PALO ALTO, CA - If it were up to Tesla and Space-X founder Elon Musk, California would be ditching its pricey high-speed rail for a system that could get passengers from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes.
Musk's concept, called Hyperloop, would travel at 600 miles per hour. The drawings are reminiscent of those tubes banks used for drive-through banking transactions.
Musk's idea would have passengers get into a capsule and be shot through above-ground tubes.
"It would actually feel like being in an airplane," Musk said. "You wouldn't even notice the speed at all."
On a blog, Musk wrote there would be an average departure time of two minutes between capsules, with a minimum of 28 passengers per capsule. That equates to 840 passengers per hour.
The technology is far too complicated to describe, but aside from the fast-moving air, the capsule would avoid friction by using fans blowing air from the bottom to force the it to stay up -- similar to the way an air hockey table reduces friction between the puck and the table.
Musk said the best and cheapest way to build the tubes is above ground.
The total price tag would be around $6 billion compared to the California's High Speed Rail $70 billion cost.
"I don't think we should do the high speed rail thing," Musk said. "I think it's going to be north of $100 billion. That doesn't seem wise for a state that was facing bankruptcy not that long ago."
California High Speed Rail Authority Chairman Dan Richards made the following statement in response to the Hyperloop:
California is the home to innovation, which is why people like Elon Musk start and build their companies here. New technology ideas are always worth consideration. The more green options Californians have for safe and speedy travel in the future, the better. If and when Mr. Musk pursue 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.
Musk has no immediate plans to start building a prototype for the Hyperloop. He hopes by releasing his plans now, other innovators will pick up the project and run with it.
If not, he said he'll build his own prototype in three to four years.
"I'm not trying to make a ton of money on this, but I would like to see it come to fruition," Mush said.
Is the Hyperloop feasible?
Paul Saffo, a futurist and Stanford professor, says yes.
"It's a very imaginative idea, but it's more practical than it sounds," Saffo said. "The physics are well-studied and well- understood. There's no black magic."
Critics are already poking holes in the plan, first by saying human bodies couldn't stand the G force created by sharp turns.
Musk agreed, saying the tubes would have to be fairly straight.
There're also safety concerns: an earthquake could bring the tubes down. Musk thought of that too, saying the pylons holding the tubes would be shock-absorbent.
Musk believes the Hyperloop could be functional in seven to 10 years.
By Nick Monacelli, firstname.lastname@example.org