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Monday, August 12, 2013

Elon Musk Unveils Plans for Hyperloop High-Speed Train

Elon Musk, a serial entrepreneur who was a co-founder of PayPal and is chairman of Tesla Motors, harked back to the days of the late-1990s bubble on Monday by showing off plans for a project he said he doesn’t plan to build but believes could be built.

By someone. Or he might do a prototype if no one is interested and he can find the time. Or not. It’s not quite clear just yet.

The hypothetical project is called the Hyperloop, a high-speed train that would be able to take people to San Francisco from Los Angeles in 30 minutes. That’s a speed of almost 800 miles an hour.

But don’t pack your bags just yet. In an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek on Monday, Mr. Musk said he regretted mentioning the Hyperloop last year, saying that he has no time to work on the project and instead has to run SpaceX and Tesla Motors, his two other companies.

Mr. Musk first mentioned Hyperloop last summer. He detailed it further in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek.. In July, he announced on Twitter that he would unveil the designs for the high-speed train on Aug. 12. As promised, a 57-page “alpha design” plan was posted online Monday that explained how such a train would work.

Mr. Musk has clearly put a lot of thought into the design. The document he unveiled explains that the high-speed train would become “truly a new mode of transport - a fifth mode after planes, trains, cars and boats.” The Hyperloop would transport people in ”pods” that would travel through tubes. The tubes would be mounted on pylons that could be designed to withstand earthquake movements.

Mr. Musk took swipes at the “California High Speed Rail” that is being built and headed by the California High-Speed Rail Authority. This train, while real, is not expected to be completed until 2029 and will cost $68.4 billion to build.

“When the California ‘high speed’ rail was approved, I was quite disappointed, as I know many others were too,” Mr. Musk wrote while saying that the Hyperloop would cost $6 billion to build.

If anyone could build such a train, it’s likely Mr. Musk. Critics railed against him when he first broached the idea for Space Exploration Technologies of Hawthorne, Calif., otherwise known as SpaceX. But he proved them wrong last year when the company launched its Falcon 9 rocket.

But Mr. Musk’s assertion that he does not want to be the leader of the Hyperloop project has some people wondering if it will actually be built.

During a Monday afternoon news conference Mr. Musk seemed to waver over whether he wanted to be involved with the project or not. ”I’m somewhat tempted to at least make a demonstration prototype,” he said during the telephone news conference. “I’ve sort of come around a little bit on my thinking here that maybe I should do the beginning bit and build a sub-scale version that’s operating.”

In the paper released Monday, Mr. Musk acknowledged that there had been other proposed ideas for a train similar to the high-speed train over the years. “Unfortunately,” he wrote, “none of these have panned out.”