About 70% of all manufacturing plants have a compressed air system, but that’s not all these pressurized air mechanisms are used for. Air compressors are also the key to making trains move, and have been since the mid-19th century.
Yet, train travel has come a long way since George Westinghouse patented the railway air brake in 1868. In fact, in 2013, Elon Musk had a vision of a mass transit system that would transport people from point A to point B at 760 miles per hour.
In an op-ed piece titled “Hyperloop Alpha,” Musk described pressurized capsules that would ride on an “air cushion.” He said that the system would be faster and less expensive than trains, boats, cars, and planes, for a distance of up to at least 900 miles. Not only would it travel at incredible speeds, it would also be resistant to earthquakes and generate energy through solar panels – more energy than it would actually need to function.
Currently, the average driver spends upwards of 20 hours each week driving, traveling more than 200 miles. Much of this accounts for a worker’s commute to and from his job. The CEO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Dirk Ahlborn, explained that if one lived in Palo Alto, California, he or she could actually commute to a job in Los Angeles every day. The commute of 350 miles would take less than an hour.
This type of train would revolutionize transportation, bringing people even closer together. It would also, consequently, open up the job market for many individuals. While the practice of telecommuting is becoming more popular, allowing individuals to work for companies all around the world without leaving their home, having a form of transportation that would allow one to physically work in an office without the long commute would be extremely beneficial as well. In other words, people in Palo Alto typically don’t take jobs in Los Angeles because of the great distance between the two cities. It would be an impossible commute in a traditional car.
This new transportation system would also be extremely beneficial for the environment. Collectively, cars and trucks account for roughly one-fifth of all emissions in the U.S., giving off around 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and other global-warming gases for each gallon of gas. Not only would this train run without emitting harmful chemicals, it would also generate solar energy.
Currently, two start-up companies have undertaken Musk’s challenge to develop the “Hyperloop Alpha” technology. Each has raised more than $100 million and claim that they will have functional systems within three to four years.