Hyperloop pod speeds into the popular mind

Billionaire’s vision for pneumatic tube transportation may be too big for Ireland

An image released by Tesla Motors, is a sketch of the Hyperloop capsule with passengers onboard.

An image released by Tesla Motors, is a sketch of the Hyperloop capsule with passengers onboard.


A futuristic, ultra-high-speed transport system mooted for the United States “could, technically, be built right now” but we are unlikely to ever see it used in Ireland, according to an expert in transport engineering.

Billionaire investor Elon Musk has unveiled plans for a “Hyperloop” transport system he hopes will one day shuttle passengers and cars between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes, travelling faster than the speed of sound.

800 mph
People and cars would be transported inside aluminium pods travelling at up to 800 miles per hour inside elevated tubes.

In a conference call, Musk said he had been inspired by the pneumatic tubes used for transporting mail around some buildings.

The PayPal co-founder has long been obsessed with transport and used his fortune to develop electric-car firm Tesla and private spaceflight company SpaceX.

Musk has said that Hyperloop will be a “cross between a Concorde and a railgun and an air hockey table”.

Outlining plans for the Hyperloop, Musk said the tubes would be elevated on columns and run alongside California’s Interstate 5 highway.

“You just drive on, and the pod departs,” Musk said, estimating the system could be built for $6 billion with people-only pods, or $10 billion for pods holding cars.

Commenting on the suitability of a Hyperloop-type system for Ireland, Dr Eoghan Clifford, a lecturer in civil engineering at NUI Galway, suggested the country is too small. “We would need at least two ‘Dublins’ and, even then, intercity distances would be too small. The time needed for acceleration and deceleration would be too significant compared with overall travel time.”

According to Musk, the solar-powered Hyperloop could act as a fifth mode of mass transport, after planes, trains, cars and boats.

The billionaire said he was not looking to build the system himself, although he was “tempted” to build a demonstration model.

Musk said he envisioned 70 pods could travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco, leaving every 30 seconds inside low-pressure tubes designed to minimise friction.

The 30-minute trip would shave over five hours off the time it takes to drive.

Closed loop
The system would be a closed loop, designed for cities less than 900 miles apart that have high levels of traffic.

There would likely be challenges in realising Musk’s vision. Passenger comfort could be a major consideration.

“Imagine taking off five times faster than an aeroplane on a runway,” says Dr Clifford. “Getting air-conditioning in the low-pressure tubes might also need ironing out.”

Musk’s Hyperloop ambitions were presented during a Google-sponsored event with fellow entrepreneur and space explorer Richard Branson.

“You want the future to be better than the past? Or at least I do, quite a bit.”

– (Additional reporting: Guardian)