Fantasy or Reality? Elon Musk Unveils His 800-MPH ‘Hyperloop’

Pods would carry up to 28 passengers each, and the ticket price would be $20 for a 30-minute trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

An artist's rendering of a Hyperloop pod. (Photo: Elon Musk)

Aug 12, 2013· 1 MIN READ
Salvatore Cardoni holds a political science degree from the George Washington University. He's written about all things environment since 2007.

Elon Musk’s status-quo busting, futuristic mode of transportation is finally here.

After months of teasing us with vexatious hints that it was “a cross between the Concorde and a rail gun and an air hockey table,” the inventrepreneur extraordinnaire behind the online payment firm Paypal (true), the electric carmaker Tesla Motors (true), the rocket company Space X (true), and Rebel Alliance’s Millenium Falcon (debatable veracity) today unveiled his latest sci-fi transit toy—the Hyperloop Alpha.

If ever built, Hyperloop would use elevated aluminum pods to propel up to 28 passengers at a time between cities that are, ideally 1,000 miles apart. A one-way trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco would take 30 minutes—or about as long as it takes between a commercial airplane landing and taxiing to the gate, and your schlepping through the airport to baggage claim.

Hyperloop has almost too many geeky-cool perks to mention. Here are a few: It’s completely solar-powered (carbon-free!); it’s capable of hitting a top speed of 800 miles per hour, which means it’s twice as fast as an airplane; and it’s cheaper than a Japanese bullet train, with the proposed ticket price coming in at $20.

What would a trip on the Hyperloop feel like?

“It’s like getting a ride on Space Mountain at Disneyland,” said Musk, to Bloomberg Businessweek. “It would have less lateral acceleration—which is what tends to make people feel motion sick—than a subway ride, as the pod banks against the tube like an airplane. Unlike an airplane, it is not subject to turbulence, so there are no sudden movements.”

Another plus: in addition to ferrying people, Musk speculates that it could also move people and their cars. “You just drive on, and the pod departs,” said Musk.

Wired details one potential route for the design:

Two tubes—one for each direction—would be mounted on pylons spaced between 50 and 100 meters apart, and Musk envisions the Hyperloop running alongside Interstate 5 in California. Because it’s elevated, there’s less environmental impact (farmers can still use their land), it can be built to withstand earthquakes (using the same technology as buildings in the Golden State).

While some might balk at the $6 to $10 billion price tag, that’s a fraction of what California is already planning on spending on a high-speed rail system, which will break land this fall. Musk has openly opposed this plan, namely becaue it isn’t really fast—like at all. For $70 billion, it would take two hours and 40 minutes to move passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

But don’t expect to board a Hyperloop pod anytime soon.

Musk says he’s way too busy running Tesla and SpaceX to devote any real time to the concept, which is part of the reason why he released today’s white paper—he hopes that over the next few years his design is nitpicked, improved upon, and, who knows, somehow even turned into reality.

Armchair technicians and engineers, you’re up to bat.