back to article Beardy Branson: Wacky hyperloop tube maglev cheaper than railways

Richard Branson, figurehead of all things branded Virgin, has opined that our rain-sodden island needs a hyperloop railway system. The billionaire Brit, who is non-exec chairman of Virgin Hyperloop One, told BBC Radio 4's You and Yours programme that a hyperloop "would end up transporting people far quicker, in far greater …


  1. Wellyboot Silver badge

    Just like Virgin Galactic & SpaceX

    >>Virgin Hyperloop One is a competitor of Elon Musk's Boring Company,<<

    This must be causing Elon such a lot of worry...

  2. macjules Silver badge

    Has to be said ..

    Virgin on the ridiculous.

    1. This post has been deleted by its author

  3. nematoad Silver badge


    Let's hope, that the Bearded One can make a better job of it than he did with Virgin East Coast.

    1. Voyna i Mor Silver badge

      Re: Maybe.

      Perhaps he's hoping that when it all goes Tunnel Inability To Support Unexpected Perforations that the Government will have to step in, take over and fund the thing long enough to find a new franchisor.

    2. Chad H.

      Re: Maybe.

      Well, that was actually Brian Souter in charge, and a lot of failures were due to Network Rail delays in upgrades.

    3. Pete4000uk

      Re: Maybe.

      Stagecoach actually run it, Virgin just brand it and send out patronising tweets and internal messages

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

        Re: Maybe.

        So Virgin(a) is (are) innocent

  4. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "about a third of building high speed rail"

    Erm, exactly how much hyperloop do you get for £18bn?

    Even £5bn doesn't buy you much road and tunnel

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "about a third of building high speed rail"

      Even £5bn doesn't buy you much road and tunnel

      I wouldn't use the bungling fuckwits of Highways England as a benchmark for cost estimation or control, unless I wanted some MoD Abbey Wood style cost inflation.

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: "about a third of building high speed rail"

        I wouldn't use the bungling fuckwits of...

        And to think that I thought "The Men from the Ministry" was a comedy, and not a documentary

      2. Roland6 Silver badge

        Re: "about a third of building high speed rail"

        >I wouldn't use the bungling fuckwits of Highways England as a benchmark for cost estimation or control

        I take it that you are being ironic? The record of public bodies suggests that they consistently under-estimate the costs of projects... Which may mean in turn that what the Beardy one is referring to, isn't the current cost estimate for HS2 but the final cost....

      3. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        Re: "about a third of building high speed rail"

        The 'fuckwits of Highways England' are a darn sight better at estimates than 'Notwork Rail'. For them, it is thingk of a large number and square it rather than just double it.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: "about a third of building high speed rail"

          The 'fuckwits of Highways England' are a darn sight better at estimates

          With Highways England, the problem is that their investment programme is not only fabulously expensive, but in many instances it actively worsens the traffic, or creates huge tarmac deserts in preference to proper, simple, intuitive road layouts, or expensively buys time because they'd prefer not to do the more challenging job of building a proper national trunk road network. It doesn't help that the pea-brains of the Department Against Transport and parliament interfere in the schemes and budgets, but even within Highways England's control they could do a whole lot better for less.

  5. J27 Bronze badge

    Based on the cost of the most recent Japanese mag lev projects they're be lucky to build what they're proposing for 10x the price of that proposed high-speed rail project.

    1. Len Silver badge

      I doubt Hyperloop will ever reach the levels of success that maglev has reached over the decades.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        I assume...

        Hyperloop is just a pie in the sky idea for really getting into the tunneling industry. It will end up with normal tube trains, but side stepping regs and or patents as it will instead be called a hyperloop only by name.

  6. LeahroyNake Bronze badge

    keeping the water out

    I was a massive achievement to keep the water out in the channel tunnel and before that under the Thames. Maybe they can keep the air out of a tube ?

    Fingers crossed they can make it work, progress is progress.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: keeping the water out

      Keeping air out comes down to pumps distrubuted routinely along its length and not just at the ends as the detractors would have us believe.

      1. Francis Boyle Silver badge

        Re: keeping the water out

        Keeping air out under normal circumstances is the least of the problem Hyperloop has. Maintaining normal circumstances on the other hand. . .

        1. werdsmith Silver badge

          Re: keeping the water out

          I think they told us in school when we were about 11 that such an idea fails because rats chew the leather seals.

    2. HPCJohn

      Re: keeping the water out

      Leahroy, have you visited the Brunel Tunnel Museum? If you are ever in London you should.

      Also talking about engineering from past centuries, and vacuums, look up 'Atmospheric Railways'.

      In victorian times it was not certain that locomotive engines could have enough power to pull trains along. The first railway between London and Croydon used a vacuum system - the train carriages were connected vian an arm to a piston in a vacuum pipe. There were pumping station stations beside the tracks. The vacuum seal used leather flaps. The rats ate the leather. I dont think this was th eonly problem with these railways though!

      1. BebopWeBop Silver badge

        Re: keeping the water out

        And taking the Underround story a little further.

        When trains were updated, the maximum dimensions were calculated (important in tunnels :-)

        Then new trains were designed to conform with the maximum. Unfortunately when the original train/tunnel pairs were designed, engineers had realised that they could push air through the tunnels to improve air quality. This was something that does not seem to have been documented (or the origibnal documents were not read correctly). The new designs, while not hitting tunndels were also far less efficient at the 'push' and air conditioning needed to be installed/upgraded to make up for it, at some considerable expense.

        Interesting analogies with modern IT systems and requirements capture & analysis.

        Mines the one with a G scale garden railway ------------->

  7. Flocke Kroes Silver badge

    Picking nits

    telegraph: "[Jeff Bezos] said he is liquidating more than a billion dollars a month to invest in his space company Blue Origin."

    Bezos is only burning $1G per year, not per month. This puts him well behind Senator Richard Shelby who gets through three or four billion per year.

    TheRegister: "[Beardy] gets flung into orbit"

    There is a big difference between the energy required to get to space (~1MJ/kg) and the energy required for orbit (~32MJ/kg). Branson is only offering trips into space, not into orbit. Bezos is doing both and has sent commercial cargo to space.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Picking nits

      There is a big difference between the energy required to get to space (~1MJ/kg) and the energy required for orbit (~32MJ/kg)

      Although I do believe you, 1MJ to get a kilogram into space seems remarkably little, given that a standard 51g Mars Bar contains 0.96MJ of energy - presumably as measured by combustion in a bomb calorimeter.

      So strap a Mars Bars to the underside of your 1kg microsat, add a suitable amount of oxidizer, and off you go!

      For low earth orbit, 32MJ would require 33 Mars Bars; however those will weigh 1.68kg themselves, so better buy a few more boxes to allow for the payload and oxidizer.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Picking nits

        These numbers are correct. The unfortunate complexity (which means the actual achieved numbers are very different) is that you don't just have to provide enough energy to get to that altitude, nor just enough to get the necessary orbital velocity. You also have to propel yourself through the atmosphere to get up there, including propelling all your propellant through the whole process. You also have to overcome gravity drag as well. All of these are reasons you have to sit on a rocket full of propellant, rather than a mars bar or 2.

        1. TechnicalBen Silver badge

          Re: Picking nits

          The force of a device able to use the nuclear power equivalent of 2 mars bars in one go, would probably get you to orbit nicely. Building a capsule to survive such a blast may not be as easy though. ;)

          1. The Nazz Silver badge

            Re: Picking nits

            Must be something wrong with the calcs, a woman on our street can easily demolish four Mars bars (never been the same since they altered the recipe) at one sitting but can barely waddle from her front door to her car. So, no orbit then.

            Not all bad news though, judging by the number of visitors she has she must have a good trampoline installed indoors. An alternative launch pad?

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: Picking nits

              1kg ~= 10N, raised by 100km = 1MJ = 1 Mars Bar. Shame that we don't have an efficient way to convert chemical energy into potential energy.

              This does show that space elevators are pointless; saving that 1MJ of potential energy doesn't help you much if you still have to find another 32MJ of kinetic energy.

              A railgun though... if it could deliver 8G acceleration for 100 seconds, it would be 400km long. Maybe build a hyperloop tube up to the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Trouble is, even at that height, you still have half an atmosphere of pressure. The burn ups would be quite spectacular :-)

          2. ridley

            Re: Picking nits

            Been there should have done that? Well the design work was done in the 1960's see project Orion.

            See the excellent doc "To Mars by A-Bomb"


        2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Picking nits

          "You also have to propel yourself through the atmosphere to get up there,"

          Well, that easily solved! You just build a hyperloop, Straight up. You don't even need to bore tunnels.

          1. hplasm Silver badge

            Re: Picking nits

            "You just build a hyperloop, Straight up"

            But- that would suck all of the atmosphere up into space!!!

    2. Brangdon

      Re: Bezos is doing both

      Bezos current rocket, New Shepherd, is also sub-orbital hops only. He plans an orbital one called New Glenn, but it is years away from its maiden flight. He's not put any commercial cargo in orbit - at most he's done some brief micro-gravity experiments.

      Maybe you have him confused with Musk? SpaceX often sends cargo to LEO, GTO and the ISS. He's not put any humans in space yet, but hopes to by end of year-ish.

  8. Christoph Silver badge

    650 mph train in a vacuum tube hundreds of miles long. How big a terrorist bomb placed anywhere along the route would be needed to make a very nasty mess? They might even be able to trigger it from vibrations in the tube so it goes off just as the train is passing?

    Or a time bomb on board? You'll end up with a security delay before boarding that wipes out the time gained by the extra speed.

    If it goes off while the train is in a built up area the results would be appalling - a train masses much more than an aircraft, and at that kind of speed has a huge amount of kinetic energy.

    1. Adam 52 Silver badge

      A terrorist bomb anywhere is going to make a nasty mess. Quite frankly if that's the best your local terrorist can come up with then we're in luck.

      1. Christoph Silver badge

        A terrorist bomb anywhere is going to make a nasty mess.

        A terrorist bomb releases the energy of its explosives. A terrorist bomb that wrecks the maglev suspension or the vacuum seal as a train is passing also releases the kinetic energy of the train. Which at those speeds and at that mass is enormously greater than any reasonable terrorist bomb.

        Think of the damage done at Lockerbie for instance - the ground damage was not from the bomb at all, it was from the crashing plane.

        1. Adam 52 Silver badge

          "releases the kinetic energy of the train. Which at those speeds and at that mass is enormously greater than any reasonable terrorist bomb."

          Which is great if your terrorists are keeping score measured in joules. We should encourage that approach. Unfortunately most terrorists seem to use other performance indicators.

    2. Saruman the White

      A time bomb (or suicide bomb) is possible. Triggering one from vibration is probably a no-goer since the "train" is flying through a vacuum without touching anything (that is what maglev is) so there is unlikely to be enough vibration to work with. However you do it, the result would be a very nasty mess!

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Time Bomb?

      Can they send bombs into the future now?

      We're all doomed.

      1. el kabong

        Sending bombs into the future is easy

        Anyone can do that, just let the bomb sit there and moments later it will be in the future. So, no problem there, anyone can send a bomb into the future.

        Now, sending a bomb into the past, that would be an amazing feat, one that could have disastrous consequences.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Sending bombs into the future is easy

          "Now, sending a bomb into the past, that would be an amazing feat, one that could have disastrous consequences."

          I did once send some barrels of gunpowder back in time to the Houses of Parliament cellars, but I don't think it worked.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            >> I don't think it worked

            Just checked, Westminster's still there and has more knaves than ever. Are you sure it was gunpowder and not mislabelled "elixir of life"?

      2. Jonathon Desmond

        Re: Time Bomb?

        I think you mean “mayan meetan con with doom willen on when”

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Hyperloop carriages are frequent and small, like a mini-bus. Set the bomb off whenever you want as the exact timing makes little difference, and you will get a handfull. The distributed pressure controls would then bleed air into the tube to decelerate and protect and separate the other cars in the loop.

  9. Milton Silver badge

    Usual Beardie/Virgin BS

    It'll be crunch time for the Virgin Galactic nonsense soon. Even if the new Vomit Comet system was safe—and there are good reasons for suspecting it will be nowhere near as safe as routine airliner travel, so FAA certification may never be forthcoming—you have to ask how many rich idiots will be willing to cough up tens of thousands of dollars to spend several hours in a nasty metal tube that goes nowhere. Yes, the spaceship-which-isn't goes up for hours, and eventually reaches an altitude of 100km+, arbitrarily defined as space. Yes, the aforementioned idots can have a special plastic Astronaut merit badge to admire as they sink back to exactly the same place they came from. No, the spaceship-which-isn't never goes into orbit. It can't fly in space. It can't deliver stuff to the ISS, or bring stuff down. It is a "spaceship" in the same way that a rowboat is a transatlantic passenger vessel.

    There are people doing fantastic work on real space travel, including SpaceX, Reaction Engines and Blue Origin. None of them are Branson. The whole Virgin Galactic thing is little better than an expensive, dangerous stunt. It has little to do with space travel and a lot to do with Beardie's love of superficial marketing bullcrap. (And I really hope he does not follow through on the idea of taking his kids up with him.)

    As for the HyperLoop twaddle ... same problem. It all sounds wonderful, lots of sci-fi concepts (the idea has been around for at least 100 years after all), impressive statistics about journey time, wildly optimistic predictions. But the devil is always in the detail, and there's an awful lot of detail to worry about. For Branson to suggest tunnelling will cost less than surface transport is bonkers. Tunnelling is horribly expensive and slow. Unless he (and Elon, for that matter) have built a molecular disintegrator plus autocementing reintegrator, their guff about cheap quick tunnelling will remain just that: somewhat embarrassingly daft guff.

    Which doesn't even begin to cover all the issues of permissions; surveying; geology; seismic analysis; proximity of fracking; environmental impact; safety of tunnels; risk sensor networking; escape routes (gonna evacuate a subterranean vacuum-train under the Pennines in 90 seconds, Beardie?); g-forces; emergency braking times; gradient and depth routing; turn radii; temperature and aircon management; routing, station and terminus decisions; maintenance intervals, rules, process, operational criteria and doctrine; pumping stations; power distribution and delivery; potential terrorism; signalling; software control systems; shall I go on and on, and talk about contingencies for fire, atmospheric contamination, power failure, structural distortion of train or tunnel; foreign object detection and mitigation, and on and on and yet on ...?

    After these childishly unrealistic wheezes are sent embarrassed to bed in a year or two, i wonder if Beardie will pop up again, blethering about, I dunno, Virgin Moon, offering jaunts across lunar seas aboard Selene "within just a few years" ...? Perhaps he just doesn't bother to talk to engineers before flapping his fur. Or maybe it's all just his addiction to empty marketing shyte.

    1. Anomalous Cowshed

      Re: Usual Beardie/Virgin BS

      How dare you be so critical and sarcastic on a serious publication such as this?

    2. fpx
      Thumb Up

      Re: Usual Beardie/Virgin BS

      As much as I agree with your article, Virgin Galactic is ... business. Branson is taking a gamble that there will be enough rich idiots to take the ride, and he is willing to invest a lot to make that vision a reality, in the faint hope that the enterprise comes out in the black eventually. It's not a bet that I would be willing to make with my money, given the long odds, but I admire him for doing so.

      We all know it's not quite the same as being in space, but it fills a gap between the vomit comet and going into orbit. It will be an experience that you can't have anywhere else, for any kind of money. Going into orbit is not available yet and will be more expensive by two orders of magnitude. So it's not completely idiotic to go.

      Either way, he gets good press off it, and that alone may make the losses tolerable for him.

      1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

        Re: Usual Beardie/Virgin BS

        there will be enough rich idiots to take the ride

        meanwhile in Blighty, lots of schools are on half-term holidays According to a report on Radioi 4's Today programme this morning, that means that some kids are going hungry as they won't be getting the school meals they would otherwise get, as there isn't the extra money in the family budget to make up the shortfall.

        Yep, the rich idiots can just head off into space with their money (and not come back). Fat lot of good it's doing for their fellow beings, not just in Blighty, but throughout the world

    3. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: Usual Beardie/Virgin BS

      "It is a "spaceship" in the same way that a rowboat is a transatlantic passenger vessel."

      And there are rich idiots who decide to row across the Atlantic as well. Just because something isn't particularly useful or sensible doesn't mean it's inherently bad; not everything needs to push the boundaries of human achievement. If you have enough money to spend a weekend being shot into space, what exactly is so bad about doing exactly that? Maybe all you'll get out of it is some cool photos and a badge saying you've been into space, but most people are happy to spend money on trips that get them significantly less than that.

      About the only thing that could really be said against it is maybe the money could be spent to do something more useful. But the same could be said about all money spent on any kind of entertainment, so it's hardly fair to single out occasional rocket trips when far more money is spent on just as trivial matters every day.

      I just don't understand why there always seems to be so much hate for Virgin Galactic. No, it's not a commercial satellite launching business, it's not exploring new worlds, it's not colonising Mars, it's not pushing the boundaries of space travel or revolutionising the industry. It never claimed to be any of those things. It's a tourist agency that offers to send people who can afford it to somewhere very few people have been. It's not meaningfully different from visiting Antarctica, or Everest base camp, or some random tropical island; just a bit more expensive and exclusive. Why is that such a terrible thing?

      Hyperloop, of course, is a steaming pile of bullshit, but that's a different thing entirely.

      1. ridley

        Re: Usual Beardie/Virgin BS

        Well for one thing Virgin Galactic came into being shortly after Spaceship One won the X-prize in 2003.

        SpaceX was incorporated in 2002.

        Just what have VG been doing for 15 years?


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