“Elon Musk Throws Farmers for a Hyperloop” – Alternatives to High-Speed Rail

This holiday week, we take a break from our Featured Farmer Spotlights to share some high-tech news excerpted from the Upstart Business Journal.  Elon Musk, co-founder of Paypal and Tesla Motors, revealed his plans for a $6 billion solar-powered alternative to the projected $68 billion High Speed Rail Project to go through prime California farmland.

Elon Musk's Hyperloop plans coast far above valuable farmland.  TED/James Duncan Davidson

Elon Musk’s Hyperloop plans coast far above valuable farmland.
TED/James Duncan Davidson

Elon Musk revealed the details of his plans for his Hyperloop—the air-powered pod in a tube that might someday connect Los Angeles to San Francisco and, if successful, would totally disrupt other transportation sectors, even as it leaves farmers nearly untouched.

The Hyperloop is designed to link large cities less than 1,000 miles apart that drive high amounts of traffic between them. So while the link between California’s two most prominent cities is the first choice, the concept could suitable for other large sister cities like New York and Washington D.C., or New York and Boston.

Click here to view a slideshow on six important Hyperloop business facts.

The general idea of the Hyperloop has been discussed for a the past several weeks. It was thought to be a tube where passengers would be placed into a capsule before being whisked away. Musk elaborated on his vision today in an interview with Bloomberg BusinessWeek:

The pods will ride on air bearings. The pod produces air, and it’s pumped out of little holes on these skis. This is something that is used quite a bit in industry. You can move huge, heavy objects with very low friction, using air bearings. In the consumer sense, people would be familiar with air hockey tables, except in this case the air bearings are being generated by the pod itself, as opposed to the tube…

It’s actually a linear electric motor. It’s a very basic thing. They have been around for a very long time. The air skis in the pod would have a thin row of magnets—you don’t need much. The linear motor would electromagnetically accelerate the pod. It would be just below where the skis are. It just creates an electromagnetic pulse that travels along the tube and pushes the pod to that initial velocity of 800 miles per hour.

"By placing solar panels on top of the tube, the Hyperloop can generate far in excess of the energy needed to operate. This takes into account storing enough energy in battery packs to operate at night and for periods of extended cloudy weather."

“By placing solar panels on top of the tube, the Hyperloop can generate far in excess of the energy needed to operate. This takes into account storing enough energy in battery packs to operate at night and for periods of extended cloudy weather.”

Traditional long-distance rail, air and ground transportation systems could see revenues drop if the founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX has his way, other industries might have something to cheer. For example: despite some speculation that the Hyerloop would have to be buried below ground, Musk said his vision was to build it above ground, hopefully avoiding land issues and giving farmers nearly unimpeded access to their land, according to a Bloomberg report.

That’s good news to California’s $43 billion agriculture industry, which hasn’t been too keen on the state’s drive to get high-speed rail service between the two cities.

In May, at a Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure meeting on California’s High Speed Rail, chairman Jeff Denham said the first construction package of the planned high-speed train will traverse “prime agricultural land” valued at between $28,000 to $33,000 per acre. That in spite of promises to use existing rail corridors that wouldn’t destroy family farms, communities, and agriculture production.

Also according to Denham, the project was originally estimated to cost $33 billion and be completed by 2020. Since then the project has jumped to $68.4 billion with a completion date of 2028.

Based on Musk’s numbers the Hyperloop can be built for $6 billion for people-only transportation, and $10 billion for larger pods that can also build cars.

The above article appeared in the Upstart Business Journal on August 12, 2013.  

You can read more about the California High Speed Rail project in the FarmsReach Farmland Conservation & Estate Planning Toolkit.

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