation systemis safe, skeptics are asking the following questions:
    • Would an earthquake or tornado inflict destructive and/or deadly damage on the ET3 system?
    • What happens if a tube leaks and becomes pressurized?
    • How will ET3 defend its tubes from human destruction? Is the Hyperloop an easy terror target?

While the Hyperloop may sound like pie in the sky or an idea out of Tron:Legacy, its arrival could actually be in the works, as the company will test a three-mile tube run later this year.

DISCLOSURE: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors, and do not necessarily represent the views of Readers should not consider statements made by the author as formal recommendations and should consult their financial advisor before making any investment decisions. To read our full disclosure, please go to:


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