It sounds like something straight out of a Jetsons or Futurama cartoon but Elon Musk’s space-age Hyperloop could become a reality . . . and on Australian soil, too.
The Silicon Valley billionaire and all-round genius describes the concept as a “cross between a Concorde and a railgun and an air hockey table”, accelerating two-metre-wide pods along vacuum-sealed low-pressure tubes at 1220km per hour. Musk reckons it’s perfect for journeys shorter than 1500km, estimating that “supersonic air travel” can become cheaper and faster than traditional planes.
Musk’s original proposed route was between Los Angeles to San Francisco, slicing a seven-hour drive down to 35 minutes — and now Australia has been identified as a potential market, Hyperloop’s vice-president has confirmed. A parliamentary committee has even recommended the Hyperloop as an alternative to expensive high speed rail, which could potentially link Sydney and Melbourne in 55 minutes, Sydney and Newcastle in just 10.
After teasing the public, Musk unveiled the idea in 2013 and began testing in 2015, designed pressurised capsules that don’t use rails but a cushion of air instead — and anyone who’s made a sweet connection with an air hockey puck knows exactly how frictionless that is. The tube would sit on pylons above ground — imagine Springfield’s monorail in the Simpsons, but with less disastrous consequences — and is powered by solar energy.
The 46-year-old multi-billionaire originally thought the Hyperloop could be built within a decade for US$6 billion . . . but economists think the timeline will blow out, as well as the budget, into the $60 billion region. There’s also plenty of scepticism around the proposed US$20 ticket price, and how vulnerable the system would be to a power outage or terrorist attack.
And haven’t we heard this all before in Australia? High speed rail is like the Loch Ness Monster — there’s an awful lot of chat about it but no one’s ever seen any evidence. And besides, aren’t we all meant to be sitting back in driverless cars by now?
In any case, the thought of a sub-one-hour journey between Sydney and Melbourne can allow us to dream. Shoot for the stars, Elon.