Billionaire inventor and entrepreneur Elon Musk has finally unveiled the “Hyperloop”, a proposed public transport system which he claims could take travellers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just half an hour. The same journey takes one hour by plane and almost six by car.
Mr Musk, who published the plans for his ultra-high-speed alternative in a blog post, said it could be delivered to consumers far more cheaply than plane travel, and with the regularity of trains.
The 42-year-old tech mogul inspired Robert Downey Jr’s performance as genius industrialist Tony Stark in the movie versions of Marvel Comics’ Iron Man. He founded Paypal; the high-end electric car-maker Tesla Motors; and SpaceX, a space exploration venture. His stated aim is to establish an 80,000-person colony on Mars.
Mr Musk first mentioned the Hyperloop more than a year ago, suggesting his invention would be solar-powered, safe and reliable regardless of weather conditions. He has described the technology involved as a “cross between Concorde, a rail gun and an air hockey table”. The concept involves firing frictionless, magnetically levitated pod vehicles through a near-vacuum tunnel, reminiscent of the tube systems traditionally used to transport documents from floor to floor at office buildings and banks.
In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek, Mr Musk said the tubes would be mounted above ground on columns. The pods would move as fast as 800mph. “The safe distance between the pods would be about five miles,” Mr Musk said, “so you could have about 70 pods between Los Angeles and San Francisco that leave every 30 seconds. It’s like getting a ride on Space Mountain at Disneyland.” Passengers would experience a G-force no greater than that of a sports car. The ride, Mr Musk said, would be “supersmooth”.
Yet Mr Musk also said last week that the technology remains “extremely speculative”, and he is too preoccupied with Tesla and SpaceX to go to work on the Hyperloop himself. Instead, he released the plans so that other firms and interested individuals might develop and improve on them.
On the right track: High-speed railways
Elon Musk says his Hyperloop train would cover the 382 miles between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes.
If a similar system was built in Britain, a 30-minute journey at the same speed would take passengers all the way from London to Derry in Northern Ireland.
The fastest train currently in operation is Shanghai’s Maglev locomotive, which has a maximum speed of 260mph (418kph). It would take the Maglev more than two-and-a-half hours to travel from London to Derry.