Concorde meets railgun – SpaceX founder's plan for future rapid transport


November 16, 2012

Elon Musk expounding on his theoretical Hyperloop transportation system at Thursday's Economist Innovation Awards (Photo: Gizmag)

Elon Musk expounding on his theoretical Hyperloop transportation system at Thursday's Economist Innovation Awards (Photo: Gizmag)

Taking to the stage at this year's Economist Innovation Awards, Elon Musk of SpaceX let slip a few more choice details about his "Hyperloop" high-speed transportation system that would see commuters travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco in a mere 30 minutes, describing the concept for the first time as a cross between Concorde and railgun.

During a show-stealing acceptance speech, Musk explained that, in order to be worth while, the technology must exceed the merits of existing transport systems by being much faster and cheaper while remaining weatherproof and, "ideally," crash proof. "Ideally, he added again, for tongue-in-cheek emphasis.

Musk further hinted that the Hyperloop transport would leave as you arrived to board, and have to deal with "right of way" issues. It may sound crazy, but there was a time he talked this way about commercial spaceflight and we know how that turned out.

Musk also confirmed his ambition to die on Mars, though not, he quipped, upon impact.

Color us intrigued...

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Adam Williams Adam scours the globe from his home in North Wales in order to bring the best of innovative architecture and sustainable design to the pages of Gizmag. Most of his spare time is spent dabbling in music, tinkering with old Macintosh computers and trying to keep his even older VW bus on the road. All articles by Adam Williams

hyper loop is nothing more than evacuated tube transport using magrails for propulsion,. this concept has been around for a while and there are a number of organization dedicated to it. it's a pie in the sky idea, not because it's not theoretically possible but because it's not economically viable with respect to the infrastructure costs to roll it out.

this is obvious to any casual observers of the failure of the promoters of evacuated tube transport. when you sell an idea saying it's worth the 500 billion dollars to layitout because wind up realizing it's a hoax. if an idea is not viable on a small scale its never going to be testable. no one is going to scale out a 500 b project without proof it works on a small scale. hence suggesting to build something no one will build is somewhat of a quiotic suggestion not to be taken too seriouly. musk getting up on stage and publicly announcing his 'secret' actually just shows he's delusional rather than merely a risk taker.

he's done reasonably well with space x. and with tesla. neither of these companies are revolutionary. they took mostly existing tech and made marginal improvement. both companies are fully dependent on government contracts and government money. neither company could compete without tax payer forced money. tesla itself is going to go bankrupt at some point if they cannot find a big car company to buy them and take the losses.

musk is no tesla. and the notion that he is going to die on mars----to get up on stage and say it shows a typical brazen attitude of people destined for some catastrophic over-confidence based mis-judgement.


@ zevulon

Musk is an entrepreneur. It's a common fallacy these days, one that has been spurred on by pro-against Apple arguments, that innovation on the scale of Edison or Tesla is the only thing that gives you a right to dream. In fact, single handed innovation is long gone.

As an entrepreneur of companies like Paypal, Tesla and then SpaceX, he probably has a better idea of billion dollar projects than you do. I think his idea is worthwhile. If it is not possible according to physics, then that's a different issue. Go back to the drawing board. However, if the problem is implementation logistics, we'll find a way around it. Cars, trains and planes were the domain of the wealthy, till they were not. Even if not for NY to CA travel, why not start developing a system that will be viable on a moonbase or Mars ? The problem is that our cities are not designed with present transport technology in mind. But new cities that we design can definitely implement them. Why not set up cities around these transport hubs? I'm sure companies would flock to make it a new Silicon Valley if it makes their commutes easier.


Private space launch on a dime was also impossible. As in all problems there are variables, he is probably finding ways to work around them or just remove them. We can trust Musk to give it a fair crack.


Gildas Dubois

The US is one of the few industrial power house that doesn't have a high speed rail. This is NOT the one to build.

Let him figure out a regular high speed corridor first before we start building this complete pipe dream. Pun intended.


The maglev technology was first patented 14 February 1905 and exists at Disney World since at least 40 years. You get rid of air resistance and you can do Paris - Beijing in 2 hours. Since there are no moving parts, no friction and uses a fraction of the energy an airplane uses for the same distance it is NOT capitalism. We can only hope humanity smartens up anytime soon. Elon showed the world what he could do with the electric car that dates back to 1837, we can only hope he will do the same with trains. But since an electric car only cost 250 USD to drive 25 000 miles or one time around the planet, I am sure the resistance to change to something better, smarter, faster and cleaner is more than difficult.

Gordon Cyrus

While I respect Elon's drive regarding Hyperloop, there is a big challenge traveling that fast on the ground in California: earthquakes. The distance between LA and San Francisco is about 300 air miles. If Elon is considering a 30-minute travel time, then the pods would be traveling an average of around 600 MPH, and would likely cross the San Andreas fault. And of course, the faster you travel, the longer it takes for an emergency stop during a significant tremor situation. There would need to be a buffer system that near eliminates both earthquake-caused turbulence within the tube, as well as the potential for structural defects. Whether Elon has considered this, I do not know.

To Gordon: While you're correct that maglev tech has been around for a while, Disney World's system is not maglev. Your point is well taken however regarding maglev and electric cars.

To Zevulon: Where did you get such a figure of $500 billion? Cursory research on Hyperloop reveals Elon estimating $6 billion, which is much less than the near $100 million for the California High-Speed Rail system, which is going through its phases.

If you want to travel fast, we've got to take to the air in an inexpensive and safe way.


This idea reminds me of Swissmetro, a futuristic Swiss national transportation project using vactrain technology, that went into liquidation in November 2009 because of a lack of support. Since Switzerland is a small country, the project development should have been done together with the surrounding countries of Germany, France, Italy and Austria. See all details at


We aren't so far off levitation magnetic capsules travels , without wheels, motors or batteries. Moreover, these capsules can also replace the elevators in skyscrapers, and let us in the door of the office or home. The transportation, as known has its decades counted.



Entrepreneurs think "outside the box". Your immediate assumption is that to get from L.A. to San Francisco you have to do it like the proposed Bullet Train, over the mountains and through the farmland. Thinking outside of the box, I would put a station in Santa Monica and lay my tubing on the continental shelf and enjoy my high speed commute to San Francisco underwater!

Lawrence Weisdorn

L. Weisdorn

A vacuum tube magrail was the first thing I thought of as well, when Musk started talking about Hyperloop. But not too much of what he's let slip so far seems to fit that technology. In fact, his most recent mention of right of way issues seems to be the closest hint in that direction.

I think I'll reserve judgement until we know a little more. There's little that can't be achieved with enough brains, money and drive, and so far Musk seems to have all three on his side...


For every creative genius, there are maybe 100 critics. Some ideas do become successful. Some good ideas don't survive, because of business decisions sometimes made by those in power with their own skewed motives. Some good ideas remain dreams because those who have the ideas have no way to bring them to market. It does seem to me that this idea might work in some locations in this world - I just wonder how good a solution airplane travel is, when crashes still happen, and some people just refuse to fly.

I would really like to see more high speed rail, which could happen if not for congressional gridlock.


It simply is not true that vacuum transport is not a cost effective way to obtain low cost, highest performance transportation.

What deserves more study but seems to be clear is that the corridor between LA and SF is at best a poor choice for many reasons as the first target.

Where ever Elon is going with his ideas (perhaps he even has a group) others are at work with basic new approaches to advance the great work done by others for vacuum transport like the father of modern spaceflight Robert Goddard.

Along those lines one group has just had a breakthrough in reducing the costs for tunnels by a factor of 30, which makes their lifetime cost LESS then present rail train technology.


Puhlease... look up Ed Anderson on Wikipedia and look at the side bars... he offered to build this system for the State of Wisconsin from Middleton, WI to the Madison State Capital for 1 Million $$$'s back in 1983... the City of Madison did not want to give up any parking ticket revenue... but that is minor to the Insurance Industries interest... they never want to see a mass transit system of succeed... I spoke to the Co. years ago and they told me we would be the last Country on the Planet to see their system... go figure... I have contacted out illustrious L-pResidentia and Gov. Jerry Brown about this system previously... they do not seem to interested... ???


Took a look (using Google Patent) at Musks patents. He's got 5 with 1 pending since 2001 (11 years new record).

Not a single sole inventor patent. All are modest group inventions around various search techniques. That is its all software.

No actual inventions in the clean energy or transport fields in fact no non-software inventions at all.

It would appear that Elon is another business genius with a great feel for technology who appears to be able to hire good people.

Having posted a payment processing system in the late 90's for our own stuff I know that its the business sense that makes all the difference in the world when it comes to financial success.

Those of us blessed and cursed with technical ability but little or no business sense can appreciate Elon's gift.


Same as ET3? right. Better than ET3 concept? Show us some visuals.

Stephen Russell

The future of terrestrial transport involves teleportation.

Richard Catto

Most of what Musk claims about 'hyperloop' has been in development by ET3(tm) for many years ( ET3 stands for 'Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies'(tm), a patented technology. ET3 eliminates almost all friction from transportation. The first ET3 patent (US 5,950,543) issued in 1999, there are now over two dozen patents in the ET3 portfolio.

Some think it strange the Musk started all this 'hyperloop' mystery shortly after ET3 licensees contacted him about joining the consortium. The ET3 consortium to implement ET3 now numbers over 220 experts, companies, and institutions in 18 countries. It will be interesting to see what Musk's 'hyperloop' is.

Daryl Oster

Musk has said that he will not file any patent that is nothing but a blueprint for china to copy.

Donald Franck

Elon was very specific about his hints and he's not talking about maglev in an evacuated tunnel.

The one technology that fits all of his hints and his background is using a Lofstrom loop for terrestrial transport. It would be in the Pacific with endpoints just off the coast of both cities. It would be about a quarter scale version of the Orbital Launch Loop designs so about 600 km long and about 20-25 km high at the top. It wouldn't need evacuated tubes because at 80,000 feet there's near vacuum for free and no problem for little aluminum passenger pods to cruise at mach 1.5.

The loop would be constrained by wires anchored in the ocean that would need to warn air and sea traffic but most of it would be like a big inverted suspension bridge higher than air traffic. The loop cable would only be inches across so essentially invisible from the ground. At the ends it would need bright warning lights at night and it would be quite beautiful arcing up to 50,000 feet or so.

This meets all Elons hints. It stores energy and could be solar powered. It's like a concord in that the travel pods are much like little supersonic jets without wings traveling on a wire floating across the sky. They would have windows and the experience would be alot like private jet travel. It's also technically a lot like riding a rail gun but with gentle jet like acceleration.

Energy cost would be low. No emissions. No damage to the stratosphere. It would be by a factor of 50 the tallest manmade structure on earth and very impressive as a project.

There are some downsides but Im sure Elon's engineering teams have them pretty well covered before he releases any proposal.

Mark Hoheisel

He has revealed that it is not a vacuum tunnel, so is not ET3.

Leo Sanjaya

I had an inkling of what it might be. It think it might be a supersonic mag-lev inside of a 'tuned pipe'. The 'tuning is the trick. I wrote down here:

Alan Wootton

There are several comments suggesting that the fact of construction in an earthquake zone would be a deal breaking. The Japanese Shinkansen system is built through one of the most earthquake prone areas of the world, without incident. The way the Japanese system works is by detecting the quake's fast moving but less destructive waves and automatically sending signals to the onboard computers to stop all the Shinkansen, at speeds faster than the earthquakes' destructive waves propagate.

Russell Willmoth
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