On a private vineyard in California’s postcard-perfect Mendocino County, a sleek train zips atop a model “atmospheric railway,” guided by a unique propulsion system based on magnets, pistons, and pressure. Known as the Vectorr Prototype, this one-sixth scale model is the latest innovation in a revolutionary, 150-year-long effort to build a train propelled entirely by the power of pressure differential.
The scale Vectorr model rides atop a 2,095-foot track, and its creator, Flight Rail, believes that it’s the cheapest, lightest, and most environmentally sustainable option for the future of California’s inter-city travel. According to the specs, the final product will travel at 200 mph—not quite at the level of the Hyperloop’s projected 760 mph speeds, but nothing to sneeze at.
The idea for a pressure-driven train in the United States originated in New York City in the 1870s with the Beach Pneumatic Subway, an early underground train driven by pressure differential. Over a century later, the unique idea has resurfaced with Vectorr, which uses power systems located as much as 50 miles apart to generate energy. Pistons coupled magnetically to the train use this energy to create a pressure differential of up to 25psi at different parts of the air tube located in Vectorr’s thin track, propelling the train forward.
This concept allows for a wide variety of ecological and economic benefits. As the train requires no fuel, the system is lightweight, allowing for quicker, sharper turns. As no traction—only magnetic force—is required, the train moves speedily, and with the model’s elevated guideway design, wildlife corridors can be built beneath the track.
While those looking for beacons of innovation flock to California’s Silicon Valley, anyone with an interest in trains might be best surprised to hear they’re best off visiting the vineyards of northern California.