The race to bring ultrafast rail transport to America is heating up. A few years back, Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk dreamed up the hyperloop concept, a high-speed transportation system that uses low pressure tubes to propel capsules full of passengers an average speed of 600 miles per hour. One company, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), is leading the charge to bring the concept to life with a test track under construction in California. Meanwhile, a confusingly similarly named but wholly unrelated company called Hyperloop Technologies has been quietly raising funds to build its own track in Nevada, and the competition is getting stiffer by the day.
HTT has garnered its fair share of news headlines over the past few years as the company has leaned on remote crowdsourced engineering to work toward building a closed-loop test track near Quay Valley, a proposed 75,000-resident solar power city located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco. That track could be open for passengers in 2018 and, if all goes well, HTT has its sights set on a 350-mile track connecting LA and San Francisco that would reduce the commute time to around 36 minutes (although other routes are still being considered as well). Even though the U.S. test track hasn’t been built, HTT has already won a contract with Slovakia to build a track in Europe that may actually be open for business before the American version.
For some time, HTT was the only dog in the fight, but Hyperloop Technologies stepped up in early 2015 with its own dream of constructing a hyperloop between LA and Las Vegas. That company was founded by two people with close ties to Musk, and started with just $8.5 million in capital investments. A little more than a year later, the company has reportedly reached $100 million in funding for a Nevada test track. Nobody really knows what it will cost to build a test track, once all is said and done, but HTT’s estimates put the figure close to $150 million for its five-mile test track in California.
Although it’s easy to get caught up in the idea of people traveling at breakneck speeds, both hyperloop companies are developing technologies to move cargo as well as human beings. Neither company has a final design for their hyperloop capsules (or “pods” as they are sometimes called), so it’s anyone’s guess what the near-supersonic rail system will really look like once operations begin, but most proposed renderings show capsules with some cargo space, either below passenger cabins (much like an airplane) or in a separate capsule (like a train).
In a recent interview with CNBC, HTT COO Bibop Gresta revealed that although the two companies are racing to be the first in this innovative field, they aren’t enemies. He said Hyperloop Technologies’ team is actually working with members of HTT to develop this brand new form of transportation. HTT, Gresta said, is “very happy to create an industry together because it means that the concept is valid.”
CNBC also interviewed Hyperloop Technologies CEO Rob Lloyd, but he didn’t mention any cooperation with the HTT team. Rather, Lloyd claims his company is “clearly leading” the race in developing the technology, but it’s not really clear what he means by that. HTT relied on research from 520 scientists from 42 countries before it undertook construction of its test track. Hyperloop Technologies, on the other hand, points to its growing headcount as a major sign of progress, but that doesn’t necessarily mean its innovations are cutting edge.