I spend a lot of time thinking about modes of travel. I’m a bike commuter and I travel a lot, passing a fair number of hours on planes, trains, boats, and buses. And automobiles, just to round it out. The train is, in my opinion, by far the superior method of transit, made even better because it’s actually possible to sleep on a train. Trains in the U.S., though, kind of suck (sorry, Amtrak), especially when compared to trains in Asia or Europe. But all that’s about to change. We hope.
Elon Musk, CEO of electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors and spacecraft producer SpaceX, as well as the founder of Paypal (yeah, this dude’s doing okay) just announced plans for a revolutionary train system that will allow people to get from L.A. to San Francisco (because really, who would go the other direction?) in 30 minutes. It’s the “Hyperloop” transport system, and if that name doesn’t convince you that this idea is awesome, I don’t know what will.
Musk’s proposed Hyperloop system involves shooting people through tubes at high speeds. Sound familiar?
Okay, so Musk isn’t suggesting that we just pop folks into the tubes — we’ll be traveling in capsules, kind of like subway cars. Except instead of actually riding on a rail, we’ll be riding on air, moving via pressurization. Magnetic accelerators would boost the capsules to speeds of 760 miles per hour. And just like with a subway, passengers would get on and off at stations.
Unlike Maglev and other high-speed trains, Musk doesn’t want to use magnetic levitation because of high material and construction costs. Instead, he suggests “externally pressurized and aerodynamic air bearings.” In other words, the capsule will be on air-bearing skis. The distance between a ski and the wall of the tube creates a pressure that enables the skis to remain stable at high speeds. For passenger comfort, the skis would each have a mechanical suspension. “It’s like getting a ride on Space Mountain at Disneyland,” said Musk. Don’t oversell, dude! And also, that would be kind of terrifying.
Musk estimates the Hyperloop could carry 840 passengers an hour between L.A. and San Francisco. He’s figures each capsule can hold about 28 passengers, and that there would be approximately 23 miles and a wait time of two minutes between capsules. He’s even thinking about building transport for passengers to bring their vehicles. Musk says that the projected cost of the Hyperloop would be around $6 billion. He suggests that a ticket cost $20 “plus operating costs.” I’m not totally sure what that means, but the $20 part sounds good.
I, for one, buy what he’s selling. There’s so much crazy math in his proposal, who could possibly doubt him?
While Musk clearly enjoys devising cutting-edge methods of transportation, the Hyperloop was inspired by California’s crappy “high-speed” rail, which goes up to 164 miles per hour and takes over two and a half hours to get from L.A. to San Francisco. Japan recently successfully tested a maglev train that travels over 300 miles per hour. China claims to be working on a maglev that can reach speeds of over 600 miles per hour. Musk obviously thinks it’s time California caught up.
Elon Musk calls for feedback in his proposal. Here’s mine: I’d really like to see a time traveling tube transport Hyperloop system — that technological mash-up needs to happen, and you’ve already got the perfect name. But if that’s asking too much, I’d be happy with a teleportation device, as long as it works outside of California.