Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk on Monday unveiled his idea for a high-speed mass transit system to replace California’s planned high-speed rail system.
The founder of Tesla, SpaceX and Paypal published the design for his futuristic “Hyperloop” transportation system online. The Hyperloop would use low pressure steel tubes to blast car-sized capsules from one area to another. The system would be entirely powered by its own solar panels.
The Hyperloop would be able to transport a person from Los Angeles to San Francisco — a distance of more than 300 miles — in only 30 minutes. Musk previously described the system a cross between a “Concorde, a railgun, and an air hockey table.”
The Hyperloop is similar to “vacuum tube train” ideas that were proposed during the 1970s. By evacuating all the air from a tube and using magnets to levitate a capsule, researchers believed they could create an extremely fast transportation system.
But Musk said vacuum tubes or tunnels were too difficult to maintain. Any small leak would disrupt the system. Rather than create a complete vacuum, the air pressure in the Hyperloop would be dropped down to about 1/6 the pressure of the atmosphere on Mars. The design would allow for a substantial reduction in air resistance, without the hardships and costs of maintaining a complete vacuum.
Musk said disappointment in California’s proposed high-speed rail system motivated him to develop a revolutionary new transportation system.
“The underlying motive for a statewide mass transit system is a good one,” Musk explained in his 57-page paper on the project. “It would be great to have an alternative to flying or driving, but obviously only if it is actually better than flying or driving. The train in question would be both slower, more expensive to operate (if unsubsidized) and less safe by two orders of magnitude than flying, so why would anyone use it? If we are to make a massive investment in a new transportation system, then the return should by rights be equally massive.”
At least one member of Congress thinks the Hyperloop is an idea worth looking into. Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell of California tweeted on Monday: “Hyper-speed rail? @elonmusk of #Fremont’s @TeslaMotors thinks he can get you from SF to LA on a solar-powered #HyperLoop. Let’s learn more!”
Musk has emphasized that the Hyperloop design is currently in the alpha stage of development. He has encouraged anyone with suggestions or corrections to email his team.
Listen to Elon Musk explain the Hyperloop, courtesy of Bloomberg News, below:
[Image courtesy of Tesla Motors]