These are first images and details of the system that may one day take you from downtown Los Angeles to downtown San Francisco in 35 minutes, all using passenger capsules traveling through tubes at the speed of sound. It's called Hyperloop and it does look like the train from the future, both in terms of design and engineering.
While Elon Musk—the guy who developed and sold PayPal for millions and then went to make rockets and electric cars—has no intention of building HyperLoop, he has published the plans for his new crazy idea to the public, hoping to see it built sometime in the future.
Unlike current high speed trains—which are slower than Musk's proposed design—Hyperloop floats in the transport tube using air suspension, rather than magnets. It works like air hockey, reaching 760mph with no uncomfortable acceleration. The required energy required will be entirely generated by solar panels placed on the tubes that hold the passenger capsules.
Here are some conceptual sketches from the train itself, directly from Musk's alpha documentation:
Inside the train, this is how passengers will fit. It looks like quite an intense experience, but apparently it will be extremely smooth and comfortable despite of the incredible speeds:
This is what the vacuum tube housing Hyperloop will look like:
While Musk proposes different routes alternatives, this is the optimal one according to the documentation:
- Top speed: 760mph.
- Total travel time LA-SF: 35 minutes.
- Cost per capsule: $250,000—which is surprisingly inexpensive.
- Cost of the tube infrastructure: $5.31 billion.
- Capacity: 840 passengers per hour—more than the current traffic between Los Angeles and San Francisco.
- Power: It will use solar powers on top of the tubes to provide with energy to the entire Hyperloop. Zero use of non-renewable energies.
- Propulsion method: linear induction motors. Total cost for all the required propulsion engines is $140 million.
- Suspension method: 28 air bearing skis per capsule, that will make it float inside the transport tube, like this:
The project will cost billions, but it will still be one tenth of the cost and much faster than the proposed high speed train in California.
The total cost of Hyperloop in this analysis is under $6 billion USD. Amortizing this capital cost over 20 years and adding daily operational costs gives a total of about $20 USD (in current year dollars) plus operating costs per one-way ticket on the passenger Hyperloop.
$20 per one-way ticket is nothing. $6 billion is just a billion more than a single aircraft carrier.
Of course, airlines and car manufacturing lobbies would never let this happen even if there was political will to make it. But it's a great dream: a fully solar powered mass transport system linking cities in minutes could have been a great way to push a fourth transport revolution in America.