The Deal With the Hyperloop

Quick break from the multi-week process of birthing the 700-pound SpaceX baby that’s been growing in my womb for a mini-post to discuss the recent big announcement about the Hyperloop.

The Hyperloop is an Elon Musk brainchild that would bring people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in about a half hour—on the ground. The idea first popped into Musk’s head when California unveiled their plans for a much-hyped “high speed rail” connecting LA to San Francisco. He says:1

When the California “high speed” rail was approved, I was quite disappointed, as I know many others were too. How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and JPL—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?

Musk wasn’t angry at California…just disappointed (which California reports “hurt a lot more actually”). Musk said California was “going for records in all the wrong ways,” building the most expensive public works project in United States history2 ($68.4 billion), one that wouldn’t be finished until 2029, and one that would only go 220 mph, when Japan, China, Italy, and other countries have already built trains that can go faster. Why was the US finally joining the high-speed party and seemingly aiming for mediocrity? Musk had higher aspirations for the US:

The underlying motive for a statewide mass transit system is a good one. It would be great to have an alternative to flying or driving, but obviously only if it is actually better than flying or driving. The train in question would be both slower, more expensive to operate (if unsubsidized) and less safe by two orders of magnitude than flying, so why would anyone use it? If we are to make a massive investment in a new transportation system, then the return should by rights be equally massive. Compared to the alternatives, it should ideally be:

  • Safer
  • Faster
  • Lower cost
  • More convenient
  • Immune to weather
  • Sustainably self-powering
  • Resistant to Earthquakes
  • Not disruptive to those along the route

Is there truly a new mode of transport—a fifth mode after planes, trains, cars and boats—that meets those criteria and is practical to implement?

That last part is key. Musk wasn’t thinking about a faster train—he was thinking about a new mode of transport entirely. 

So he and some of his SpaceX engineers took a few days off from trying to colonize Mars to think from the ground up about what California should be trying to do with their time and money. They came up with what Musk called the Hyperloop and laid out the concept in a now-famous white paper. Here’s how it would work:

The main body would be a steel tube 7’4″ (2.23m) in diameter, connecting two cities together—in their example, it was LA and San Francisco. The tube would be about 20ft (6m) above the ground, raised up on concrete pylons spaced about every 100ft (30m). Passengers would travel in a small capsule that would hold 28 people. There would be two of these tubes, side by side, so the loop could go in both directions. Here’s a depiction of what it would look like, with the tube cut out over part of it for illustration:

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 1.28.57 AM

The idea is that the capsule would whiz from LA to San Francisco in only 35 minutes (compared with 3 hours and 10 minutes for the planned CA high-speed railway). It would do this with a top speed of 760mph (1,220km/h), which it would reach during long straightaways. During windier parts, it would go 300mph (483km/h), and the average speed from LA to SF would be 598mph (962km/h).

Propulsion

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 1.01.56 AM

In figuring out how the Hyperloop would get this fast, Musk and his engineers bumped into a few walls. Traditional wheels and axles were out of the question because they’d be too unstable and inefficient at super high speeds. Pushing the capsule with a column of air (like those tubes used to send mail and packages between buildings) wouldn’t work because the friction would be way too high for a system so big and fast. The vacuum idea was intriguing, but it couldn’t be a total vacuum system, because there would be no way to make such a large system truly airtight.

They ended up finding a potential solution with a near-vacuum chamber that had a small amount of air in it. The capsule would ride on a little cushion of air, kind of like an air hockey table, except the air would be coming out of the puck in this case (the bottom of the capsule), not the table (the tube). To avoid the problem of the air “bunching up” in front of the capsules (like a syringe pushing liquid), pumps on the front of the capsule would direct air from the front of the capsule to the back.

Of course, the whole thing would be solar-powered and electrically-propelled. There would be solar panels on top of the tube, which Musk says would “generate far in excess of the energy needed to operate.” And propulsion would happen in the same way it does for the Model S—electrical induction. In this case, instead of a round, pigs-in-a-blanket motor, you’d have it “rolled out flat” so that there would be stator panels on the inside of the tube which would “push” on rotor panels on the outside of the capsule to fling it forward. These “motors” in the tube (the stator panels) would only need to be in sparse locations. With very little friction, most of the time the capsule would just be gliding on inertia.

The result would be the lowest energy cost per passenger in history to get people from LA to SF:

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 10.48.02 AM

The capsule itself would need to be small—4.43ft (1.35m) wide and only 3.61ft (1.10m) high. No standing room. Here were some early sketches of the capsule, included in the white paper:

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 10.28.57 AM

The inside would be two columns of 14 seats:

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 1.25.31 AM

There would be no windows (no point with a steel tube surrounding the capsule) but Musk says that “beautiful landscapes” would be displayed inside the cabin, and that each passenger would have their own entertainment system.

It’s About Commuting

The purpose of the Hyperloop wouldn’t be to make taking vacations easier. It would mostly be a method of commuting—i.e. people living in LA could now get a job in SF as easily as they could in LA, or vice versa. One version of the envisioned Hyperloop only carries passengers, but the white paper also laid out a possible second version, which would be able to carry three full-size cars as well. So someone could drive right onto the capsule in LA, hang out in their car for 35 min, and then drive out in San Francisco.

The whole system would have 40 capsules. Each would be on a continuous 80-minute loop of 35 min from LA to SF, 5 min at the SF station, 35 min back to LA, 5 min at the LA station, and repeat. 40 capsules each on an 80-minute loop means capsules depart every two minutes. This would be plenty to achieve the goal of 840 total passengers commuting back or forth per hour, which would easily accommodate the 6 million passengers that travel between LA and SF each year.

Routes

The white paper focuses on LA to SF, and there could be several splits in the tube along the way to service multiple stations:

Screen Shot 2015-06-15 at 1.43.44 AM

Unlike California’s planned high-speed railway, the Hyperloop wouldn’t take up much existing land—because it would be built right into the I-5 median (the I-5 is the major highway connecting LA and SF).

Musk thinks Hyperloop-type transport should connect places that are less than 900 mi (1,500 km) apart. He believes the long-term future of air transport will be electrically powered, high-altitude, supersonic planes, and that that type of air travel will be faster and cheaper than a Hyperloop for distances longer than 900 miles. But when the distance is shorter, Musk says that “having a supersonic plane is rather pointless, as you would spend almost all your time slowly ascending and descending and very little time at cruise speed.”

Cost

In the white paper, Musk breaks down the expected cost of building the Hyperloop and comes to a figure of $6 billion ($7.5 billion for the version that can carry cars). The bulk of this cost is the tube, while the capsules are relatively cheap to build. If Musk is anywhere near correct, that would be significantly cheaper than the $68.4 billion California high-speed rail. Cheaper building costs means cheaper ticket prices, and Musk estimates the cost of a one-way trip on the Hyperloop at $20.

Criticism

Unsurprisingly, not everyone is sold on the Hyperloop. Many have scoffed at Musk’s cost estimates—the Economist says the estimates are “unlikely to be immune to the hypertrophication of cost that every other grand infrastructure project seems doomed to suffer.” Others have raised eyebrows at Musk’s description of the silent, smooth, pristine experience for passengers, wondering if riding in a windowless cabin with no standing room might be more like hell. As far as the LA-SF route, there’s also the little matter of the California high-speed railway plans and the fact that they’re already very much underway—it will be a political nightmare to try to get the state to abort the mission.

A Spark

The thing about Musk’s Hyperloop idea and the white paper is that they’re not actual designs for execution—they’re a glimpse at what we could do. I’m sure Musk would love to take on the project himself, but he says he’s too committed to Tesla and SpaceX to do it right now anyway. What he wants is to remind people of what’s possible and to spur innovation in others.

That became a reality when, inspired by Musk’s white paper, a group of engineers, designers, architects, and contractors came together to form Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, a crowd-funded company with a mission to make the Hyperloop a reality. Their first crack will be to connect LA with Las Vegas (using the route along the highway I-15), something they predict can be finished by 2025, four years before the CA high-speed railway is complete.

To further accelerate Hyperloop innovation, SpaceX recently launched the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition, “geared towards university students and independent engineering teams, to design and build the best Hyperloop pod.” SpaceX is building a one-mile test track at the SpaceX headquarters in LA, and teams will get to demonstrate their prototypes on the track one year from now, in June 2016.

This is their delicious 13-second ad for the competition:

Who knows if the Hyperloop will become a reality or not, but this is another example of Elon Musk pushing humanity to its limits and reminding us not to settle for unnecessary mediocrity. Let’s hope someone can make it work, because I’d love to live in a Hyperloop future where I can head to work in New York in the morning, zip out around noon to have a 12:45 lunch with my dad in Boston, finish up the work day in New York, catch an 8pm baseball game in DC, and be in my bed in New York by midnight.

___________

This was a mini-post that’s part of a larger series on Elon Musk and his companies:

Part 1: Elon Musk: The World’s Raddest Man

Part 2: How Tesla Will Change the World

Part 3: How (and Why) SpaceX Will Colonize Mars

Part 4: The Cook and the Chef: Musk’s Secret Sauce

 

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  1. Unless otherwise noted, all facts, figures, images, and quotes in this post are from this 2013 white paper Musk wrote about the Hyperloop.

  2. http://theweek.com/articles/540002/most-expensive-publicworks-project-history

  • Allan Barbato

    Thanks so much Tim for the Tesla series. It’s such wonderful articles full of hope for the future.

  • njwebwiz

    And what’s the plan to make the system earthquake proof? Not sure if I’d want to be in a small metal tube 20 feet in the air, supported by concrete pylons, when an earthquake hits. Also wondering about the G forces – with a 30 minute transit time, the acceleration and deceleration will have to be pretty fast and might be a bit uncomfortable.

    • clock

      All taken into account. Skim over the white paper, a bunch of really smart people spent some time seriously thinking about this, as well as doing some math and engineering on it.

      • rumandbass

        Your point is overlooked all too often when revolutionary ideas come about. People forget that really really smart people spend a lot of time hashing out these ideas before they become public knowledge. Every technological leap we’ve had has always been met with premature criticism. Radio, flying, cars, phones, the internet…hell even electricity. We never seem to evolve beyond blind skepticism.

      • Anton Babadjanov

        If the tube geometry changes significantly due to an earthquake and a capsule passes through at high speed I would assume this would lead to tremendous turbulence that may have serious negative health effects. This could much different from airplane turbulence due to the small freedom of movement the tube allows (think of the kind of movement that causes whiplash in a car accident).

        The key to avoiding the above problem is likely an early warning system as is very successfully applied in Japan. It looks like there were no casualties on the railways in the 2011 quake and infrastructure damage was minimized by stopping trains before they were hit with the quake. Most of the damage was caused by the tsunami washing away costal lines, but that’s an entirely different matter:
        http://www.railway-technology.com/features/feature122751

        But the much bigger question is evacuation procedures. New guided transit lines allow evacuation at any point in the line and it’s necessary as the vehicle may cease operation at any point. In the case of the hyperloop, since there is no inhabitable space between the capsule and the tube walls one possible solution is a continuous series of hatches so that passengers in a stuck capsule can open a capsule hatch and behind it see a tube hatch that they can also manually open to exit. It would be interesting to see how they solve this problem.

    • Thomas

      I guess earthquake resistance is one of those things that should be present in an ideal transportation system but are not actually found in this one. I also have a hard time imagining a high-speed method of transportation that could safely be used during an earthquake but could not be called “flying”. That seems to be less about engineering advances and more about “things that don’t mix”.

      No matter how far we evolve as a species, no matter how advanced our technology gets: You will most likely never be able to safely ride a shark into a Volcano. It’s sad, but it’s true.

      • Garth Peterson

        “You will most likely never be able to safely ride a shark into a Volcano.”

        Now I want to start a Kickstarter to fund a prize for the development of volcanic shark riding technology.

    • Sukafish

      Acceleration wouldn’t be a problem. You’re traveling at airplane speeds, acceleration at the start and end of the journey wouldn’t need to be any more than what you feel on a plane.

    • evjuice

      And if you are on (or under) a collapsing highway overpass during and earthquake or on a train or the airport tarmac below breaks open it’s also a bad scene. Buildings collapse, rivers change direction (really!) and oceans become tsunamis. A natural disaster is just that.

    • Chiel Wieringa

      How is the high speed train that is currently being build protected against earthquakes?

  • RJ

    I’m a fan of Elon Musk and adore his ideas. And love your posts too. This minipost is really concise and clear introduction to the matter.
    I’ve only one concern. People not being able to stand up may create some insecurity and hesitation among people. Might feel like they lost all the control, bound onto those chairs that too inside a capsule, surrounded by vacuum, traveling at over 1k km/h

    • Miguel Bartelsman

      Yeah, that’s my only concern with the project too, it will probably be really uncomfortable. But I guess that’s why the competition is being held.

      • Wakefiled

        Assuming you are correct and its uncomfortable, we humans can be easily pacified with magic glowing screens that show us the latest episode of GoT.

        I’m certain comfort would be something that’s considered.

        • Miguel Bartelsman

          Comfort watching GoT, right…

    • Oliver

      What about that tunnel from France to England? Isn’t that similar? And is been operating for decades

      • Carlos-Sebastian

        You spend 20 minuts in the tunnel. Paris to London is 2h15.

      • Michel Kangro

        The tunnel is operated by more or less “normal” railways, even with two floors, if I remember my two trips through there correctly.

      • RJ

        I don’t see much problem with speed or capsule or even suspending it in vacuum, but I see problem in people not being able to stand up. But if it’s just me & others don’t have any issues, it’s good and I sincerely wish the project succeeds

        • Chiel Wieringa

          When you watch television or read a book or are on the internet, do you have periods where you do not stand for at least 30 minutes?

          • Melissa Eldridge

            There’s a huge difference between choosing to sit and having no choice. People don’t like that. And in a car, you’re trapped, sure. BUT, you can see out, get out, open a freaking window, get fresh air, not worry about things breaking and getting ACTUALLY trapped and not even knowing where you are in the tube system.
            It’s funny to me that claustrophobia is so hard to understand. To me, it’s like, duh. WHO WANTS TO BE TRAPPED? To me, this is volunteering to get buried alive and your fate is entirely in someone else’s hands.

            • Chiel Wieringa

              Who is forcing you to step in to the Hyperloop? All choice here.

              The claustrophobia bit is a different discussion. You know that there are people today who don’t use elevator’s but choose to take the stairs? Does this mean that we shouldn’t build elevators anymore?

            • Melissa Eldridge

              Claustrophobia is a spectrum. There are people who cannot handle elevators at all, there are people like myself, who can take them if the conditions are right. BUT- there are situations (like this one) that would cause normally non-claustrophobic people to go over the edge.
              With my comment on choice, that was with regard to your TV watching scenario. I know no one is forcing anyone to take the hyperloop…yet. I have been forced into scenarios many times where an elevator was my only choice, surprisingly.
              Best idea is just to knock everyone out. Fill the tube with gas, everyone gets a nap, wake us up when we get there 🙂

            • Chiel Wieringa

              (excuse me for my bad expression, but English is not my native
              language so it might sound a bit harsh, I hope you do understand what I
              am trying to say)

              Insanity (like unreasonable fear) can happen in any scenario. Kind of hard to plan around that. People snap from the most basic things, but usually the basis of that lays somewhere else. (like extreme stress)

              Can you explain the situation where you were forced to take the elevator? I have a hard time believing that to be honest since there where always stairs present with every elevator I have encountered in my life and I have encountered a lot of elevators.

            • Melissa Eldridge

              Most people can handle some level of enclosed spaces, but then there are scenarios that will send them over the edge into a panic attack. And they don’t know until they are in it. Like maybe this hyperloop. Surprise! Welcome to panic town.
              You know? You would think you could always take the stairs. I always do, when I can. I was 9 months pregnant walking up and down 11 flights to my mother-in-law’s hospital room. I am not afraid of stairs. BUT- I’ve been in secure buildings in NYC where the stairs were on lockdown and they refused to open them unless there was an emergency. I’ve been in factory offices in China where the stairs were used as storage areas and were impassable. The Trump in Las Vegas has “emergency only” stairs that are on the outside of the building and can only be accessed in an emergency because it sets all the alarms off. Ironically, I’ve been on the 30th story of a building taking the stairs all the way down when I realized that none of the doors opened. That sets off a panic attack too. Sigh.
              I’ve been to a hypnotist to be cured of this annoying, invasive, terrible phobia….and got trapped in the elevator right after my appointment. Not kidding.
              Fortunately, I am getting a lot better, really. The only thing that works is constant exposure. And I keep Xanax on me at all times in case I get trapped…I can just conk myself out and wait for the firemen. 😉

            • Chiel Wieringa

              Thanks for the insights. Though I do think these extreme scenario are far less likely to happen, if at all possible, with an hyperloop. But I do believe in free will and if I had claustrophobia I would definitely refuse to take the elevator (and thus go up) in those scenarios. If people don’t understand that then “screw them”. Unless I really really really wanted to go up there (for whatever reason) I would consider facing my fears, but then you are not forced to take the elevator but take it out of free will.

            • Melissa Eldridge

              Interesting thing about free will. I’m a business person. I frequently have to have meetings with, ahem, people a little more powerful than myself. I cannot often easily say, “Thanks, but I prefer that we meet in the lobby.”
              Sometimes, you have to suck it up and ride.

    • istvan

      People had similar concerns about trains in the 1800s (too fast, unnatural etc)

      • RJ

        Yeah, I have heard that. Those were mostly about speed. But here, I don’t think speed is a problem, but the not being able to stand up is.
        But I hope I am wrong & people will adapt to that too. I want to see this great idea being successful

        • Rusty Shackleford

          I even remember reading that they forbade pregnant women from riding the fastest trains because the speed was too great, haha

    • Sukafish

      Meh, if you have anxiety about it, don’t use it. Just like a plane.

      • RJ

        I will be happy if people can do that and this project is successful

    • Thomas

      I’m surprised that so many people are concerned about not being able to stand up. You can’t stand up in a car either, that doesn’t seem to be a problem at all.

  • Carlos-Sebastian

    We already have conventional trains capable of a commercial speed of 400 km/h. Max speeds during tests nearly reached 600 km/h. Maglev technology is even better.

    Sure, this thing would be faster, but its cost is seriously underestimated, and I guess people would rather take some more time, but be able to take a piss/stand up/walk a bit/use my laptop/do whatever they want on a train.

    • Donny V.

      I think your missing the point. 30min travel time..tops! You don’t need a bathroom with that kind of travel time. Go before or after. I would say back of the hand estimates that most people traveling in a car sit longer then 30min when commuting. No one said you couldn’t attach your hololens while traveling. 😉

      • Carlos-Sebastian

        The technologies I mentioned can actually be exported and are able to work in different conditions. Also, in different settings than California.

        A conventional high speed train may be able to take me from Madrid to Berlin in 4 hours in the future. Will this one?

        • philw1776

          No it won’t run that slow

        • Mario Miniaci

          I think the key difference here is: this is not a train. The cars are small and independent so you can have frequent departures, and the tube cannot be stopped by snow or leaves on the line.

    • Jim Mooney

      Except for auto jockeys, most people don’t want to spend hours cramped in a car anymore – despite all those glowing “freedom of the road” ads from Detroit. Yeah, freedom in a metal box that has an incredibly high death-rate compared to mass transportation.

  • Brian Fischman

    Big fan of Elon & his companies.

    One thing I don’t yet understand is how multiple pods can travel in the same direction just a couple of minutes behind each other. I suppose the air they disturb would have time to flatten out or be handled by some flow regulation device in the tube? I get that this is probably not a problem, but can someone explain why? My guesses would be either the aerodynamics of the pod deals with this, the “exhaust fan” on the back of the pod diffuses the “exhaust,” or the intake generated on the front of the pod and pressure around it would be enough to subdue/overcome any disturbance?

    Also, I can see how 840 passengers per hour would satisfy current demand for intercity travel, but I wonder if the new ease and transit time the hyper loop would provide would ratchet up demand for such a service. If the demand exceeded 840/hour, it seems that that it would be very hard to scale up. You would have to build additional hyper loop tubes. Perhaps that is a good problem, though.

    Finally, does anyone know the financial status or financial feasibility of the Hyperloop Transportation Technologies startup? Is it a pipe dream (pun intended), or do they have a shot? From what I read they don’t seem to have much funding behind them and are thinking of doing an IPO to raise 100m (a seemingly dubious proposition without other backing). I assume this money would be for a test/proof of concept? Seems like this startup is not yet a serious enough backing for the project to come to life.

    • Tim Urban

      I’ll let someone more knowledgeable answer your question about distances between capsules—but the high speeds mean that capsules would still be 23 miles apart on average. Seems more realistic when you think about it that way.

      As for demand, in the white paper, Musk mentioned that 40 total pods and two-minute intervals between departures would be the norm at the beginning, but that with higher demand, the system would likely be able to support more pods and as little as 30 seconds between departures during peak hours.

    • clock

      You can find answers to pretty much all your question in the 50 page paper on this subject Elon published a few years ago (and Tim linked in the post).

      The 1 pod every 2 minutes figure is said to be the nominal at first, and possible to speed up later as operation smooths out. 840/hour is current peak demand, afaik. Bigger pods could be a possible solution, faster (less comfy, higher G load) commute, is another.

      Don’t remember the air disturbance being mentioned, though, good question. Not sure it would matter, lower pressure should mean it’s less of an issue.

  • Julian Cox

    This an air plane with skids for lift and no need to carry on board power for take-off, ascent or reaching cruise velocity because that power is supplied externally and the stratosphere is brought down to ground level. California HS rail project is ridiculous by comparison.

  • I’m still waiting for my flying car.

  • Ryder

    Not really all that new. I was hired to work on refining concepts for a similar high speed concept decades ago, invented by yet another Californian. Same evacuated tube, but was a bit more ambitious as it envisioned hauling freight or passengers… and lower (but still high) speeds. Electric of course.

    That system used the lead car to push air out of the tube through one way valves placed regularly down he tube…. benefitting the next set of cars. Why pump air around the vehicle when you could use the vehicle to push the air out of the tube altogether was the thinking…

    What is different is the smaller scale/higher speeds, and differences in the air management system.

  • RF42

    This looks absolutely brilliant, but I can honestly say you would never be able to get me in one of those things. I can only imagine the claustrophobic feeling of being forced into a seated position in a steel tube that surrounds me on all sides, basically unable to move for over a half an hour. It would be like getting an MRI or being in a coffin. Too, what happens if you need to use the restroom or have an emergency (i.e. feel ill)? At least most trains have facilities or stop at stations frequently enough that you could disembark the train if absolutely necessary. I’m all for finding newer, safer, cheaper, faster, renewable-energy-powered modes of transportation, but this is just a bit too suffocating for me.

    • philw1776

      never flown in a small aircraft?

      • Ryder

        Huh? How does that possibly relate to being in a recliner in a windowless refrigerator without a door?

        • Wakefiled

          How does that relate? Well…. what happens if you feel ill on a plane or decide you’ve had enough of the ride and want to get off?

          • Ryder

            I used to just land. But that’s me.
            And I’m not even counting parachutes 🙂

            People feel ill in cars all the time. Hasn’t ended the world yet.

            • Wakefiled

              🙂 I guess if you are the pilot in a 2 seater that works well, but I’ve never personally been on a plane where when someone wants off for whatever reason they just land to accommodate.

    • Garth Peterson

      Many Americans strap themselves into a much smaller steel tube for half an hour each day on their commute to work.

      • Garth Peterson

        If you’re in LA it’s more like 90 minutes.

    • Railander

      i see you’ve never commuted by subway on rush hour.

      • RF42

        Actually, I have. I think, for me, the difference between being squashed with hundreds of other people on a mass transit subway or train versus being in this Hyperloop transport would be knowing that at least on the subway if I needed to get off, I could shoulder my way to the door and get off at the next stop. From what’s described here, the idea that I was for all intents and purposes trapped in a tube for 30+ minutes would mess with me mentally. I’m the kind of person who gets panicky when told I can’t get up from my seat during a plane’s landing process, so I know I’m a bit on the weird side. 🙂

    • Melissa Eldridge

      People who are not claustrophobic underestimate the power of a window to a claustrophobic person. I am extremely claustrophobic. I’m not going in a windowless tube. I have a very hard time with elevators, especially with a lot of people crammed in, and what is that, 2 minutes? And standing? BUT- Give me an windowed elevator…..I’m fine. Because someone could see me if I was stuck and come help. At least they could see that the elevator wasn’t moving. There’s method to the madness.
      This reminds me of a story a friend of mine told me. He was in the Navy and required to go in a sub, in deep cover for 18 months. They had to pack enough food for the entire time, so, the floor was lined with food and they had to crawl till they could eat their way down and stand up straight. Sounds like lying flat in a tube to me.

  • Nout Hogesteeger

    Loved it as always nonetheless I was wondering:

    what does this system do in rush hour when a lot of people want to travel at the same time? That is inherently not possible with this systems since it transports groups of 14 every 2 minutes. Which obviously translates to 420 an hour, which seems like quite enough (and it might be scaled up still) But! You’ll have crazy waiting times to consider. Of course it is still definitely faster that just going by train, but if you have to wait an half an hour before you can leave, the 35 minutes to SF or LA will have nearly doubled (in perceptual time for sure). I generally like sitting still better when I’m on the move somewhere else. On top of that, not being sure I can leave when I want to is a big downside to me.

    Also since accidents are bound to happen if this gets built (it’s experimental). How do you evacuate people from a partially vacuum tube, made out of steel, that is built above a highway? I know trainwrecks take time to clear up, this however is a closed loop system, so if something happens to one of the 40 cars, it affects all of them. Talk about crazy down times! And then finally one step further and maybe of less importance, visually this is even less appealing in you landscape than a highspeed rail (if that highspeedrail isn’t elevated of course)

    I have to say, I love your stories about Tesla and al the some stuff they do, because they do! And I know you love Elon (as do I) but I hope it won’t numb your critical thinking

    And sorry if I’m a lazy ass and should’ve read the 40 page document detailing the hyperloop plans to be more informed(in case all the answers to my questions are there). Your usual thoroughness in the subjects might be partly to blame (which is a compliment btw ;))

    • Garth Peterson

      I would think peak demand congestion would be handled through pricing. Rush hour tickets won’t cost the 20 dollars mentioned in the article. California already does this with toll road highways. A trip from Corona to Anaheim on the 91 toll lanes could cost $10 during rush hour and $1.45 at 2AM.

      • Nout Hogesteeger

        That’s a less then ideal solution since I think, since people still want to go home around breakfast lunch or dinner those are always gonna be busy times right? You don’t want to force people, you want to facilitate.

        And on top of that your example is also a profit game scheming as a solution to rush hour, it only works partly and drives up cost, no real solution just trying to lessen symptoms

        • Camilo Martin

          You don’t seem to understand we’re talking about a 10x cheaper system than the high-speed rail they’re building.

          Also, there will always be a “gap”, that’s what motivates people to work more, in a better job, etc.

          Prices are always regulated by offer and demand. Any system is bound to this. IMHO rush hour is the problem, night shifts are so much quieter.

          • Nout Hogesteeger

            Without wanting to escalate this and with all due respect:

            1. Of course it’s a cheaper system but my issue was with your solution which has to do with price difference being really large. In your example the price difference becomes “exclusive” with almost a 7 fold increase in price, making it almost impossible for people with low incomes to drive on that road during those hours. (ironically it already was ) Taking away the possibility of a job around that time, for which they have to take the car

            2. Opportunity gap is definitely going to be there, I’m only claiming there is no reason to make it larger than it already is. Some people can’t move into a better job and are forced to take nightshifts, from a luxury perspective of someone who can choose, I too might choose the nightshift. Nonetheless the majority of people live their lives during daytime and like it that way and would like to keep it that way

            3. My point exactly! Rush Hour is the problem, but why do we try to solve it’s result instead of what causes it? Because as long as there is a reason for rush hour to exist it most likely will. And no, I don’t mean that the cause of rush hour is a lot of cars on the road. I think the question should be: Why do a lot of people want to be on the road at that time in the first place? (There’s several obvious answers here, but they lead to new questions)

            Finally, I’m not against incentivizing people with prices based on demand, they just shouldn’t be as exclusive as the pricing difference you described. Discount in off hours or something like that could work, similar to what we use for trains here in the Netherlands. Rush hour normal price, outside rush hour 40% discount

            • Camilo Martin

              Making it more expensive in rush hour or cheaper in all the other hours is the same thing, just different wording.

              Now, you seem to think that the existence of a system like the one proposed will make things worse. Of course it won’t! See, the fact that it’s about 10 times cheaper means you can build 10 of these instead of 1 “fast” train. If there are enough people to use it, more can be built. But I’m of the opinion that jobs should move away from rush hour, and pricing can always help with that (in making people want non-rush hour jobs, and therefore making companies which want cheaper labor to move away from rush hour).

              Then, what to do with 10 mostly-unused hyperloops the rest of the time? Mail parcels, of course! These could be done solely on the idle hours.

              Also, I have to stress that this is better than the alternatives. That’s what matters.

    • Sebastian Mai

      just increase the frequency of departures by using more pods, i’d be sure that it should be safe for double (1 pod / min) the frequency of departures

      • Nout Hogesteeger

        It would work but you’re talking about capsules going over 900 km/h on average, separated by a space of a minute. Train
        Which are of course a different mode of transport have a hard time coming in closer than 5 min from each other, safely, at less than quarter the speed.

        I’m not saying it’s impossible just implausible

  • Michel Kangro

    My problem with this system is safety: What if there’s an emergency on board, a heart attack, a stroke, a delivery of a baby? You can’t stop the capsule, can’t exit or anything, because 2 minutes later the next capsule will run into you. You also can’t just wait it out for the rest of the journey, after all, up to 30 minutes.

    • philw1776

      If this happens on an airplane you’re still a long way from help

      • Michel Kangro

        But if there is a doctor on board an airplane, he could help. A Ellen giving birth could get into a more comfortable position, etc.

        In a capsule in which you can’t even stand up, no such reaction is possible.

        • Ron Pang

          You wouldn’t go into a Hyperloop if you are expecting. Nuff said.

          • Michel Kangro

            True enough. Please let me know once heart attacks etc. can be predicted…. 😉

            • Unclever title

              Let’s say you have a heart attack in your house, how long does it take to get to the hospital? What if you live in the city? The suburbs? The country? Once labor begins how long does the average delivery take? Etc.

              I know that every second counts, but if you experience a sudden onset medical crisis that will kill you in less than 30 minutes, then… your chances weren’t necessarily all that high to begin with.

              Certainly if someone’s experiencing such symptoms before they’ve entered the capsule they’re not going to get on board (if they have any sense), they’re instead going to instead go receive medical attention.

              Not every plane has a doctor on board, not every hospital is within 30 minutes of access from your house, whereas hyperloop stations very well could be just five minutes away or closer. Certainly there’d likely be an AED or two at each station at least.

              Hell, it might even be possible to have a hyperloop station inside a hospital, as an alternate destination at both sides, specifically for such emergencies. Heck maybe there might be a situation where a patient, or a surgeon, or some donor organs need to be sent from one one hospital in one city to the other. I’m not sure how often that would be needed or what the cost/benefits situation is for a hyperloop station in a hospital

    • Jonathan

      He brings this up in the white paper:
      “The Hyperloop allows people to travel from San Francisco to LA in 30 minutes.Therefore in case of emergency, it is likely that the best course of action would be for the capsule to communicate the situation to the station operator and for the capsule to finish the journey in a few minutes where emergency services would be waiting to assist.

      Typical times between an emergency and access to a physician should beshorter than if an incident happened during airplane takeoff. In the case of the airplane, the route would need to be adjusted, other planes rerouted, runways cleared, airplane landed, taxi to a gate, and doors opened. An emergency in a Hyperloop capsule simply requires the system to complete the planned journey and meet emergency personnel at the destination.”

      • Michel Kangro

        Probably good enough, although to be fair, it was meant as an answer to a not-so-high-speed-train in planning in California, meaning just looking at this single and probably solveable problem, it’s not better then trains and not better then airplanes, since in the time the aircraft takes to land again and whatever, the patient and at least emergency trained helpers (the stewardesses are trained in helping in medical emergencies, aren’t they?) can move and help some. In the Hyperloops capsule, you’re stuck in the one position you entered in more or less and no one can get up and get you something to drink or anything.

        Imagine what’d happen if someone threw up in there? Or choked on his vomit?

        To make myself clear, I am a huge fan of this idea and this project and I think the point I bring up is not a substantial problem, it’s only meant to serve as a reminder that there are disadvantages to the Hyperloop.

      • danTHAman152000

        First time poster on the site, have been reading for about a month only.
        If the entire journey takes about 30 minutes, then maybe they can have an emergency pull off location along the way; even just one location in the middle of the trip means help is only 15 minutes away from the start of your trip (which I agree with another poster above, is about as good as one can expect to receive while at home as well), whether or not you’re in SF or LA. Granted, other issues will arise such as whether what type of medical facilities should be available (trauma/stroke center vs. basic ER dept).

        I have yet to read a comment about the proposed version 2.0 that allows cars to drive right up into the capsule. This sounds most ideal, as a family is used to packing their passengers and their luggage into the car regardless, and of course people can deal with sitting in their cars for a half hour without bathroom breaks. Imagine the entertainment available right now while sitting there, who knows ten years from now. Of course flinging three cars full of passengers and luggage is different than flinging 12 humans, but I’d imagine is an obtainable goal.

    • Chiel Wieringa

      Maybe it is not wise to take “long” trips if you are expecting a baby any time now…

      On the other things I think the chance of survival dramatically increases if you are in the hyperloop since you will have access to emergency services in 30 minutes max. If you get it in the train in the middle of nowhere you have a problem. You have to be lucky that there is someone around to help you.

  • xuili

    But why do we need this now if California need water more….?

    • Wakefiled

      Why do we need X when we haven’t solved Y yet?

      That’s a game you can literally play all day long. Playing it means nothing gets done. Ever. There is always something that can be deemed more important somewhere.

      You basically have to accept that life is complex and lots of things can and need to happen at the same time.

      • xuili

        Well to solve for x you need to first find y am I wrong? Why work on something that is less necessary when someone should be using the fund more wisely?

        • Meh McMeherson

          Yes. Yes you are wrong.

          • xuili

            Have you heard of system of equations? No? I thought so.

            • Meh McMeherson

              Hey man, I was just answerin your question. No need to assume I haven’t completed high school algrebra :P.

        • Ryder

          Well, we already know that California politicians aren’t wise… they are the ones that failed to expand their water system… while at the same time encouraging Mexico to move into California… long story short the population QUADRUPLED since 1950… but has the water system? No. Of course not. Basic infrastructure isn’t sexy enough for the fools…

          Then there is what Tim mentions Elon saying… paying the most for the least. And this may not be “brain dead” politicians… when you spend other people’s money to the tune of 10’s of billions of dollars (don’t worry, it will go UP from there)… you, as a politician in control of the process, are going to be able to grease a lot of palms… and when done liberally… you get plenty back.

          So are these the people you are thinking should be engaging their “wisdom” to direct funds? Yeah…. they don’t know how to do that.

          • xuili

            Well i understand your point, but still, I think right now what is important is solving the water crisis. I’m not against this project I just don’t understand why people only care to benefit themselves financially.

            • Ryder

              Let’s take a moment to look at it a different way… If musk can convince people that he can deliver his system before the moronic system that brainwashed Californians voted for… For LESS, then the current project can be canceled in its tracks (hehe), and the 40-50 billion dollars SAVED, can go toward improvements in the water system… provided we elect way makers with brains next time.

    • Tianna Kelly

      I, for one, agree with you. Why do we need to spend billions exploring the moon when we can’t feed the people here on earth? Priorities, America, priorities….

      • Chiel Wieringa

        Actually, there is enough food for everyone in the world. It’s just not at the right place at the right time. So an efficient transporting-system could potentially solve this problem.

        (it would be even better if the food was produced at the right place, but ah well…)

      • Ryzer

        The technologies developed from the endeavors of surviving in the most inhospitable places like space can only be of a great benefit to helping the places here on earth that have populations with no sustainable natural resources. Try being more open to what research in other scientific fields can offer before shunning them as wasteful. The 1960s space programs lead to a lot of technologies we take for granted on a daily basis. https://spinoff.nasa.gov/

        • Tianna Kelly

          it’s wasteful if it’s part of the reason people aren’t eating.

          • Ryzer

            I don’t think it is? I mean that money wasn’t allocated to be donated for food in the first place. But if you think its a waste because you think all the research and development money should go to feeding people then I guess by that logic everyone should forego medicine search too. I mean the virulence of the Salmonella bacteria was altered in microgravity environment, generally making it more aggressive. These changes in bacteria behavior helped identify new possibilities for vaccine development. But it’s not feeding people so lets drop it.

            That doesn’t work right? You can’t be all or nothing, everything has cause and effect. Your cure for world hunger most likely come from techniques developed to colonize space. Don’t blame the space program for world hunger. There is so much more out there in wasteful spending by governments and people investing in just crap. How much money do you think people spend in hair product that could’ve been used for donations to the hungry? Or makeup? Or trendy clothing? How important are those things in the the big picture?

            • Tianna Kelly

              your “logic” make sense. I’m referring to all government spending that isn’t immediately necessary, including but not limited to billion dollar ventures into space, when that money *could* be being used to feed hungry citizens. medicinal research saves lives, right now, so obviously it’s a necessity. I’m not talking about what frivolities private citizens spend their own money on. if the government were spending billions on clothes and makeup, obviously I’d denounce that too. but it is just illogical and unethical to spend billions on something as frivolous as curiosity about potential before spending it on making sure that actual human beings who are already alive can eat.

      • Mars_Ultor

        there will always be hungry people or poverty or some other problem, with this mentality we would never develop any technology if we pour every last dollar into social problems (most of these problems cant be solved with money anyway.)

        • Tianna Kelly

          your logic is nonexistent. I’m not saying we never work on anything technology-related, I’m saying we prioritize and take care of human beings first. and yes, people are starving, homeless, uneducated, etc, because of a lack of funds.

    • Unclever title

      Fortunately, the state of California has a population of 38.8 million individuals, not just one. Therefore the maximum amount of things that California could do simultaneously is roughly 38.8 million.

      Naturally big projects require the cooperation of multiple people, but I doubt any ONE statewide activity requires even a full million people to doing it simultaneously in order for it to be achieved. So clearly California can do many, many things at the same time.

      Thus constructing a hyperloop won’t prevent California from getting water, certainly not any more than building a less efficient bullet train railway that will cost about 10 times more.

      Elon Musk is a brilliant man, but he’s just one man, and the world is filled with other individuals. Anyone can use the same sorts of principles towards solving problems. Analyze the current situation and infrastructure (in this case irrigation), identify the issues and inefficiencies, determine what can be changed/improved upon, petition your government for such change.

      Granted, I don’t know Mr. Musk’s actual procedure towards problem solving (if he has one, perhaps he just gets inspired every once in a while) I’m just going with what seems reasonable to me. If an issue concerns you, learn more about it, maybe you can come up with a better solution than currently exists.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      You’re implying that we should be using 100% of our resources to solve the water crisis?

      • xuili

        No I’m only asking why there isn’t actual any news pertaining to why a some money is not being invested in creating more desalination plants. I am not against technology. But why is it wrong for me to point out how unfairly the money of tax payers is being employed. God I’ve taken economics, so I’ pretty sure I know 100% output for something is not rational.

        • Snowskeeper

          Taxpayer money isn’t being put into this. You want to be talking about the other thing–the thing Musk is disappointed about.

  • Wakefiled

    The anticipation I have for the Space X story is basically as excited as I’ve ever been for an internet article.

    I don’t mean to rush you… but…

  • evjuice

    Room for bicycles. How about the wheelchair bound? So many other public infrastructures have to provide access for these type outlier groups…

    • Snowskeeper

      First step is to make it viable. Second step is to make it viable for everyone.

  • Ryder

    The tight space, and no hope of rescue for an extended period following an “incident” are all worthy of discussion.

    I could see a potential for the cars to be able to move to an acceptable location in the tube, and cut themselves out… then lowering to the ground… It’d be a bit of work to replace all of the cut tubes… but hey, when you gotta go, you gotta go 🙂

  • Ashley Wilsey

    I feel like I’ve just been served a ridiculously intriguing appetizer even though I know the gourmet main course is on the way … Now I have a 58-page paper to go read because somehow I hadn’t heard of this yet and I’m loving that someone actually came up with a possible version of the “life-sized mail tubes” that I remember seeing in all those imagined-future cartoons and books when I was a kid. (Now, get back to that SpaceX post!

  • I am claustrophobic. Even thinking of traveling in the Hyperloop freaks me out, not that I don’t want to 🙁

    • S. T.

      There will be screens on the inside of the pods that can be used to display landscapes, etc. that can make it feel less claustrophobic.

      • Melissa Eldridge

        Baloney. Won’t fool me. I know real air when I see it. ;-/

  • Chiel Wieringa

    For people who speak dutch: http://frontierworld.nl/stefan-denaerde.html/

    (It might be that mr Musk (or someone on the hyperloop team) have read this book himself)

    Don’t know if there is a translation, but there should be one. A brilliant book in my humble opinion. It can really open up your mind to new possibilities. (if you have a hard time accepting it as a true story just think of it as imagination, that does not diminish the message) It also explains why we now make that many absurd decisions in our monetary-profit dominated world. If you build something that is cheap, less people make money out of it.

    • M.B.

      The translation is called “Operation Survival Earth” – found from clicking through the link you provided 🙂

  • Christine

    Reset your job with waitbutwhy… –_______ Continue Reading

  • Pepperice

    This was an awesome post to appear on my birthday. Thank you!

  • Don Reba

    I am not at all claustrophobic, but the thought of being locked up in a tight space for over half an hour and absolutely no chance of escape with 13 other people, some of whom might be obnoxious, sick, smelly, or criminal makes me very uneasy. And what if there is an accident and we are stuck together for a lot longer?

    • guest

      I agree, I think this whole thing is horrifying.

    • Ralph

      You can take the train then

    • Khranitel

      How do you fly on airplanes then, I wonder.

      • Don Reba

        Airplanes are far more spacious.

    • Snowskeeper

      Yeah cross-town buses are pretty awful.

  • Ryzer

    Am I the only one worried about the lack of bathrooms?

    • Ryder

      Yes 🙂

    • grendelkhan

      Subways don’t have bathrooms, and people take thirty-five minute rides on them, though it’s not thirty-five minutes between stops.

    • Snowskeeper

      If people can put bathrooms on planes they can find a way to add bathrooms to this thing.

  • grendelkhan

    You linked to the Business Insider article which links to a Pedestrian Observations post, but you didn’t mention what’s perhaps the most important point.

    If Musk really found a way to build viaducts for $5 million per kilometer, this is a huge thing for civil engineering in general and he should announce this in the most general context of urban transportation, rather than the niche of intercity transportation. If Musk has experiments showing that it’s possible to have sharper turns or faster deceleration than claimed by Transrapid, then he’s made a major discovery in aviation and should announce it as such. That he thinks it just applies to his project suggests he doesn’t really have any real improvement.

    It’s a cocktail-napkin design. (For example, the whitepaper doesn’t get you from downtown to downtown like a train would, so the thirty-five minute figure isn’t really comparable.) It may not even be plausible. And it mainly looks so good because the planning process for CAHSR is such a disaster, but the problems there are more to do with the California process than with the nature of rail transport.

    • Chiel Wieringa

      About the viaducts:
      Viaducts need to carry way more weight then the hyperloop system. The hyperloop pod will be about 20 tons max (fullly loaded with really, really heavy people and cars) which means the payload for the hyperloop will be 40tons max. Viaducts need to be able to carry more weight since it’s the peak load could potentially be much higher. (think big trucks with heavy loads. A single truck is allowed to carry 50 tons here in the Netherlands). So not a good comparison.

      • grendelkhan

        There’s a discussion of viaduct costs in the comments over there. Of note: the tube will weigh about half as much per meter as train tracks, and it seems odd to believe that it will cost a tenth as much. There are assumptions that increasing the weight of the tube by 60% will only increase the costs by 24%, which seems to imply an odd relationship.

        This doesn’t mean that the numbers are wrong–it’s a cocktail-napkin proposal, for crying out loud–but there’s a lot of handwaving in there, and a lot of work required before we even know if it’s basically feasible. This isn’t really that much of a judgment on Musk–he essentially did this over a weekend, wrote it up and published it so people could look into it–but the hype is a little much here.

        • Chiel Wieringa

          All I am saying is that apples should be compared to apples. That’s not happening here. If there is a traffic jam on a viaduct the load it needs to be able to carry is in a completely different ballpark then the weight the hyperloop system needs to be able to support. So not a good comparison.

          In my personal opinion this kind of criticism is political instead of technical. It’s perception-management.

  • Cousin April

    Man, living in northern California can be so odd sometimes. I get the whole commute from LA to SF, and there’s all this crazy innovation happening in this state. And then you have the north half, where less than 300 miles can take over 5 hours to travel. Where there are homes in towns that are not connect to public water or electricity. Where Verizon (of all goddamn things), is the most reliable network in all the hills and trees. I can leave my apartment and drive for half an hour and find that much of the technology that’s been invented in the last 20 years is unreliable or ineffective. I love this area, but it’s so overlooked as part of this state.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      I think most people who live those areas enjoy the ruralness.

  • Paul

    You may also like http://www.swissmetro.ch/en/vision.html The original idea dates from 1974, but Elon Musk was still too young and too far away back then to make it happen in Switzerland. :-/

  • LisaRSanders

    Your first choice waitbutwhy Find Here

  • Phil

    Fantastic idea! Why not suspend the pod with magnetism? They do that already, don’t they?

    I think it needs a bit more space. Even commuters carry gobs of stuff. And why couldn’t it be for someone wanting to take a vacation in LA or SF. Just would need a bit more luggage space.

  • Mars_Ultor

    As usual, a great idea will get butchered by politics and special interests, especially unions and construction firms that will feed off the 65 billion rail project.

    If Musk invents a Star Trek style transporter tomorrow, it will get killed by airline/train/car/automotive/construction lobbies before seeing the light of day. Govt, regulation and red tape are innovation killers.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      Government regulation can also help; California’s requirement for a percentage of cars sold by each manufacturer to be EV or definitely helped the EV movement along.

  • Mars_Ultor

    Biggest problem i see w hyperloop idea is the very limited capacity for transport

    28 people per every 2 min (thats a very optimistic schedule) means 840 passengers /hour

    thats a big IF, most likely you will get half that at max, so ~400 passengers p hour

    scale that to a capacity of a train that can carry that many people at 1 time, and can carry thousands of passengers per 1 hour vs 400. Im not sure this will scale to meet the demand.

  • It takes MUNI more than 30 minutes to get you from the Embarcadero station across town to Ocean Beach or the SF Zoo.

  • disqus_dor1YsFNCG

    Tim bhai, when is the Space-X post coming up?

  • Stve

    What if a one gets stuck – the whole system breaks down. There should be lots of sidings for such an event.
    How do you get a rescue train into the tube to shunt the broken down pod into a siding? What about the people stuck in the tube for hours? There should be 3 tubes. The central one is for use as a service tube. The rescue vehicle can travel to the broken-down pod in the central tube and then shunted sideways into the left or right tube (located at various ‘shunt’ points along the tube) to push it along and into a siding.

    • Rusty Shackleford

      One naturally assumes there would be a system in place to prevent that. That would be an incredible oversight.

    • Sean Barry

      Turns out Elon actually thought of this and wrote in his white paper that the train behind the broken one can ‘link up’ somehow and shunt the broken train to the next station, although not sure how this would work without power to the broken train…

  • judf

    This would be better at moving goods than people…

  • String userName=new String();

    I love how a “mini-post” from Tim means a 2000 word masterpiece complete with half a dozen in depth diagrams. Wait But Why is, by far, the best blog I have ever seen.

  • Will S

    The Hyperloop idea seems cool, but if it can only move 840 people an hour between SF and LA how would that work during rush hour?
    It wouldn’t be an issue if everyone started work at evenly distributed times during a day, but that’s not the case. You’d probably have 20,000+ people that wanted to use it between the hours of 7 and 10 AM and again between 4 and 7 PM, then during the rest of the day nothing or minimal traffic. so moving only 840 people an hour wouldn’t cut it.

  • Вера Силина

    Earthquakes with outcome like this IS dangerous to this project also. What are they going to do with the pylons, if the land will change its relief?

    • theCena

      it could have giant strong springs that could balance the pylons.

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