Hyperloop: Prototype in 2015, First Passengers by 2025

Commuting 800 miles each day!? What nonsense! Ten years from now, it won’t be. Traveling at speeds of up to 760mph, you can cover a one way trip (400 miles) in a little more than a half an hour, without ever leaving terra firma. A new mode of transportation, proposed in 2013 by a visionary entrepreneur Elon Musk, will be able to do just that. This ‘plane on rails’ transportation system, known as Hyperloop, promises to change our perspective of time and Super-fast trains are considered to be the safest, the most comfortable, and the most eco-friendly mode of mass transit. And they go really, really fast. Recently tested new levitating maglev train in Japan reached amazing 311 mph. Not much compared to 357 mph that is the world record for conventional trains, achieved by TGV back in 2007, or Japan’s Superconductivity Maglev train that holds a world record for non-conventional trains with 361 mph . These transportation systems were hailed as 21st century’s state-of-the-art technologies that, due to high maintenance costs and relatively high fares, never achieved their anticipated wider commercial use. Hyperloop would not only travel twice as fast as aforementioned trains, but it would produce excess energy relative to its operating demands. This will make it much more cost-effective than any other type of transport. In spite these phenomenal speeds, the passenger would not feel much different from riding on an airplane.

Although the idea per se is not something completely new, it sure looks and sounds very futuristic compared to any other tube-transportation system we have seen before. Similar concepts are to be found in Startram’s orbital launch system which envisages establishment of a maglev railway line to low earth orbit, and Evacuated Tube Transport (ETT), called “Space Travel on Earth” that could make a trip around the world in just over 6 hours. But, neither idea seems as feasible and cost-effective as Hyperloop.

A hyper-fast tube connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco would be the first stage of the large network covering the entire United States. One-way trip ticket between these two Californian cities would be around $20. Such fares would certainly be highly challenging for the competition.

What is the technology behind Hyperloop? Although this project is still in the developing stages -the initial plan that sounded brilliant (it still does) had to be revised and further worked-out – it is based on a concept of electromagnetic linear acceleration (similar to railgun projectile), boosted by linear induction motor that would consist of the rotor element in the pods and stator element in the tube itself. Electric compressor fans would be built in every pod to allow the transition of high-pressure air from the front to the rear of the pod, lessening the air resistance, while simultaneously directing the part of the airflow on the air bearing skis, which would allow almost frictionless ride on a cushion of air(new solutions consider magnetic levitation instead). Or, as Musk described it, Hyperloop should be a “cross between a Concorde, a rail gun and an air hockey table.”

It is estimated that the costs of the LA-SF route would be between $7 and $10 billion. Once built, Hyperloop would be self-sufficient, autonomous, and Eco-friendly system, since tubes would be mounted on pylons, and would not be interfering with agricultural land, or intersecting animal migratory routes. Tube will be covered in solar panels that could produce all the energy necessary for the functioning of the entire system.
Based on the current concepts, any individual line connecting two cities couldn’t be longer than 900 miles. Having in mind great forces exerted on passengers due to ‘train’s‘ velocity, which would demand them to remain seated all the time, and a claustrophobic environment in the windowless capsules, longer routes wouldn’t be recommended anyway at this stage.

Today, more than 100 experts from different fields of research and development are working together to make Musk’s dream come true. They come from SpaceX, Tesla, NASA, Airbus, Boeing, and UCLA. Dirk Ahlborn, who is leading the whole project, expects first prototypes of Hyperloop to appear in 2015. He also created a JumpStartFund that will hopefully engage more experts and bring more people to invest, or otherwise support this ideaspace.