The Hyperloop Explained

Craig Jones
December 7, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016

Background Information

Fig. 1: The proposed cutout of a Hyperloop pod. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The Tesla Hyperloop is a proposed high speed transportation system from San Francisco, to Los Angeles California. It was proposed by Elon Musk in 2013 as an alternative to the current high-speed rail being built in California and would function similar to pneumatic tubes seen in mail rooms. [1] While the concept of the Hyperloop is steeped in skepticism and political dysfunction, I will aim to focus on the science behind how it is proposed to function, and the energy benefits that would result from it.

How it Would Work

The Hyperloop concept proposed by Musk is not an endeavor SpaceX or Tesla plan on directly developing, instead SpaceX is holding a competition geared to university and independent engineering teams, and are providing the test track with a target competition date of January 27, 2017. [2] One of the design teams is based out of Canada, and they have just successfully raised over $19,000 on Kickstarter to build a ½ scale pod. What a pod could look like is pictured in Fig. 1. Like other potential Hyperloop pods, would travel on a cushion of air inside of a specially designed tube that would have low air pressure. This would greatly reduce friction and could allow the pod to reach speeds of up to 700 mph. This could allow a person to travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 30 minutes for a suggested ticket price of $30. [2] There are also talks that if the San Francisco to L.A. train is successful, it could potentially transport passengers from New York to L.A. in as little as 45 minutes. [3]

Fig. 2: A proposed Hyperloop above ground track. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The project has several benefits, including a much smaller environmental impact as the pods would be powered by solar panels on top of the track, and the reduced costs of the project when compared to other high speed rail systems. The Hyperloop could take advantage of existing highway networks and could travel alongside Interstate 5, seen in Fig. 2, and has a proposed cost of approximately $6 billion, though recently that number has been brought into contention. [3] The largest challenge I foresee is the fact that they are using largely unproven technology, but if the obvious obstacles of having people jammed into a pod accelerating to speeds faster than an airplane, and then coming to a complete stop, can be overcome, there is incredible potential not just in the U.S., but abroad for a revolutionary high speed transportation system.

© Craig Jones. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] N. Davis, "Tesla Hyperloop," ph240, 10 Nov 14.

[2] D. Gross, "Hyperloop vs. World's Fastest Train," CNN, 13 Aug 13.

[3] S. Hargreaves, "Hyperloop: San Francisco to L.A. in 30 Minutes," CNN Money, 13 Aug 13.