Jealous of London’s Tube, the US plans a Bigger, Better Version

A subway train at a train station

In the near future, tubes might be used to bring you more than just internet. Cleaner and quieter than cars, faster than jets, and cheaper than trains, evacuated tube transport just might be the transportation solution we’ve been searching for.

At first glance, it seems like a ridiculous concept dreamed up by some flaky futurists. After all, people zipping around through tubes is something you would see in an old black-and-white sci-fi movie where people live in the open on the moon. Indeed, the idea is lampooned regularly on the show Futurama. However, proponents of the system aren’t laughing, and if they have their way we could soon be replacing our highways with their tubes. has been awarded a US patent for the Evacuated Tube Transport system they have devised. Basically, they want to build a web of tubes that stretches across the country, much like our highway system. Passengers would ride in car-sized capsules with pre-programmed destinations. The tubes themselves would be airless, but the capsules would stay pressurized, and airlocks at the boarding stations would ensure that both stay that way.

The capsules themselves ride on a frictionless, mag-lev surface, and are powered by linear electric motors that accelerate them up to 600km/h (370 mph). Since the system is entirely electric, there is no need for fossil fuels (assuming the electricity is generated without them). When stopping, the capsules actually generate power, recapturing almost all of the energy it took to accelerate them at the beginning of the journey. claims that this makes them almost 50 times as energy efficient as electric cars or trains. Eventually, they plan on making the system international, and believe they can speed capsules up to 6,500 km/h (4,000 mph), making a trip from New York to Beijing last just two hours.

The middle of last century saw the arrival and boom of air transport. Airports sprang up all over the country and around the world, allowing people to travel quickly and safely as never before. Now, however, such technological marvels are commonplace, and have reached the limit of their usability and efficiency. Passenger flights have become less awe-inspiring and more tedium-inspiring. Supersonic flight over land is not allowed to due sonic booms. Not only that, but the fuel required for such flights is prohibitively expensive. To top it all off, supersonic planes would still be limited to 2414 km/h (1,500 mph), which is better than conventional jets, but not good enough to justify the cost.

Of course, no transportation system comes without its problems. The initial cost of creating the network would be astronomical. Not only do you have the costs associated with traditional transportation networks, but the tubes must also be depressurized, and remain that way. What happens when there is a breach in one of the tubes? With all of them networked together, an air leak in one part would affect the entire system. This issue could be solved with emergency hatches that seal a breached area, but what happens to a capsule caught next to a breach? However, there are safety and economic problems associated with any mode of transport; and given the propensity of cars to pile up on the highway it seems like ETT would be much safer than driving. It would also be more cost efficient than flying, and all without the TSA taking naked pictures of you.

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