Hyperloop, the ultra-fast tube transport dreamed up by SpaceX founder and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, could be ready for passengers in as few as 10 years.
In a 76-page report released on Dropbox on Thursday, a new startup called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies laid out plans for building Musk's futuristic transportation system, which could cut travel time between Los Angeles and San Francisco down to 35 minutes. The trip takes up to 12 hours by Amtrak train, and more than six hours by car.
The system would carry passengers in pods moving as fast as 800 miles per hour, according to the white paper. The plan laid out by Musk -- who has no involvement in the project, and did not help with the paper -- has broadened beyond the two California metropoles. Hyperloop Transportation has drawn up maps with lines connecting every major U.S. city.
Housed within a newly-launched crowd-funding company called JumpStartFund, the startup offered wildly varying estimates for the cost of the project -- anywhere between $7 billion and $19 billion.
Hyperloop CEO Dirk Ahlborn told The Huffington Post that the wide potential price range is due to the unpredictability of prices for materials and other expenses over the next decade. He said wealthy donors and investors are already approaching JumpStartFund, of which he is also chief executive, about pledging money.
He admitted his 10-year timeline might be ambitious. It does not account for the political opposition and regulatory hurdles that would undoubtedly dog a new form of public transportation being built up the coastline of the country’s most populous state.
“We’re working very close with the public and being very transparent,” said Ahlborn, a German-born entrepreneur based in Los Angeles.
If he finds it too difficult to build the inaugural Hyperloop in California, he may choose to build it in another country.
“For us, it’s mostly about building the Hyperloop,” he said. “We want to see it in the U.S., but if it makes more sense to do that somewhere else, then so be it. The goal is to build it.”
The other goal is to keep it cheap. While his plan envisions making luxury pods available, Ahlborn said the estimated ticket price for economy-class seats would be about $20 to $30. But he said rides would ideally be free -- perhaps supported by ads, to take advantage of time spent with a captive audience of travelers.
As with air travel, Hyperloop plans to have luxury and economy class pods.
“You have the passenger for 30 to 40 minutes,” Ahlborn said. “This is not a venture for good, it’s a commercial company, so it has to make business sense. But we’ll see.”
In the meantime, recent publicity about the Hyperloop has drummed up interest. His team of about 100 engineers, who are paid largely through stock options, seems set to expand.
“I would say that, on average, we’re receiving 10 to 20 new applications per hour,” he said with a laugh.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of time it takes to travel between Los Angeles and San Francisco by train.