Elon Musk challenges California high-speed rail plans with 'Hyperloop'

Elon Musk challenges California high-speed rail plans with 'Hyperloop'

Summary: Beyond the technology, the most disruptive part of the Hyperloop proposal is probably the overall price tag.


Elon Musk, co-founder of PayPal and the innovator behind spacecraft designers SpaceX, has introduced a proposal that -- if it ever comes to fruition -- could change the face of transporation forever.

Admitting the inspiration came from disappointment in California's high-speed rail project, Musk lamented further in a blog post on Monday that "there is not even a short distance demonstration system operating in test pilot mode anywhere in the world, let alone something that is robust enough for public transit."

Enter "Hyperloop," a supersonic model of travel put on the table today, designed for traveling distances 1,000 miles or less in essentially aluminum pods traveling through a vacuum-like tunnel.

The nuts and bolts of the advanced, if not science fiction-like, technology has yet to be worked out.

But for the everyday person, the point is to cut travel time between San Francisco and Los Angeles to approximately 30 minutes. Tickets are projected to cost $20 one-way.

Compare that to the high-speed rail project already underway (to some extent) in California right now.

Under that plan, the transit time between San Francisco and Los Angeles is expected to clock in at just under three hours, running at a rate of 200 miles per hour. Ticket prices are still up in the air, although previous estimates have ranged between roughly $50 to $100 per person each way.

For the moment, travelers in the state of California have basically three options: car, bus or train.

Depending how fast you drive, what car you have and what freeway you choose plus traffic, an average drive could take anywhere between six to 10 hours.

Tack on a few more hours to both ends of that range when taking either a bus (i.e. Greyhound or Megabus) or even Amtrak between Jack London Square in Oakland and Union Station in Los Angeles.

As for air travel, the flight time is just about an hour from wheels up to wheels down. But then you also have to factor in all the time it takes just to get to the airport in either city, followed by time spent lines while checking in and then going through security.

At that point, the high-speed rail bids -- either the existing one or Musk's -- become even more enticing.

Musk goes into why a "new mode of transport" truly needs to revolutionize the industry while still being practical to implement:

However, for a sub several hundred mile journey, having a supersonic plane is rather pointless, as you would spend almost all your time slowly ascending and descending and very little time at cruise speed. In order to go fast, you need to be at high altitude where the air density drops exponentially, as air at sea level becomes as thick as molasses (not literally, but you get the picture) as you approach sonic velocity.

Beyond the technology, the most disruptive part of the proposal is probably the price tag. California's high-speed rail project is currently expected to cost close to $70 billion overall.

Musk is promising a plan that he declared would only cost between $6 billion and $10 billion to build. Discuss.

To look over the entire Hyperloop proposal, scroll through the document below:

Elon Musk challenges California high-speed rail plans with 'Hyperloop'

Image via SpaceX

Topics: Travel Tech, Mobility, Enterprise 2.0, Tech Industry

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Tried

    Tried a long time ago but the technology just was not there.
    Might work this time around.
  • hyperloop

    Politicians wouldn't build it in Calif even in the unlikely event that it could be done for as little as
    6B that Elon claims just like the creative accounting he used to manufacture what are in reality non existent profits at Telsa . Not saying he couldn't build it just not not likely for $6B.
    Even if he could there is not enough long term graft and corruption potential for the politicians and vested interests there as opposed to the calif $60b boondoggle.
    preferred user
  • The problem is, of course...

    ...that all his figures are handwaving. No one has ever built it before, no one has ever approved it before for people transport, and it is likely that the final costs will be much higher as problems that didn't exist on paper are ironed out.

    On the other hand, high speed rail has been tested across the world.
    • Soft like...

      The Tesla Model S?

      Or SpaceX?
  • 2 Things

    1 - Mr. Musk assumes that TSA will not require security checks before they board this supersonic transportation, as they do for aircraft. It is in TSA's interest to expand their reach to other transportation modes.

    2 - Some cities in California are bankrupt and it's likely the state itself may also have to make a declaration eventually. Though they need a 10 billion dollar project (that would likely double or triple in cost) like a hole in the head, I can see a group of citizens backing this. Fiscal intelligence is a rare commodity in that state.
  • re tsa

    Good point on the TSA
    fiscal intelligence and government never go together like they say no problem the government can't make worse . Keep in mind any new technology will be over regulated by the NHTSA or Calif. until it is no longer competitive
    preferred user
  • A long, long time from now...

    I won't be holding my breath over this high-speed train deal, as in any form it's gonna be a while.

    I'd rather get a cheap ticket on the megabus at http://megabuspromocodes.com, or let's not forget spirit airlines, they have insanely low prices when you book early.
  • really?

    one word, earthquakes.........
    Chris Weiss
  • Visionary

    Most visionary ideas never come to pass. This one seems rather far-fetched. But coming from the founder of the first private company to send a re-supply cargo transport to the International Space Station, and the CEO of the company that showed that electric cars can be ultra-high performance at half the energy use of the most efficient gasoline cars, the hyperloop concept bears serious consideration. Disclosure: I drive one of the aforementioned electric cars, and IMO it's the slickest thing on the road.