Elon Musk proposed Hyperloop to shut down the high-speed rail system
It just happened: Elon Musk never intended to build his Hyperloop idea in California. He proposed it just to stop the bullet train project.
It was news to me when Paris Marx, a Canadian technology writer, wrote about Musk for Time magazine and posted to Twitter on Thursday. He cites Musk’s official biographer as a source.
Musk joins a long list of conservative politicians who have disrespected the California High Speed Rail project. Unlike the Chosen Ones, however, multi-billionaire Musk has the capital to bring his fantasies to life, should he choose.
Musk floated the idea of Hyperloop in 2013 as a way to get people around faster than high-speed rail or even regional air travel. People would ride in a giant tube and then be whisked away at 700mph to their destination.
As Bee’s staff writer Tim Sheehan wrote of Hyperloop technology: “Basically, think of the pneumatic tube systems in the drive-through lanes of banks or pharmacies – the ones that sucked up a container of your car window to the cashier or cashier inside the building. Expand that notion to a pair of sealed, low-air pressure tubes, supported by pylons above the ground and large enough for a gondola or capsule to carry up to 28 people at subsonic speeds between the cities.
Musk imagined the Hyperloop would be used to take people from Los Angeles to San Francisco in an astonishing 30 minutes. Users could drive their cars – presumably Teslas, Musk’s electric car invention – into pods for the ride.
At this speed and travel time, the electromagnetically-powered Hyperloop would be light years faster than high-speed rail, which carries people in trains and accelerate to just over 200 mph. Travel time from LA to SF: three hours.
For a few years, a developer in Southern California had the idea of building a new city in the far west of the valley and using an 8 km long Hyperloop to move residents there. Quay Valley was to have 22,000 homes in the Kettleman Hills near Interstate 5. The short-haul Hyperloop would serve as a pilot to test the technology. But finding a water supply and adequate financing for the project proved to be insurmountable challenges, and developer Quay Hays of Los Angeles withdrew its project.
Meanwhile, the high-speed rail project continues to be built in the valley. Although still considered an electric train system to take people from the Bay Area to Los Angeles and back, the current construction is for a Merced-Bakersfield segment.
The train project was never embraced by Musk, according to biographer Ashlee Vance.
“Musk told me that the idea (for the Hyperloop) grew out of his hatred for California’s proposed high-speed rail system,” Vance writes. Musk considered the HSR to be too expensive and too slow.
Musk said his Hyperloop concept would cost no more than $10 billion to build. Currently, the railway authority is planning its complete system of 500 miles will cost $105 billion. When voters approved bonds in 2008 to build the high-speed rail system, the total cost was estimated at $33 billion.
The higher cost is why GOP politicians have strongly opposed high-speed rail, championed by former Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.
It has been a job generator for the Valley, however. last labor day the rail authority celebrated 6,000 jobs created for the 119 mile long segment under construction. Of those positions, 2,200 were in Fresno County.
I have written before that no major public works project in the history of the country has been free from controversy or opposition. But to think that the the richest man in the world launched an idea simply out of contempt for high-speed rail? It was new to me. Maybe instead of throwing shade at HSR, Musk could put some of his money into the project to see it through.
Tad Weber is the Opinion Editor of The Bee. 559-441-6491