Billionaire inventor and entrepreneur Elon Musk wants to transport you from Los Angeles to San Francisco at a speed of 600 miles per hour. To do this, he is proposing to create a high speed train system called the Hyperloop that will cut travel time between the two cities to just 30 minutes! Today Elon Musk announced via Twitter that he will officially unveil the Hyperloop at 1:30PM PDT – but how will it work? Read on for our best guess.
A typical train ride between Los Angeles and San Francisco on the Coast Starlight takes about 12 hours, depending on how well it keeps to its schedule. In a car, the trip takes roughly eight hours, and a carbon-intensive flight lasts just one hour and 20 minutes – which means the Hyperloop could theoretically travel faster than a plane!
Elon Musk won’t be unveiling his plan until later today, so until that time we shall speculate on how this train might work. Currently, the fastest mode of land transportation is a maglev train, which can travel at a top speed of about 361 mph. In order to travel the distance between LA and San Francisco in 30 minutes, the Hyperloop would have to travel at more than 600 mph. At that speed, friction would become a major problem – so the train would have to travel in a vacuum tube and be levitated off the ground to reduce friction as much as possible.
Pneumatic tube photo from Wikimedia Commons
Here’s my best guess as to how the Hyperloop works. The system will be a loop, as the name hyperLOOP might suggest. The trains could be little pods the size of current subway cars, ergonomically designed, of course. The cars would travel in an underground vacuum tube (like a pneumatic tube delivery system you might find in a hospital), and ride on a magnetic field “cushion” like the Shanghai Maglev Train.
Why Build The Transit System Underground? The reason for going underground is not because Elon Musk hates lovely views, but because a straight path is a must for traveling at 600 mph, and constructing a linear tube above ground for that long of a distance would pose a great challenge – there would be many buildings and other highly valuable structures along the path to contend with. Sharps curves are not an option, as passengers will feel highly uncomfortable (and perhaps even sick) if they were to endure centrifugal forces from turns at that extreme speed. As for the tube, it could be sectioned off into multiple parts to control the vacuum of the tube system. This way, if there is damage to a part of the tube system, the vacuum in other compartments will still be maintained.
Here’s what a typical trip might look like: you purchase a ticket, walk onto a platform about the length of the Hyperloop car, board the car (you have the option of sitting or standing), and the car then moves to a transitional section before entering a vacuum-sealed tube. Tube sections then start opening sequentially as speed is gained, and sections close off as the train passes through until the train reaches its final destination. Upon arrival, the train passes through a transitional tube and you exit the car and off you go on your merry way. New passengers then board, and the train’s fantastic voyage continues on.