Elon Musk is if anything ambitious, whether it’s reinventing personal transport with Tesla’s cars or making the bold leap into commercial space travel with SpaceX. Also on the man’s mind is the Hyperloop, a potentially vast high speed rail network around the United States.
This month Hyperloop Transport Technologies (HTT) began constructing a test track in California stretching one mile. But what makes it so daring? For years Musk, who first conjured the idea, has been plotting a vacuum tube rail network that could reach staggering speeds of 800 mph and could, he claims, transport people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in half an hour. That’s over 350 miles and a trek that would normally take several hours by car.
Long term, Hyperloop wants to create a rail network that connects every major city around the country.
Hyperloop Transport Technologies may be associated with Musk but he isn’t actually involved anymore in the day to day running of things. CEO Dirk Ahlborn now holds the reins while Musk keeps busy with SpaceX and Tesla.
High speed rail networks have been a pipe dream in the States for many years. Japan’s bullet train services have served as an inspiration for many engineers looking to replicate its success. The state of California has proposed similar projects in the past.
Japan’s bullet trains are remarkable feats of transportation but even with that in mind, they typically hit speeds of about 275 mph. The Shinkansen Bullet Train set a speed record for 361 mph in 2003. These certainly aren’t speeds to be sniffed at but Hyperloop wants to hit speeds of 700 to 800 mph. How will it do this?
It’s currently building its test track in the middle of California, between LA and San Francisco, that could one day be part of the wider network. But it’s facing an uphill battle. The Hyperloop will reportedly cost $20 million a mile and while this is actually lower than some similar proposals that have been brought up before, it’s still an overwhelming amount of money that will be needed to carry out the ambitious nationwide network. No final costs have been confirmed by the company.
Ahlborn is confident though. He says HTT has been approached by hundreds of investors and attracted interested from engineers and other experts from companies like Boeing and SpaceX.
Since announcing the six foot diameter test track, global construction firm Aecom has been signed up to build it. The company has been known recently for building the ongoing Crossrail tunnel in London as well as freight railway lines in California. It has form and reputation in building large infrastructure projects.
“Aecom has designed and built some of the world’s most impressive transportation systems, so we appreciate how the development of a functioning Hyperloop with SpaceX can dramatically expand the ways people move across cities, countries and continents,” said Aecom CEO Michael S. Burke.
What’s more, Hyperloop is supposedly in talks with CRRC, China’s biggest rail equipment manufacturer, according to a Bloomberg report but the company has refused to give any specifics.
Meanwhile this weekend at Texas A&M University, Hyperloop is hosting the “Design Weekend” competition where 100 hopeful students will be able to present their ideas for designs for the pods that Hyperloop will use to shoot passengers at super speeds to their destination. The contest has attracted a lot of attention with even Nickelodeon sponsoring a team of high schoolers to get involved.
The design and features of the pods will soon come under much scrutiny as well, just as much as the tracks itself. There are several issues around safety. Passengers will sail through the tube system in these pods, so just how safe is it for someone to travel at speeds like 700 or 800 mph? What kind of safeguards will be put in place to prevent crashes and when a crash does happen, how will it be handled?
These are all questions that Hyperloop still needs to answer conclusively before it ever takes off, whenever that will realistically be, but with more big engineering and construction companies coming on board it’s starting to look much more possible in the not so distant future.