The much-awaited news is in: Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, has unveiled details about his supersonic “Hyperloop,” which promises to transport passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in thirty minutes flat.
For weeks, speculators have tried to crack the code on how Musk’s ultra-high speed network could work, and skeptics have been quick to point out that travelling at roughly 800 miles per hour would nothing short of stomach-churning, if it’s even safe at all. At long last, the answers have arrived:
The Hyperloop will consist of an elevated network of steel tubes containing aluminum pods. Each pod would be mounted on a thin set of skis made of iconel, an alloy used in many SpaceX projects, and propelled to its 800 mph velocity via magnetic propulsion, linear induction, and air compression, yielding a smooth, frictionless ride that Musk estimates would feel much like an airplane. (If you've ever been on a ride like Six Flags' Kinga Ka, you might already be familiar with some of the key technology that Musk is referencing.)
As far as safety goes, Musk promises this would be safer than any other method of high speed transportation—derailments won't be possible, a safety brake will be built in for emergencies, earthquake dampers will keep it stable during natural disasters, and pods will be maintained at a safe distance from one another to prevent crashes.
Plus, the whole project will be relatively affordable: amazingly, Musk’s estimates show that it could be built for $6 billion—less than a conventional rail link, and a fraction of the $70 billion high-speed rail system California is currently developing.
If it seems like a polished plan, that's because it is: Musk has been mulling ideas for two-plus years, and has already called on a dozen of his top SpaceX engineers to consult on the physics. Still, Musk admits that the 380-mile distance between the two sample cities is about as far as you’d want to travel via Hyperloop—beyond that, he says, “It’s probably better to take a plane.” How come? With sub-1,000 mile distances, planes spend the majority of their time ascending and descending, making them less efficient.
Until this morning, the tech maven had made it clear that he won’t be seeing Hyperloop to fruition, claiming his hands were too full with SpaceX and Tesla. But in a follow up press conference, Musk caved just a bit: while he will continue to search for the right developers for the job, the entrepreneur has "come around" to developing a demonstration prototype. Perhaps the biggest sign of his intent and ambition? He's already predicting we'll be riding at 800 miles per hour within seven years.
Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.