LOS ANGELES—As California’s $68 billion high speed rail project faces roadblocks and delays, billionaire Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and SpaceX fame has come up with an inventive new solution—the Hyperloop. Like something out of a sci-fi movie, the new transit system would shoot passengers in capsules through a tube.
The Hyperloop, Musk claims, would cost a tenth of the high speed rail, and make the 400-mile trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco in 30 minutes. He said any mass transit system the state creates would need to be a better alternative than flying or driving.
“How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and JPL … would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world?” Musk asked.
The Hyperloop would work like the pneumatic tubes used in older office buildings and banks to transport papers. But Musk’s capsules would catapult through nearly air-free tubes at more than 700 mph. Inside, they would be pulled down the line by magnetic attraction.
Each capsule would float on a thin cushion of air it creates—like an air hockey table in which the puck produces the air instead of the surface. To minimize friction, a powerful fan at the front would suck what air is in the tube to the rear.
Capsules could depart every 30 seconds, carrying 28 people, with a cost of $20 each way, according to Musk's plan. The proposed route would follow Interstate 5, a well-traveled path linking California's north and south through the agriculture-rich Central Valley. Musk believes the Hyperloop can become a reality in the next 7 to 10 years.
But in a written statement, California High-Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richard suggested that Musk was oversimplifying the challenges.
"If and when Mr. Musk pursues his Hyperloop technology, we'll be happy to share our experience about what it really takes to build a project in California, across seismic zones, minimizing impacts on farms, businesses and communities, and protecting sensitive environmental areas and species," Richard said.
Yet the current high speed rail system has many critics, and continues to face roadblocks. Construction was slated to begin in 2012, but is now being pushed back to 2014 due to delays in finding a construction company and lack of key federal permits.
Musk said he was willing to put some of his considerable personal finances into building the Hyperloop and get the project started. But he wants to hand it over to others. All his design plans are open-source, meaning anyone can use or modify them. For now, Musk plans to continue focusing most of his energies on SpaceX and Tesla.