Elon Musk has proposed his hyperloop as an alternative to the high speed rail link planned between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The estimated hyperloop cost of $6.5bn looks good against the HS costs estimated at $68bn, and it would convey its passengers much more rapidly. The news has set people in the UK wondering if better projects might be done in the UK as alternatives to our own HS2 rail link which is already estimated at over £40bn (some say £50bn) and will certainly rise above that. The BBC News Magazine picks out 5 such projects “suggested by experts” as possibles. It’s not a very inspiring list. It looks at a Welwyn North tunnel to eliminate bottlenecks on the East Coast rail line, and an Eastern England motorway up to the North and Scotland. Other schemes include a bridge to the Isle of Wight to replace the ferry, a new drive-through Channel tunnel, and tram networks for Liverpool and Leeds. The economics of HS2, the new high speed rail link, make no sense. They involve imposing costs of £2,000 on every household in Britain for a rail network that 1 or 2 percent might use. And because new out-of-town stations will be needed for some destinations, the travel time saved will be very small. Other projects might seem more deserving of support. Would any readers care to suggest ones that might be worth doing?
I’ll kick it off by suggesting that the Skylon spaceplane with its air-breathing Sabre rocket engine might be worth doing. The government has announced £60m toward development and prototype of the engine, but the costs of developing the vehicle itself has been put at £12bn, and like HS2 that is likely to be a considerable underestimate. But there is economic sense in a vehicle that can carry 15 tonnes of cargo into orbit, twice the payload of the European Space Agency’s automated transfer vehicle, and one that will lower the costs of reaching orbit from £15,000 per kg to just £650 per kg. It could also form the basis for an intercontinental hypersonic passenger carrier. I am interested in space, which helps explain my suggestion, but other readers might have ideas for tunnels, bridges, maglevs and more exotic ideas that might be worth a closer look. Feel free.
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