Re: NEWS: Supersonic failure?

From: Jeff Davis (
Date: Sat Apr 28 2001 - 22:07:42 MDT


On Thu, 26 Apr 2001 03:19:37 -0700
Samantha Atkins <>

>Perhaps we should resurrect the old proposals for underground tubes
>linking major cities. The tubes are denuded of as much air as possible
>to lower resistance and mag-leve trains are run in them. If it could be
>made to work the cost after building the system would be substantially
>less per passenger/mile and the velocity attained would be much higher.
>Any thoughts on what (besides all the environmental roadblocks) is wrong
>with such an idea?

This idea has been a favorite of mine since I first read about it in
Scientific American in August(I think) 1965.

At the end of his excellent paper, Elektron: Electrical Systems in
Retrospect and Prospect, Jesse Ausubel gives a short discussion of maglev
tunnel-train transport.

this paper can be found at

An extensive list of Ausubel's publications can be found at

When I went there to find the above links so that I could include them
here, I found that Ausubel and Ceasare Marchetti have recently published a
new article,

The Evolution of Transport, in The Industrial Physicist 7(2):20-24,
April/May 2001,
which can be found full text in PDF at

I have only just downloaded this file and have not yet read it.

Regarding your questions, Samantha:

In truth, I don't see obstacles in the environmental issues. On the
contrary, as this transport system is clean/electrical, efficient, and
underground, all environmental impacts are beneficial compared to current
transport methods. (Of course, one has to generate the electricity.)

The major issue has to be cost. The ***HUGE*** capital cost of building
hundreds/thousands of miles of tunnels with integral electrical
distribution system. These costs are, of course, based on current
construction methods, which one would expect to decrease with the march of
progress, particularly advances in automation.

The other, smaller IMO, obstacles are lack of vision and political will.
Because no such system currently exists to demonstrate its feasibility and
value, the support for it is almost non-existant. No vision. Particulary
absent vision-wise is the social/infrastructure value of an ultra- fast,
safe, clean, and efficient medium and long range national transportation
system. Opponents will cry "Pork!" "We've already got a national network
of trains and planes. We don't need to spend trillions of dollars on
another one."

And while it's much more useful than an international space station, a
dubiously functional anti-missile shield, or the new A-22 military
industrial super pork luau, a project the size of underground tube
transport requires government support, and that requires a constituency,
which I don't think exists at this time. Now such a constituency could be
built, the vast sums of money involved guarantee that, but between the
futurist novelty, the vast cost, and the resistance of established rail and
air transport 'interests', I would expect at best an agonizingly gradual
process, starting with studies, then a demonstration project, and then a
real, but small, system in a very high density transportation
corridor--Boston to Washington.

Then again, perhaps you could bootstrap the process with a little bit of
creative dual use cost cutting. Say, an undergound transport-slash-prison
system. Put all prisoners in the tunnels with the drilling machines. Have
the motto be "Tunnel your way to freedom" or "Less locks with Morlocks", or
some such.

                        Best, Jeff Davis

           "Everything's hard till you know how to do it."
                                        Ray Charles

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