Hyperloop: Here’s How An Emergency Situation Would Play Out
On Monday, Elon Musk unveiled his detailed plans for the long-anticipated Hyperloop project, a futuristic transportation system that would make a trip from San Francisco to Los Angeles just over a half an hour long (here’s the initial proposed route).
Musk revealed the details of the project in a 57-page PDF document. WIthin that is a section about onboard passenger emergencies. According to this, each capsule (which contains passengers) would have a direct radio contact with station operators in case of emergencies. This would enable passengers to report incidents, request help and receive assistance.
Each capsule would also contain first aid equipment.
“The Hyperloop allows people to travel from San Francisco to LA in 30 minutes,” the document says. “Therefore in case of emergency, it is likely that the best course of action would be for the capsule to communicate the situation to the station operator and for the capsule to finish the journey in a few minutes where emergency services would be waiting to assist.”
Of course, we’re talking about emergencies pretty vaguely here. Different kinds of “emergencies” could require different courses of action. While not necessarily life-threatening, Business Insider, for example, raises a good point about there not being any bathrooms on board. This could at least make for some sanitary issues.
But in terms of real medical emergencies, Musk says the typical times between an emergency and access to a physician should be shorter than if the incident happened during an airplane takeoff (but at least planes have bathrooms).
“In the case of the airplane, the route would need to be adjusted, other planes rerouted, runways cleared, airplane landed, taxi to a gate, and doors opened,” the document says. “An emergency in a Hyperloop capsule simply requires the system to complete the planned journey and meet emergency personnel at the destination.”
“The design of Hyperloop has been considered from the start with safety in mind,” it says. “Unlike other modes of transport, Hyperloop is a single system that incorporates the vehicle, propulsion system, energy management, timing, and route. Capsules travel in a carefully controlled and maintained tube environment. The system is immune to wind, ice, fog, and rain. The propulsion system is integrated into the tube and can only accelerate the capsule to speeds that are safe in each section. With human control error and unpredictable weather removed from the system, very few safety concerns remain.”
It suggests that all safety scenarios should be considered relative to other forms of transportation, as with the airplane example above.
With regards to power outages, the proposal indicates that the “vast majority” of Hyperloop travel is spent coasting, so capsules don’t require continuous power. That said, it does have back-up plans including batteries and energy storage.
With regards to capsule depressurization, there would be oxygen masks like those found on airplanes, but the onboard control system would maintain capsule pressure using reserve air carried onboard. In what is proposed to be an “unlikely event,” other capsuls in the tube would automatically begin emergency breaking while they tube undergoes rapid re-pressurization if there is a large scale capsule depressurization.
If you’re worried about being stuck in a capsule within the tube (which could be a nightmare scenario for the claustrophobic), this is also deemed extremely unlikely due to the fact that the capsules coast at high speed without the need for propulsion for over 90% of the trip. If one did manage to become stranded, the capsules behind the stranded ones would have their emergency brakes deployed. They would then be driven using small onboard electric motors.
Being in California, earthquakes are a natural concern, but the proposal indicates that the Hyperloop would be built to withstand one with “the necessary flexibility” and tube alignment.
In the event of a human-related incident (presumably such as a terrorist threat), the proposal indicates that security would be at the same level as airports.
As far as general reliability, the Hyperloop is supposed to have a service life of 100 years.
So, do you think you’re going to feel safe getting in one of these things?