Five things about Elon Musk’s Hyperloop

A peek at the blueprints


After months of speculation, tech billionaire Elon Musk has revealed a blueprint for Hyperloop, rapid transit that he says could zip people from San Francisco to Los Angeles in half an hour.

Seated in aluminum pods, passengers would be transported along an elevated steel tube at speeds of up to 800 miles per hour. Giant, battery-powered fans mounted to the pods would push air from the front to the rear of the ride.

“It’s like getting a ride on Space Mountain at Disneyland,” Musk, founder and CEO of Tesla Motors Inc. and SpaceX told Bloomberg Businessweek.

Here are five cool facts about the Hyperloop:

1. Musk will build a prototype.

Though Musk has said he has no plans to construct the Hyperloop, he changed his tune on Monday. “I would like to see it come to fruition and I think it might help if I do a demonstration,” he said. But since the project is “not a high priority,” it’ll likely be three to four years before that happens and up to 10 years before a full-scale version is operational.

2. It will cost between $6 billion and $10 billion.

That’s a fraction of the cost of California’s planned high-speed rail system.

3. It will transport cars and people.

“You just drive on, and the pod departs,” said Musk in the Bloomberg Businessweek interview. (Previously, it was assumed capsules only be for people.)

4. It will be solar powered.

Solar panels on top of the tube will provide more than enough energy to operate the Hyperloop, Musk says. Excess energy will be stored in battery packs to allow pods to run at night.

5. The ride will be smooth and safe.

Musk said passengers will feel little other than start-up acceleration. “It would feel extremely smooth, like you were riding on a cushion of air,” he said. Shock absorbers placed at intervals along the tube will help mitigate the earthquake risk, he said. “It’s extremely difficult to crash,” he added, noting that it can’t derail like a train or “fall out of the sky.”

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Five things about Elon Musk’s Hyperloop

  1. Really, really hope this works out, but I think he is seriously underestimating the costs. The California High Speed Rail isn’t so expensive because rail is expensive. It’s expensive for similar reasons why the Hyperloop will be too: RIght of Way, building a crossing for over the Bay, and many other things.

    Based on the capacities and perhaps even the lack of stations along the way, this looks more like a replacement for a SF-LA airline route than a replacement for things like high speed rail. Perhaps someday we can figure out how to improve the system significantly, but for now it doesn’t look like the transit miracle so many people have hoped for.

  2. Hyperloop does not terminate in downtown LA, resulting in trip times longer than High speed rail, and ignores major costs like crossing SF bay (from Hyperloop proposal: Bad joke or attempt to sabotage California HSR project? ):

    HSR between downtown LA and downtown SF: 2 hours, 28 minutes

    trip between downtown LA and downtown SF:
    1 hour from LA to Sylmar via
    20 minute transfer
    35 minutes to Dublin
    20 minute
    1 hour 10 minutes from Dublin to SF via BART

    Total: 3 hours
    25 minutes

  3. Thank you, Greater Greater Washington for laying bare the red herring that Musk’s Hyperloop really is:

    Contrary to Musk’s false claim, High Speed Rail is far safer than Air travel. The Aircraft Crashes Record Office estimates 794 deaths in 2012 alone from flying, the lowest number since 2004.

    As for High Speed Rail, the crash in Spain killed 77. The Wenzhou crash in China in 2011 killed 40. The Eschede disaster killed 101 people in 1998. 218 people in High Speed Rail’s entire 49 year history – about 4 people per year.

    Absolutely disgusting for an auto-maker to try & undermine a viable high speed rail project that would benefit millions with a red herring that can only carry 10% of the capacity of high speed rail, ignores massive construction & nimbyism costs, only serves 5 cities compared to 24 for high speed rail and reaches neither downtown Los Angeles nor downtown San Francisco resulting in lengthy commute times at either end that only further reinforce the advantage of high speed rail with its ability to use existing track once in the cities to access downtown stations.

  4. Elon is a lucky guy. Twins and Triplets. What are the odds? “Made” is a movie fave. Stress doubles the investment to 20 hrs/week.
    Most people point to the need for more water to cool the compressed air as the main problem. I’ll note the process of compressing the air will be expensive R+D and prototyping. The Bay area and LA won’t be the flattest/straightest/cheapest route. The tickets can be much more expensive and wouldn’t bother with the vehicle model. A doctor could be always a passenger especially during off-peak hours. With carbon pricing you can beat air travel much further than 1500km. It is possible to test air compression now with prototypes. Lightning strikes? This is ultimately a competitor too shipping too. Would the air cooling be helped by starting with ice or a fluid other than water? Bombardier could handle some prototypes in return for warrants/ownership-options. Demonstrating the air compression in a mini-prototype is the next step. IDK cost. Maybe a track worth tens of millions but can’t guess vehicle mini-prototype cost.

  5. At regular outposts it might be cost-effective to have first responders and security guards. 4th comment dow n gives you alternate route if the need for a flat landform is absolute. I can’t get a fine enough detailed gradient looking at topo-map between North American cities. Detroit-Chi, Chi-St.Louis look okay at first glance but you’d guess the wind turbine plains between Fargo and Texas would be better. At these G-forces keeping it flat might be critical.

  6. Sounds like hype. Not worthy of investing. While he talks, China already has cargo and people maglevs in operation. And given such batteries don’t exist for this kind of storage to weight ratios, no need to worry if the solar cells will capture enough energy. Maybe stuff this back into a science fiction book.