Kudos to Elon Musk for His Hyperloop Proposal

I have to say that I am very impressed with plans for the Hyperloop transportation system that were released today by Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors. This may not turn out to be the future of public transportation, but I do appreciate the fact that Musk has taken the time to address a problem and come up with what seems at first glance to be serious, well-though out and technically feasible.

The idea was born out of Musk’s disappointment with plans for a California light rail system which he felt was too slow, too expensive, and too disruptive.

A summary description of the Hyperloop is given in the abstract of a 57-page pdf document that was released today.

Hyperloop consists of a low pressure tube with capsules that are transported at both low and high speeds throughout the length of the tube. The capsules are supported on a cushion of air, featuring pressurized air and aerodynamic lift. The capsules are accelerated via a magnetic linear accelerator affixed at various stations on the low pressure tube with rotors contained in each capsule. Passengers may enter and exit Hyperloop at stations located either at the ends of the tube, or branches along the tube length.

The initial project proposed is a transportation link in California between Los Angeles and San Francisco which would consist of a raised steel tube raised on pylons which would be covered in solar arrays that would provide power to the system (Musk says the solar panels will produce far in excess of the power needed to run the system).

The majority of the route would follow the existing I-5 interstate highway and would be positioned in the median between the north and southbound traffic lanes. The projected travel time between LA and SF is 35 minutes as opposed to 1 hour and 15 minutes by air, 5 1/2 hours by car, and 2 1/2 hours by the proposed new rail system. The ticket price is estimated to be $20 one-way which compares to around $80 for an air fare, $105 for the rail link, and $60 by car (gasoline cost)

The whole proposal document which goes into a good deal of logistical and technical detail can be read at http://www.teslamotors.com/sites/default/files/blog_images/hyperloop-alpha.pdf

One of the interesting things about the proposal released today is that Musk has put it out there as “an open source transportation concept” (he says he his too busy with his Tesla Motors, and Space-X businesses to work on it as a commercial project), and he is encouraging the public to contribute to discussing it and coming up with improvements on the released plans.

My purpose here is not to provide a technical or economic critique of the Hyperloop — I just find it refreshing to see a serious proposal for an alternative way of doing things that seems to have been carefully thought out. Driving home in the car this evening I listened to a radio report about the Hyperloop which was rather dismissive and almost derisory, which I found disappointing.

I’m impressed that Elon Musk has had taken the initiative here to step forward not just with a critique of a current public policy proposal, but a serious solution to do things better using innovative technology. I hope that the idea is taken seriously, and that it spurs careful examination by discussion among decision-makers around the world. I hope it can help lead to the implementation of better transportation solutions.