Is the ultrafast Hyperloop from KC to St. Louis really all that it’s cracked up to be?

Missouri should take a hard look at this “Jetsons” technology before committing any public dollars to the Kansas City-St. Louis Hyperloop project.
Missouri should take a hard look at this “Jetsons” technology before committing any public dollars to the Kansas City-St. Louis Hyperloop project. AP

There’s a lot of hype about the Hyperloop, and it’s easy to see why.

Hyperloop One, the company behind the ultrafast transportation method, claims it can reach speeds of 671 mph. That’s within shouting distance of the speed of sound, and that means a trip from Kansas City to St. Louis could take, oh, about a half hour.

In our congested-highway world, it’s easy to see why Hyperloop, which uses electric propulsion to move pods through a tubular track, is attracting headlines worldwide. It’s the Jetsons come to life.

In Missouri, the allure of super-fast ground transportation has drawn the attention of state officials. Gov. Eric Greitens recently included the possibility of Hyperloop in his statewide bid to lure Amazon’s second headquarters to the state.

“Amazon,” Greitens said in a statement, “is a company full of people who turn big ideas into reality.”

But before we get too hyped-up about Hyperloop, can we at least have a conversation? For starters, we’d like a little more information about the demand to travel back-and-forth between St. Louis and Kansas City. We understand the interest our friends in St. Louis have in visiting Kansas City. We’re on a roll, after all, with our burgeoning downtown and winning NFL football team.

But St. Louis? Its population is in decline, and the city hasn’t produced a World Series champion since way back in 2011. Seriously, though, how many of us are in a screaming rush to get to St. Louis? And how much would you pay for it?

We have other concerns, too. While Hyperloop shows unusual promise, it has scaled back some of its key tests, raising questions about just when it might be ready to go. Government agencies have yet to weigh in and sign off on the new technology.

If it does come to Missouri, we wonder how rural communities might benefit. The half-hour timetable proposed for a Kansas City-St. Louis route doesn’t include stops along the way. Those stops, after all, would lengthen the commute time — and possibly lengthen it considerably. But rural Missourians deserve a shot at Hyperloop.

What about cargo? Moving people is one thing, but a real benefit in a state such as Missouri would be the ability to move freight as well. We haven’t heard much about that potential.

Missouri has all manner of pressing transportation needs that the Greitens administration has yet to address. Most of us know that the granddaddy of all public-works projects in Missouri is a rebuild of Interstate 70 across the state costing billions. But the state has barely budged on this issue, awaiting leadership from its governor.

Here in Kansas City, we’re struggling to come up with funding to rebuild the Buck O’Neil Bridge. A bump in state assistance would help.

In other words, Kansas City and the state of Missouri face a host of pressing priorities that surely should come before any investment in a Hyperloop project.

That’s why we were glad to hear of the Missouri Department of Transportation’s plans to seek private funding for a $1.5 million Hyperloop feasibility study. That money is being raised now. “MoDOT would contribute staff time to manage the study,” a spokesman said.

We don’t oppose Hyperloop. If the technology proves itself, we support exploring how it might help Kansas City and our region. In the meantime, we’d like answers, please.