• Aug 12th 2013 at 6:20PM
  • 5
For a little over a year Tesla and SpaceX visionary Elon Musk has been talking about a revolutionary new way to travel called Hyperloop. Today he announced his designs in a 57-page document, ending months of speculation by the public and media alike. 'Hyperloop Alpha,' Elon Musk's 'Fifth Mode' Of Transportation, Unveiled
For a little over a year Tesla and SpaceX visionary Elon Musk has been hinting at a revolutionary new way to travel called Hyperloop. Today he announced his designs in a 57-page document, ending months of speculation by the public and media alike.

Musk himself admits that the plans for Hyperloop Alpha, released on both the SpaceX and Tesla Motors websites, is likely to contain "errors of various kinds and superior optimizations for elements of the system," but that didn't stop us from pouring over the plans the minute they were released.


Hyperloop, according to Musk, is the fastest way to travel long distances, short of the invention of teleportation. The solar-powered system would transport passenger capsules through pressurized steel tubes at speeds up to 760 miles per hour. The tubes will be elevated by reinforced concrete support pylons that run along existing highway routes, in order to reduce cost and land requirements.

"The capsules are supported via air bearings that operate using a compressed air reservoir and aerodynamic lift," explains the document. "Linear accelerators are constructed along the length of the tube at various locations to accelerate the capsules."

Hyperloop capsule

Hyperloop Alpha purposes a high-speed route along Interstate 5, from Los Angeles, Calif. to San Francisco, Calif. The estimated duration of a one-way trip is approximately 30 minutes at the cost of $20/passenger, plus operating costs. The capsules would depart as often as every 30 seconds, carrying up to 28 people each, according to Musk's plan.

In addition to the passenger-only capsules, Musk and his team have outlined a design for a larger system that is capable of carrying three full-size automobiles, along with their passengers.

Hyperloop Alpha

One of the Hyperloop's biggest advantages, says Musk, is the relatively small amount of energy required to run the system per passenger. When compared with the three major forms of transportation we use today--airplane, train and car--the Hyperloop uses less than one-eighth of the energy of each, says Musk. Even the much heavier vehicle-carrying Hyperloop tubes use less than one-third of the energy of the modes of transportation we use now.

Hyperloop energy per passenger

Musk was initially drawn to the idea out of disappointment in the current California high-speed rail system. Musk asks, "how could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and [NASA's jet propulsion laboratory]--doing incredible things like indexing all the world's knowledge and putting rovers on Mars--would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world?"

A system of elevated tubes and capsules won't come at a bargain. The cost of the capsules alone will be in the range of $100 million and the cost to construct and install tubes is in the billions. The total estimated cost of the Hyperloop Alpha system is $6 billion. That may sound like a lot of money, but not to Musk. "Even several billion is a low number when compared with several tens of billion proposed for the track of the California rail project," says the document.

Hyperloop Alpha cutaway

Still, Musk recognizes the system's limitations. The plans admit that the Hyperloop only makes sense for journeys that max out at around 900 miles. Beyond 900 miles, supersonic jets become not only a more economic option, but also a faster one.

TRANSLOGIC Editor Adam Morath contributed to this report.

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    • 1 Second Ago
      • 2 Years Ago
      Nice concept. The only problem is the tubes!. They are going to be very expensive and will not be strong enough to withstand the environmental stresses (thermal expansion, quakes, accidental damage by vehicles etc). Another issue is how would any emergency system be built in order to escape if a carriage stalls and the passengers need to be evacuated ?. These are show stoppers compared to Meg-Lev trains.
      Linda Smith
      • 2 Years Ago
      we thought of a idea similar years ago and my husband called vice president biden him about it, and that was for an underground train system similar to the super trains that Japan has they run at more than 300 miles an hour. it would run along the borders underground with a highway above it as well, it could serve two purposes along each border, on the south border it would have the super highway as well that could help keep out aliens that try to enter the country illegally on the north border it would help transport good during winter especially during their frozen storm weather ,from west coat to east and east to west. but this country has grown so small minded that big project are no longer on the table,even if it means work for the people and improvements for business's transportation. We are no longer what we were. The super highways could be higher up and provide border control and have stores etc along the way. The super train tunnels when built could also provide an electric system to furnish the electric grid and oil pipes could also be laid at the same time. We could get from coast to coast in a matter of a few hours by train!
      • 2 Years Ago
      concept is sound...design is feasable...cost might not be effective for now..maybe add larger units for cargo, might make it attractive for transport companies, and generate extra rev.
      • 2 Years Ago
      The problem with tubes is they are expensive. A monorail will do almost as well and you simply need a bar of steel. However, whatever system you dream up, they all suffer from the same weight and inertia issues unless you employ something called a graviton matrix - a new extremely light and strong material . Then you can make Jetsons-like vehicles that don't require a rail or tube at all. They are so light and strong you simply fly them without wings.
      • 2 Years Ago
      Maybe Elon Musk needs to take a course called Pork Barrel 101.
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