Video Elon Musk might have popularized the idea of a Hyperloop transport system, but the Chinese have taken up the idea and plan to make it better – with 4,000km/h (2,485mi/h) bullet trains planned for the Middle Kingdom.
The Chinese concept is for a "supersonic flying train," with the carriage floating on magnetic levitation tracks and running in tubes that have been pumped out to a near-vacuum. If you think that sounds like Hyperloop you'd be right, but while Musk is envisaging a barely subsonic transport system, the Chinese have much more ambitious plans.
The tracks will be built on pylons above the ground and they'll run short inter-city routes at 1,000km/h (621mi/h); longer trips between China's main metro centers at around 2,000km/h (1,243mi/h); and long-distance cargo and passenger routes at its top speed.
The plans were unveiled on Thursday by the China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation, Sina reports, and the group says it has over 200 patents for the required technology. It envisages a network of tubes crisscrossing the countryside leading into terminals where they are rotated on giant turntables to point into their loading and unloading docks.
As an added bonus, the whole system is designed to run on non-carbon fuels. The transport tubes are topped with banks of solar cells, with China's nuclear power industry providing the core electrical supply.
There are, of course, some important questions that remain unanswered, chief of which is passenger survival. Accelerating to those kinds of speeds could be very uncomfortable, even with the special suits worn by astronauts and fighter pilots, and to get up to the train's top speed in a reasonable distance.
Secondly there's the cost angle. Building a system like this would be colossally expensive and it's unclear how such a system would pay for itself commercially. Yes, China will subsidize certain projects out of national pride, but the train network could burn through money quickly.
Then again, both of these accusations have been leveled against Elon Musk's plans, and it isn't stopping him. Last weekend, students from around the world competed on SpaceX's 0.8-mile test track and the company's own test car hit 355km/h (220mi/h) over the short course. ®