Looping the Loop

A much earlier version of pneumatic transport, circa 1870.

A much earlier version of pneumatic transport, circa 1870.

Actually, Elon Musk’s proposal for a “hyperloop” (a high-speed pneumatically powered ‘train’ that would enable passengers to travel from Los Angles to San Francisco in 30 minutes or from New York City to Beijing, China in two hours) isn’t the first time such a system has been proposed. The first operating railroad subway in the United States ran from 1870 until 1873 in New York City between two stations, one on Warren Street, and one on Murray Street.  The pneumatic power was supplied by a large fan. The system ran for three years and closed for lack of ridership. Most people, it turns out, did not enjoy the sensation of riding inside a large vacuum cleaner hose. (Insert your own suction joke here.) The tunnel for the system still exists.

There was also a pneumatic system tested about the same time in England, the Crystal Palace Pneumatic Railway. It ran for about a year starting in 1864 for a distance of 600 yards. The Railway may have a been a demonstration line for a similar railway between Whitehall and Waterloo, but it was never built. The remains of the Crystal Palace tunnel were discovered recently in the Crystal Palace Gardens.

Pneumatic systems were common and quite extensive in major cities in the nineteenth and into the twentieth centuries. They were used to carry not only mail and other paper items but also cargo and, as in these cases, people. No word on whether animals were ever transported by pneumatics historically although there are such systems in use today.

Anyhow, here’s a link to more information on the hyperloop system. I just wonder how much the fare will be and if there will be snacks and drinks en route. Bon appetit!


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