Want to get from Los Angeles to San Francisco real fast? Elon Musk has a solution, and it doesn't involve a Tesla S. In fact, he has suggested that the trip would take half the time you'd need to simply recharge your Tesla S somewhere between the two cities.
In a recent All Things D interview with Walter Mossberg and Kara Swisher, Musk appeared hesitant to discuss the topic. When an audience member stated, “One idea you have is the Hyperloop, and I would love for you tell this audience what that is and how it could change our world.”
Responded Musk, “I would actually love to answer that question, but if I do that will be the news tomorrow.” He wants the near-term news to focus on a Tesla announcement, proposing to discuss the Hyperloop after that.
Nevertheless, he allowed that a proposed high-speed rail project in California is “depressing”—it would be the world's slowest bullet train and be the most expensive per mile to build.
The Hyperloop, he said, is his alternative. When asked by Swisher whether it's a plane, train, automobile, or transporter machine, he described it as a combination of Concorde, rail gun, and air-hockey table.
That was pretty much all Musk had to say about it for the idea during All Things D interview, but he had discussed the concept in July 2012 in an interview with Sarah Lacy of PandoMonthly. You can see the video here, and Business Insider has a transcript of the discussion related to Hyperloop here. In that interview, Musk commented, “We have planes, trains, automobiles and boats. What if there was a fifth mode. I have a name for it, called the Hyperloop.”
He went on to explain how the system would never crash, is immune to weather, goes three or four times faster than the bullet train and twice as fast as an airplane, taking you from downtown LA to downtown San Francisco in under 30 minutes. Further, it would cost less than a commercial airline ticket and, with solar panels, could be self-powering.
Jay Yarow at Business Insider has recently done some digging and suggests Musk's Hyperlink concept may be based on the Very High Speed Transit (VHST) system described in an 1972 Rand Corp. paper by the physicist R. M. Salter. The system would employ electromagnetically levitated and propelled cars traveling in an underground evacuated tunnel.
The good news is that building such a system would not require any scientific breakthroughs. Here's the bad news, as Yarrow puts it: “The VHST would have to be underground. Digging the tunnels would be the biggest problem with creating the VHST. It would require political agreement and high costs to dig the actual tunnels. (90% of the cost would be building tunnels.)”
Perhaps Musk can solve these problems after taking care of the pending Tesla business, if in fact his Hyperloop concept has any similarity to the VHST. However, in the All Things D interview, he did allow that the economics might not work out: “If I'm wrong about the economics, it would still be a really fun ride, even if only one existed.”