By Adrian Glick Kudler, August 12, 2013
This afternoon, SpaceX/Tesla founder Elon Musk put on his straw boater, wheeled out his piano, and finally gave his song and dance on the initial plans for the much-teased Hyperloop. The Hyperloop is supposed to be a better, faster, more efficient mode of travel--you know how tech dudes are gonna save the world with disruption or whatever?--and would supposedly get passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about 35 minutes. Meanwhile, the California High-Speed Rail Project has been delayed yet again and is getting more expensive by the minute, so nice timing, Musk.
Basically (very basically), the Hyperloop would shoot aluminum pods on a cushion of air through a raised steel tube at about 800 mph; the pods would have air compressors on the front to move high-pressure air around and behind it. That's all explained in more detail in the proposal, but for the layman, Musk also outlines a potential LA-to-SF route with possible track and car designs--and while he's previously said this is just an open-source idea he's putting out into the world for someone else to deal with, he apparently spent a conference call moments ago talking himself into building a prototype ("Time frame for demo is either 1-2 years or 3-4 years, depending on how much he wants to focus on other things instead," according to Gizmodo. It'd be another four to five years after that for the full build-out.).
So like we said, the magical Hyperloop would fly between Los Angeles and San Francisco in about half an hour. Musk imagines "capsules departing as often as every 30 seconds from each terminal and carrying 28 people each. This gives a total of 7.4 million people each way that can be transported each year on Hyperloop." (He figures out ticket prices to about $20 ["plus operating costs"] one-way.) He's outlined a route that pretty closely follows the 5 Freeway, but dodged questions on the conference call about right-of-way and land acquisition (which has been a long and expensive ordeal for the high-speed rail project); he writes that, since the tube can be built on pylons, "you can almost entirely avoid the need to buy land by following alongside the mostly very straight California Interstate 5 highway, with only minor deviations when the highway makes a sharp turn."
Stations, he says, would cost around $125 million and be "minimalist but practical and with a boarding process and layout much simpler than airports" (they'd still have security screenings). Los Angeles and San Francisco are the only firm stops, but Musk also suggests extensions running to San Diego, Las Vegas, Sacramento, and Fresno. He estimates just the LA-to-SF route would cost $6 to 7.5 billion, which is about on par with just the Central Valley leg of the high-speed train.