Elon Musk’s Hyperloop to zip people between LA and San Franciso in 35 minutes

13 Aug 2013

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If Elon Musk has his way, people will be able to travel the 611 kilometres (380 miles) between San Francisco and Los Angeles in just 30 minutes for about US$20 on a solar-powered rail line called the Hyperloop. The idea is to create a vacuum tube that would use compressed air to hurtle travellers to their destination comfortably and on time.

Musk, founder of SpaceX and co-founder of PayPal and Tesla Motors, said he would like to build a prototype of the system but is far too consumed with his other projects at present.

The Silicon Valley entrepreneur said he was disappointed that the California “high speed” rail was approved, which he believes is slower, more expensive to operate and less safe by two orders of magnitude than flying.

“How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and JPL – doing incredible things like indexing all the world’s knowledge and putting rovers on Mars – would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world?”

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Musk’s Hyperloop proposes connecting cities that are less than 1,500 kilometres (900 miles) apart using a solar-powered vacuum tube with cars that would depart every 30 seconds and would travel at 760mph, almost the speed of sound.

In a paper outlining how the system works, Musk said: “Hyperloop consists of a low-pressure tube with capsules that are transported at both low and high speeds throughout the length of the tube. The capsules are supported on a cushion of air, featuring pressurised air and aerodynamic lift. The capsules are accelerated via a magnetic linear accelerator affixed at various stations on the low-pressure tube with rotors contained in each capsule. Passengers may enter and exit Hyperloop at stations located either at the ends of the tube, or branches along the tube length.”

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Musk said a full working demonstration model would take four years to build.

He said a Hyperloop between San Francisco and Los Angeles could potentially transport people, vehicles and freight between the two cities in 35 minutes.

If constructed, the system would transport 7.4m people each way and would generate US$6bn over 20 years, yielding a potential ticket price of US$20 for a one-way trip.

He argued that the passenger-plus-vehicle version of the Hyperloop would be less than 11pc of the cost of the proposed passenger-only high-speed rail system connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco.

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com