Terraspan's giant, 4,000 mph (6,437 km/h) vacuum tube train, which also doubles as a superconducting power line.
In the 1800s, when pneumatic tubes shot telegrams and small items all around buildings and sometimes small cities, the future of mass transit seemed clear: we'd be firing people around through these sealed tubes at high speeds. And it turns out we've got the technology to do that today – mag-lev rail lines remove all rolling friction from the energy equation for a train, and accelerating them through a vacuum tunnel can eliminate wind resistance to the point where it's theoretically possible to reach blistering speeds over 4,000 mph (6,437 km/h) using a fraction of the energy an airliner uses – and recapturing a lot of that energy upon deceleration. Ultra-fast, high efficiency ground transport is technologically within reach – so why isn't anybody building it?
The next frontier of speed
Vacuum tube-based transport has a lot of things going for it. Speed, for one. Anyone who has spent time on a fast motorcycle knows that even without any wind, the air itself is a brutally powerful force working against your engine as you get up above 125 mph (200 km/h). In fact, air resistance is the number one problem to combat as speeds increase. Airliners have to fly 40,000 feet up in the air to take advantage of the reduced drag you get when the air thins out a bit. And even with this advantage, they still can't cruise much faster than 570 mph (917 km/h) without being horribly inefficient.
Take air resistance and rolling resistance away by operating in a vacuum and magnetically levitating your vehicle, and it takes more or less the same amount of energy to accelerate from 3,000 to 3,050 mph (4,828 to 4,908 km/h) as it takes to get from 50 to 100 mph (80 to 161 km/h). And once you reach your top speed, you simply stop accelerating, apply no further energy, and coast. You lose very little speed until you reach your destination, at which point you can slow your vehicle down electromagnetically and recapture almost all the energy you put in to speed it up.
Theoretically, with the right length of vacuum tube set up, you could zoom all the way around the world in a matter of hours, nearly ten times faster than today's airliners. Operating in a vacuum, these vehicles would make almost no sound, even as they smashed through the sound barrier, because there'd be no air for them to create sonic vibrations in. With no actual points of contact or friction with the track or tube, there would be virtually no energy lost to heat dissipation.