Anyone older than a certain age will look back on the era of supersonic travel and wonder why we seem to be commuting so slowly now. A current flight from JFK to London’s Heathrow Airport takes around eight hours. The distinctive Concorde craft, decommissioned for 10 years now, made the same trip in little under three and a half. Why are we slowing down?
The recently green-lit California Highspeed Rail project—a proposed 114-mile stretch of bullet-train track across the state—was set to speed up West Coast commuters. But one entrepreneur has decided that 220 mph (the top speed for the project) is just far too slow for the digital age.
Elon Musk, founder of Paypal and SpaceX, has drawn up plans for a “Hyperloop” system—a network of tubes that packs commuters into magnetically-accelerated capsules, reaching speeds of 760 mph. You could board a Hyperloop in downtown Los Angeles and be stepping out onto the streets of San Francisco a half-hour later.
Proponents says the system would be safe, solar powered with no waste or emissions, and unlike the luxury first-class days of Concorde, should be accessible to the masses—Musk estimates that a one-way ticket would cost around $20.
The proposition has already drawn fierce criticism, ranging from talk of it being sheer science fiction masquerading as pseudo-science, to accusations that it's a giant corporate scam—comparisons with the infamous Monorail episode of The Simpsons are rife on social networks. But Musk is nothing if not credible. His SpaceX program is, to date, the only private space agency that has launched a craft and docked with the International Space Station, winning a contract with NASA for resupplying the space station.
Time will only tell if Musk’s system is viable and if the Hyperloop will come to fruition, but for those of us who are used to cramming into planes, buses or trains for hours on end may already be anxiously awaiting the Hyperloop’s boarding call.