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US Hyperloop aims to challenge high speed rail

A super-fast tubular transport system has been mooted as a viable alternative to high speed rail in California by US-based entrepreneur Elon Musk.

According to Musk, the 610km journey between Los Angeles and San Francisco could be made in just 35 minutes via his new “Hyperloop” low pressure tube transport system.

Musk believes it is a new mode of transporting people that could challenge conventional modes via rail, road, water, and air. He outlines the plans for the Hyperloop Alpha system in a study via his spacecraft design and manufacturing firm Spacex.

“These modes of transport tend to be either relatively slow (i.e. road and water), expensive (i.e. air), or a combination of relatively slow and expensive (i.e. rail),” he states in the study.

“Short of figuring out real teleportation, which would of course be awesome (someone please do this), the only option for super-fast travel is to build a tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment,” says Musk in the study.

The $6bn (£3.83bn) Hyperloop he suggests would seek to “change this paradigm by being both fast and inexpensive for people and goods”.

The system involves magnets and fans to propel capsules at speeds of up to 1,220km/h on a cushion of air through a long low pressure tube built above ground.

Two tubes with an internal diameter of 2.23m and wall thickness between 20mm and 23mm welded together would form the structure through which sealed capsules carrying 28 passengers would travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco. The system could handle one capsule every 30 seconds at peak.

An alternative system being considered would allow three full size cars with passengers to travel in the capsule. The passenger plus vehicle version of the Hyperloop, Musk pledges, would be less than 9% of the cost of the proposed passenger-only high speed rail system between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Pylons at 30m intervals would support the steel tubes, which would minimise costs associated with footprint and construction area on the ground, according to Musk.

And because the capsules will be guided directly on the inner surface of the tube via the use of air bearings and suspension the need for costly tracks would be eliminated and it would create a smooth ride, he says.

Solar arrays on top of the tubes could provide power to the system.

The tube would mostly follow the alignment the I5 interstate highway for much of its route with stations at Los Angeles and San Francisco. Several stations along the route could be made possible by splits in the tube.

The scheme is also unique, suggests Musk, because it is an “open design concept”. He is seeking feedback via email at hyperloop@spacex.com that will be incorporated into future revisions to the concept and help make it a reality.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Michael Paul

    On the face of it, the concept seems to rely much on the same principles as Brunels "atmospheric railway" - only putting the whole train in the tube, as against only a "paddle" underneath the conventional train. I'm not sure what the "passenger acceptance" would be for travelling such distances in a tube - not much of a view after all, and the "track" wouldn't exactly be an attractive addition to the landscape. But an interesting idea all the same.

    Mike Paul, Stuttgart, Germany

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  • I suppose that given the lack of a view and the links to Brunel's 1840s precursor, Musk's scheme could be described as the Non-Atmospheric Railway....

    Paul Jowitt

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