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Proposed Hyperloop Would Get You From DC to NY in Just 29 Minutes — Here's What Else You Can Do in That Time

Billionaire inventor and entrepreneur Elon Musk let loose a cryptic tweet Thursday morning, hinting he may be close to securing a deal with the federal government to build an underground hyperloop. The revolutionary form of mass transit could make the trip from New York City to Washington, D.C., in just 29 minutes, Musk wrote.

Given the hype surrounding the tweet, a little perspective as to what 29 minutes means in the context of the average person's life could be useful. 

What 29 minutes means with other modes of transportation:

  • From Metro Center station, traveling along the Red Line toward Shady Grove, a traveler would only get as far as the White Flint Metro station in 29 minutes. That's still three stops short of the end of the line.
  • According to Amtrak's website, their Northeast Corridor trains can travel up to 150 mph. However, a commute between New York's Penn Station and D.C.'s Union Station -- the two stops with the highest ridership -- contains points where train speed has to be reduced. The average pace of the Acela Express, Amtrak's premier train along the corridor, is about 70 mph, according to a November 2015 article in the Boston Globe. Taking that speed as a benchmark, in 29 minutes, a traveler on Amtrak would likely only make it a little over halfway to Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) Thurgood Marshall Airport. That trip normally takes a full 50 minutes.
  • Granted, it may be unfair to judge current mass transit by the sluggish American model. After all, Europe is known for a much more efficient system. The Boston Globe reported that a trip between Paris and Geneva on the Eurorail would average about 164 mph. After 29 minutes at that speed, you could get about 79 miles. (For reference, that's about the distance from D.C.'s Union station to the Maryland-Delaware border on Interstate 95.)
  • Thinking that maybe you would fare better just driving? Still assuming a destination of New York from D.C., the quickest route according to Google Maps would be to take I-95. Unfortunately, in just 29 minutes, you likely wouldn't make it off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, let alone the nearly 200 miles of I-95 awaiting you.

So what else can you do in 29 minutes?

  • You can get through the line at Georgetown Cupcake in less than 30 minutes, even at peak demand, Sadie Dingfelder of the Washington Post wrote in August 2016.
  • You can burn 590-680 calories during 29 minutes of running at a brisk 10 mph pace, assuming you're the average weight of your gender, according to the CDC.
  • Want to go for a swim instead? Using those same CDC averages for weight, a man would burn about 300 calories swimming freestyle at a moderate level of effort, and a woman would burn about 259 calories.
  • Still, in 29 minutes you can get part of your morning routine out of the way. According to the Telegraph, men take an average of 22 minutes in the shower, while women take an average of 23 minutes. But combine that with the average time it takes to shave (18 minutes for men and 14 minutes for women), and it looks like a morning grooming routine busts the 29 minute time limit as well.
  • When walking around the Capitol, 29 minutes doesn't go very far, either. If you're walking east from Lincoln Memorial along the National Mall, in 29 minutes you can barely make it to the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, according to Google Maps. That's just over half the distance of the National Mall.
  • If reading is your preferred past-time, 29 minutes is hardly enough to break in a new book. The Guardian reports that the average reader can slug through about one page, or 250 to 300 words, per minute. The paperback edition of James Joyce's perennial novel "Ulysses" has about 730 pages. So, the average reader can get through only about 4 percent of that tome in 29 minutes.

What can be accomplished in 29 minutes varies, but it's fair to say the time can get drowned out quickly in life's daily activities. Whether or not Elon Musk can compress what is typically around a four-hour trip from D.C. to New York into 29 minutes isn't yet known, but judging by his Twitter feed, he sure thinks he can. 

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