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Gary Horton: Blown into the future

Posted: August 14, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 14, 2013 2:00 a.m.
 

This week Elon Musk presented his vision for the future of mid-range transportation in America. His "Hyperloop" is a futuristic, nifty system of giant stainless steel tubes running up and down the state, either over or under Interstate 5.

Musk says his 700 mph transport system will take only 30 minutes to whisk passengers from L.A. to San Francisco — and will cost only $6 billion to $10 billion to construct.

His system is solar powered and requires no outside energy, does not pollute, and avoids many, if not most, of the problems associated with the $80 billion fast train proposed for the San Joaquin Valley — which neither you nor I will ever see completed in our lifetimes.

And why should we care that some futurist crank comes out with a Star Trekkie drawing for how our future transport might look? Because Musk has emerged as something between the Howard Hughes and Steve Jobs of our current generation.

Most successful entrepreneurs develop one average hit for their life’s efforts. Musk apparently sees things that you and I don’t see, and with his personal "future vision" has hit three grand slams in a row.

Pay Pal, Tesla and Space-X have each become incredible accomplishments in their own right. Space-X has accomplished in short years what entire countries, such as China and Japan, have yet to achieve.

Tesla is arguably the finest and most futuristic car on the road, and the current hit, the S, is only its second car down the chute.

Musk sees a future in putting humans in tubes and whisking them up and down the state. Musk mused, (paraphrased), "Why would the home of Silicon Valley be content to use old and expensive technologies to build the infrastructure of our future?"

That’s certainly a strong point made. It seems to me the most innovative state should strive to build an innovative infrastructure to keep us ahead as leaders, not followers.

Here we have a chance to leapfrog, not just the rest of the country, but the most infrastructure-advanced countries in the world. What an opportunity!

Can we afford to take a gamble? As it stands, the only way to San Francisco is a long drive on the 5 or 99, hoping against hope there’s no accidents, construction or detours, or get your junk inspected at the TSA booth at LAX and consume five hours total time attempting to fly up the state.

Fairly dismal choices for the world’s seventh largest economy.

Those choices versus the prospect of "taking the tube" — not London style. Rather, we’d just hop on the tube at the Magic Mountain station and whooosssshhhh — be at Ghirardelli Square in 29 minutes.

Heck, we could even take our dates to San Fran for a seafood dinner and whoosh right back again in the same evening.

Are you a dirty rotten Giants fan? No problem, take the tube to AT&T Park and don’t even worry about parking.

Musk is a credible man with an audacious and credible plan. The question is: do Jerry Brown and our government structure have the leadership guts to say, "Wait, stop — there’s perhaps something new here we should consider before we head off on what is universally considered too expensive, too intrusive, and too unlikely to ever be completed"?

Jerry Brown was once known as "Governor Moonbeam" for his desire to build a Cal State space agency. Would Brown risk his new prudent, austere reputation with a chance of being labeled "Governor Travel Tubes?"

Short of anything better, the high-speed train might be a good idea if we could ever get it done. But it’s rife with problems that still haven’t been resolved.

It requires the acquisition of insane amounts of easement rights. It interferes with animal crossings and farm management. Its cost is estimated to run all the way up to $80 billion or more.

And, in the end, it may take up to 30 years to construct and net you a 2.5-hour trip to San Fran when we’re all done.

In contrast, Musk’s idea could get done in 10 years. It needs no easements, as it sits either above or below the existing interstate freeways. It is self-contained and has limited environmental impact both on its location and its power source.

Why not quickly name a blue ribbon panel of some of the state’s brightest to critique and evaluate? Heaven knows, with Stanford, Berkeley and Cal Tech, we should be able to run the numbers by the end of the year.

With a little leadership,

California might emerge as the new leader of an old industry of transport.

Thanks to Musk, we’re already making the world’s best electric cars and also host the most successful private space start up.

Why not overtake the centuries-old train industry by radical innovation!

It’s a vision I’d love to see whisk us away to the future.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. "Full Speed to Port!" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.

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