Can the Hyperloop Catch Up with the Hype?: Musk Invites Feedback on his Ultra-rapid Transit Concept

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Elon Musk loves speed and he doesn’t suffer fools. “When the California “high speed” rail was approved,” he has written, “I was quite disappointed, as I know many others were too. 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?”

So while busying himself with space flight and perfecting electric cars, he has been pondering how to create a Hyperloop, an ultra-rapid transit system that would propel passengers through a tube in capsules and, he claims, make the 380-mile (610km) journey between LA and San Francisco in “about half an hour.”

On Monday, he spoke about the concept by phone with press, including KCRW, revealing some of the details on how it would work and feel.

“It would actually feel a lot like being in an airplane,” he said.  “So there’d be an initial acceleration and once you’re traveling at speed, you wouldn’t really notice the speed at all, so it would just feel extremely smooth, like you’re riding on a cushion of air really, and you wouldn’t feel lateral acceleration, side to side acceleration… That’s comparable to what you’d see in an airplane, and far less than you’d see in say a  roller coaster. It should just feel really super smooth and quiet and also there wouldn’t be any turbulence or anything.”

Musk and FA at TeslaOne caller asked how earthquakes would factor in to Musk’s claim that the Hyperloop could never crash. Musk (left, in conversation with Frances Anderton at the Santa Monica Tesla store) replied, “Obviously, “never” is a rather strong word. It’s just extremely difficult I suppose to crash. Unlike an airplane, it’s not really moving in 3 dimensions, it’s not going to fall out of the sky, nor can it be derailed, as a train can, and in the pylons on which the tube is mounted, to have earthquake dampers. It’s sort of similar to the sort of things you have in buildings in California, they are basically shock absorbers,  and you have two laterally mounted. . .  Now there’s potentially some earthquake that’s going to be so gigantic that it overcomes the dampers, but then again we have that same problem in buildings. So if LA falls down, well, I guess it will too. Relative to say a train, where you can’t really do that with tracks, it should be quite a bit safer.”

Another caller asked how the High Speed Rail Authority will react to his concept. Musk answered, ” I don’t think we should do the high speed rail thing, because currently it’s said to be roughly 70 billion dollars, but if one ratios the cost at approval time and the cost of completion time of most large projects, I think it’s probably going to be close to $100 billion dollars–and then it seems like it’s going to be less desirable to take that than to take a plane… California taxpayers are not only going to write off 100 billion dollars, but they are also going to have to maintain it and subsidize the ongoing operation of this train for a super long time like California’s Amtrak and that just doesn’t seem wise for a state that was facing bankruptcy not that long ago.”

He also expressed the desire to construct a prototype of the Hyperloop, but conceded that for now he is going to focus his energy on Tesla and Space X. Meanwhile, the Colorado-based company ET3 is working on making the Hyperloop a reality, while others question the viability of Hyperloop concept. USA Today, for example, talks to scientists who say that the concept is an update of the system, once a feature of newsrooms and department stores, that used negative air pressure to shoot capsules through pneumatic tubes, but that “traveling faster than a jet aircraft in a tube would be really, really difficult” with “heat and stress on the system” as “just two big factors.” 

For his part, Musk is crowdsourcing criticism and advice on the project; he has asked people to send feedback to or For more details on the Hyperloop, here’s the report that Tesla Motors released about the project, divided into a section “in everyday language, keeping numbers to a minimum and avoiding formulas and jargon” and a second section for “those with a technical background.”

Listen to Elon Musk and his chief car designer, Franz von Holzhausen, talk to DnA about the Tesla Model S: