Birth of the Hyperloop


A full-length tube between destinations, with a controlled environment inside the tube that allows people or cargo to travel at extremely fast speeds - up to 760 miles per hour or 1,223 km/hr - essentially, that's the Hyperloop.


The Hyperloop uses a linear electric motor to accelerate and decelerate an electromagnetically levitated pod through a low-pressure tube.


The Hyperloop system is designed to be autonomous, quiet, comfortable, emission-free, energy efficient, direct-to-destination and on-demand.


A journey from Edinburgh to London could be completed in 50 minutes, slashing nearly 3.5 hours off the current fastest time.


Or a trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco could take just 35 minutes.


The earliest hyperloop idea came in 1909 from rocketry pioneer physicist Dr. Robert Hutchings Goddard (1882-1945). He proposed a vacuum train similar in concept to the Hyperloop. In 1972, the Rand Corp. conceived a supersonic underground railway called the Vactrain.


Elon Musk's original sketches for Hyperloop Alpha, 2013 (Drawing courtesy Elon Musk)


The concept of moving vehicles at high speeds through low-pressure tubes was introduced and named Hyperloop by Elon Musk in an August 2013 white paper <>. Musk is also the founder of Tesla electric cars and the aerospace company Space X.


Inspired by a conversation with Musk, venture investor and entrepreneur Shervin Pishevar partnered with mechanical engineer Josh Giegel, a former SpaceX rocket engine analyst, to create Hyperloop Technologies.


It was June 2014 in a garage in Los Angeles' Los Feliz neighborhood where the first elements of a Hyperloop system and initial business model were outlined on a whiteboard by Giegel and Pishevar.


By December 2014, Hyperloop Technologies had established an Innovation Campus in the arts district of downtown Los Angeles to design and test Hyperloop components.


By December 2015, the company also had acquired a 50 acre site in the City of North Las Vegas, Nevada, nicknamed "The DevLoop site." There, they built a one kilometer track for an open air propulsion test.


With 280 workers on the payroll, in May 2017, Hyperloop Technologies held their first full-scale test of the system, the first company in the world to do so. The test combined Hyperloop components, including: vacuum, propulsion, levitation, the sled on which pods travel, tube, structures and control systems.


The Hyperloop One pod on its sled about to enter the tube for its first test, May 2017, North Las Vegas, Nevada
(Screengrab from video <> courtesy Virgin Hyperloop One)


Hyperloop Technologies has now rebranded itself as Virgin Hyperloop One after Virgin Group founder Richard Branson made a major investment in the company earlier this month, convinced by the successful test. Branson will join Virgin Hyperloop One’s board of directors when the deal is finalized.


Explaining the technology behind Virgin Hyperloop One, Branson wrote on his blog, “With Virgin Hyperloop One, passengers and cargo will be loaded into a pod, and accelerate gradually via electric propulsion through a low-pressure tube."


"The pod quickly lifts above the track using magnetic levitation and glides at airline speeds for long distances due to ultra-low aerodynamic drag," wrote Branson.


The Virgin Group and Hyperloop One will be entering into a global strategic partnership focused on passenger and mixed-use cargo service.


Giegel and Pishevar wrote on their website, "Our summer of historical full-system tests at our DevLoop site in Nevada proved our technology works. As the only company that has built a fully operational Hyperloop, we’re seeing growing demand from governments and the private sector around the world."


"Even as we build this partnership," wrote Giegel and Pishevar, "the Hyperloop One team will remain in control of all engineering and development, product and system design, business development, and strategy."


Virgin Hyperloop One now has projects underway in Canada, Finland, India, the Netherlands, Sweden, the United Arab Emirates and the United States. Its stated goal is to deliver a fully operational Hyperloop system by 2021.

Musk Goes Underground

Elon Musk's Hyperloop Alpha as described in his original paper would run in tubes built on tall pylons with tunneling called for only to avoid geological obstacles.


But now, Musk's vision for the Hyperloop is no longer on the surface - he wants to put the tubes in tunnels - multiple layers of tunnels bored far underground.


And this is not just a pipe dream, Musk is making it happen.


The Maryland Department of Transportation has just handed Musk's Boring Company conditional approval to bore a hyperloop tunnel from Baltimore to Washington, DC, according to "The Mercury News," a daily published in San Jose, California.


A spokesperson from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan's office told reporters that the tunneling will begin near Fort Meade, Maryland, and that the Boring Company will perform the work under a utility permit.


While Maryland District Department of Transportation officials confirmed they have had talks with Musk's team, they said they are still trying to understand the project.


The exact route of the hyperloop tunnel is not known, nor are the requirements for final approval, whether or not environmental reviews will be required, the schedule, costs or who will fund the project.


The Trump administration told reporters that the White House Office of American Innovation, headed up by President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner, helped the process along and facilitated calls and meetings concerning the project.


Earlier this year, Musk tweeted that he had verbal approval to dig a hyperloop tunnel from Washington, DC, to New York City. He said the one-way trip, including stops in Philadelphia and Baltimore, would take 29 minutes.


Since then, Musk has received approval to dig a two-mile tunnel near the headquarters of his company Space X in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, California, where the Boring Company's head offices also are located.


Arriving in the Hyperloop tunnel by elevator from street level, a car is poised to be whisked through the low-pressure tube.
(Screengrab from video courtesy The Boring Company)


On the Boring website, Musk explains that tunnel will be used to test an electric sled system that could move vehicles at up to 125 mph.


Musk envisions multiple levels of tunnels, which, he says, will solve many surface transportation problems.


To alleviate traffic, transportation corridors, like the buildings that feed into them, must expand into three dimensions. One option is to “go up” with flying cars. However, flying cars have issues with weather, noise, and generally increase anxiety levels of those below them. The other option is to “go down” and build tunnels.


A video on the Boring Company website shows a car driving onto a Hyperloop sled atop an elevator embedded in the street. The elevator lowers the car into a Hyperloop tube, where it is sent gliding to its destination at hyper-speed.


Musk sees many benefits to building tunnels in layers. First, he says, "There is no practical limit to how many layers of tunnels can be built, so any level of traffic can be addressed."


"Tunnels are weatherproof," he points out. "Tunnel construction and operation are silent and invisible to anyone on the surface; and tunnels don’t divide communities with lanes and barriers."


Why haven't people done this already? Well, they have, but bringing down the cost would get the work done more quickly.


Currently, tunnels are really expensive to dig, with "some projects costing as much as $1 billion per mile," explains Musk. In order to make a Hyperloop tunnel network feasible, tunneling costs must be reduced by a factor of more than 10. Musk says he wants to do this by going electric, automating the tunnel boring machine and increasing its power output.


Musk hasn't revealed whether or not his Hyperloop system will be a partnership with other companies that have already been developing a system or if he will engineer his own.


In his original paper, Musk wrote about the safety and dependability of the Hyperloop, saysing, "The Hyperloop system comprising all infrastructure, mechanical, electrical, and software components will be designed so that it is reliable, durable, and fault tolerant over its service life (100 years), while maintaining safety levels that match or exceed the safety standard of commercial air transportation."


Hyperloop Market Heads for US$6.34 Billion


The Hyperloop technology market, in terms of value, is expected to grow to US$1.35 billion in 2022 and is expected to reach US$6.34 billion by 2026, according to a new analysis by the Dublin-based firm Research and Markets.


These figures amount to a lively compound annual growth rate of 47.20 percent between 2022 and 2026.


Research and Markets has published a report titled the "Hyperloop Technology Market by Components (Capsule, Tube, and Propulsion system), Transportation Type (Passenger and Freight), and Geography (North America, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Middle East & Russia) - Global Forecast to 2026."


"The major drivers for the hyperloop technology market are increasing global demand for fastest and low cost transportation for decongestion of cities, less expensive and easier-to-build infrastructure, transportation type with less land area requirement, and technology that is not vulnerable to earthquakes and other natural calamities," the report states.


The key players in the hyperloop technology market profiled in the report are:

  1. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (US)
  2. Hyperloop One (US)
  3. TransPod, Inc. (Canada)
  4. DGWHyperloop (India)
  5. AECOM (US)


Passenger transportation is expected to lead the Hyperloop technology market between 2022 and 2026, according to this report, "as it plays a vital role in passenger transport at highest speed at a low cost."


Passenger Hyperloop route development is already in progress.


Hyperloop transportation technology has different components such as capsule, tube, propulsion system, and route. Some of the companies having their own engineering facility are manufacturing these components on their own and others are importing from different vendors.


Now Everybody Wants One


The Hyperloop One Global Challenge kicked off in May 2016 with a call for comprehensive proposals to build Hyperloop networks connecting cities and regions around the world.


More than 2,600 teams registered. The Challenge enjoyed broad support from government leaders, said Hyperloop One, and drew bold ideas from companies, engineers, and urban planners.


Ten routes were winners of the Global Challenge.


  • Canada: Toronto-Montreal
  • India: Bengaluru-Chennai
  • India: Mumbai-Chennai
  • Mexico: Mexico City-Guadalajara
  • UK: Edinburgh-London
  • UK: Glasgow-Liverpool
  • US: Chicago-Columbus-Pittsburgh
  • US: Miami-Orlando
  • US: Cheyenne-Denver-Pueblo
  • US: Dallas-Laredo-Houston


"The Hyperloop One Global Challenge served as a rallying call for ambitious teams worldwide looking to improve how cities, regions and countries get around by via Hyperloop networks. India was a creative hotspot for Challenge entries," wrote Naushad Oomer, senior business analyst on the Hyperloop One website.


Two of India's teams, Hyperloop India and AECOM India, were selected among the 10 winners of the Challenge. "Both these teams feel that it is key to embrace progressive technologies like Hyperloop to help relieve congestion on existing inter-city modes of travel," wrote Oomer.


India is home to one of every six humans on the planet, wrote Oomer. "Currently, the impact of transportation congestion has profound effects on its people and economy. The average commuter spends 91 minutes idling in crowded streets. Traffic delays cost the economy 43,000 crores ($6.6 billion) per year, or a staggering 96,000 crores ($14.7 billion) including fuel costs."


"Overcrowding is also a big issue for India’s giant rail network, which moves more than 23 million passengers daily - nearly the entire population of Australia," he wrote.


The Mumbai - Chennai corridor proposed by Hyperloop India, a consortium of student volunteers from top engineering and business schools such as BITS Pilani, Indian School of Business and IIM Ahmedabad, enhances the value of one of the government’s strategic corridors by creating a new super-metro network of 34 million people, an east-west freight link and an air transport super-hub.


Mumbai to Chennai is currently a multi-hour or even multi-day journey. Hyperloop would shrink that to 60 minutes, creating the largest contiguously connected urban area, of people in the world.


The potential east-west freight link would facilitate a new trade dynamic by reducing the freight transit time between the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal from three days to less than three hours, Oomer wrote.


Hyperloop would connect large economic centers including Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Chennai with smaller regional cities.


"We see integrating the complete value chain (first mile - transit - last mile) of public transit from doorstep to doorstep as crucial to providing the delightful customer experience that makes people switch from other, unsustainable forms of transport," said Sibesh Kar, Hyperloop India team lead.


"We hope winning the Hyperloop One Global Challenge and working alongside Hyperloop One to realize the common future of on-demand, packetized, public transit will not only pave the way for radical transit leapfrogs like the Hyperloop in the future, but also incentivize a shift towards widespread shared mobility, in India and outside," said Kar.


AECOM India leveraged its years of expertise providing planning and engineering services for large, complex infrastructure projects across India to tailor a proposal to connect the cities of Bengaluru and Chennai.


This route would connect Bengaluru, the fourth largest technology cluster in the world, with the port city of Chennai, a locus for automotive and high-tech manufacturing.


This proposed 334-km Hyperloop system would use the existing NH-4 highway right-of-way, and reduce a greater than four-hour car journey to just over 20 minutes.


The projected passenger flow along this corridor is expected to grow to 130 million journeys per year by 2035, according to the Chennai Bangalore Industrial Corridor development plan. By the year 2033, the Bengaluru-Chennai route is expected to carry 65.2 million tonnes of freight in both directions.


"We believe Hyperloop One’s technology aligns with Prime Minister [Narendra] Modi’s vision for a stronger and more prosperous India by connecting far-flung cities Indian cities as if they were metro stops, creating a lasting impact for India," wrote Oomer.


On November 8, 2016 in Dubai, Hyperlink One signed an agreement with the Roads and Transport Authority to explore using Hyperloop One technology to connect Dubai to the greater United Arab Emirates.


The company is already underway in this partnership, which will produce the business model, technical solution and certification process to bring Hyperloop One’s autonomous, on-demand, point-to-point and high speed transport system to the UAE, wrote Bruce Upbin, Hyperloop One's VP Strategic Communications.


He asks us to imagine cutting the time it takes to go from Dubai to Abu Dhabi from 90 minutes to 12 minutes, or Dubai to Riyadh in 48 minutes, or connecting Dubai International Airport and Al Maktoum Airport with a six-minute trip by Hyperloop, forming a single global transport hub.


"The UAE is a place where anything is possible and big visions become reality," wrote Upbin. "We aspire to build the world’s first Hyperloop in the UAE."


Hyperloop technology could be a boon from the movement of freight, and the new system is planned for testing in Dubai.


Hyperloop announced in 2016 that it would pilot a container movement project with DP World to move boxes from the terminal operator’s facility, Jebel Ali Port in Dubai, to an inland container depot. The objective is to free up freight handling capacity by quickly moving boxes away from yard space at the terminal.



An artist's rendering of the Mexloop tubes arching across the land between Mexico City and Guadalajara (Image courtesy FR-EE)


A Mexican consortium led by Fernando Romero, co-designer of Mexico City’s New International Airport and architect of the Soumaya Museum, was named a winner of the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, and is partnering with Hyperloop One to develop one of the world’s first Hyperloop corridors connecting Central Mexico’s major metropolises into a new Megalopolis.


Mexico is building a Hyperloop called the Mexloop to travel between Mexico City, Queretaro, Leon, and Guadalajara. The Mexican studio FR-EE won a contest to design the system, they will work with Hyperloop One on the project.


Right now, driving the 330 miles or 532 km from Mexico City to Guadalajara takes over six hours. The Mexloop could make the same trip in just 45 minutes.


The Mexloop proposal promises to enhance Mexico’s global transport and logistics performance and secure the country as a leader in autonomous mobility and other innovative transportation-related research, building on the ambitious US$600 billion in public works investment under Mexico’s National Infrastructure Program.


FR-EE hopes 68 million people would use the system by 2020. They envision the concept to be adapted for use across the world.


The technical effort is paired with a strategy to build even further on its proposal to catalyze a strategic, high-technology hub in the Bajio region.


This hub would be centered around next-generation transportation industries such as aerospace engineering, autonomous software, and advanced and precision manufacturing to create a new Hyperloop industry, and identifying opportunities to build and develop an Hyperloop knowledge ecosystem through university partnerships, training and certification programs, and professional development.


The Mexloop team says that combined, these would form the basis of a thriving new transport technology industry and supply chain, and a platform for Hyperloop One to test, create, manufacture, develop, and export its revolutionary new technology to the rest of the world.


By Sunny Lewis – Environment News Service