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Standing in the Way of Elon Musk’s Hyperloop

Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, first unveiled his vision of Hyperloop in a 58-page white paper in 2013.1 The Hyperloop, the passenger capsule envisioned to run at 760 mph between Los Angeles and San Francisco, was introduced as an alternative to the $70 billion California high speed rail project, at only one tenth of the projected cost.2 Although Musk popularized the concept of the Hyperloop to the general public through this white paper, Musk credited inventor Robert Goddard of Rand Corporation and ET3 as the first person to propose such a system and made it clear that it was an open-source concept and invited others to contribute to the design process.3

Today, this futuristic rail system that sounded like a fantasy in a sci-fi is once again gaining interest from the public as a private company called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (hereafter, HTT) announced that it plans to build a five mile test track in Quay Valley.4 HTT, which has no affiliation with Musk or Tesla, is a startup consisting of more than 400 employees who work during their off-hours in exchange for a stake in the company.5 HTT reached an agreement with Quay Valley to build a five-mile track, which will be ready for public opening by 2018, making Musk’s vision one step closer to reality.6

While physicists agree in large part that the concept of Hyperloop is viable technically, experts criticize that the estimated cost of $6 billion for building this rail system is a huge underestimation, especially given the harsh regulatory environment in California.7 For this vision to come true, land on which the Hyperloop could be built need to be acquired, “either by buying it or getting the state to seize it through eminent domain.”8 Preempting this criticism, Musk stated in the white paper that the Hyperloop can “[b]y building it on pylons, [Hyperlopp] can almost entirely avoid the need to buy land.”9. Musk also added that Hyperloop pylons “will cause minimal disruption to farmland roughly comparable to a tree or telephone pole.”10

However, many including Nick Bilton from The New York Times noted that Musk may not be accounting for the high legal hurdles that the California high speed rail project had to go through just to acquire land.11 In particular, Alexis Madrigal, a senior editor at The Atlantic, pointed out that a big portion of the cost for California’s high speed rail project was for “acquir[ing] 1,100 different pieces of land.”12 Making things harder, given that the Hyperloop is a large project, experts predict that the whole system would be regulated by California Public Utilities Commission which will add to the legal hurdles even if the project would stay a completely private project.13

This list of legal challenges is by no means exhaustive, leading many experts to conclude that the Hyperloop is still far from being realized.14 However, experts laud Musk for his another grand ambition and the amount of research and development that his vision will generate.15


  1. Roberts, Daniel, Elon Musk’s Craziest Project is Coming Closer to Reality, Fortune (May 20, 2015), http://fortune.com/2015/05/20/elon-musk-hyperloop-test-track-california/

  2. Bilton, Nick, Could the Hyperloop Really Cost $6 Billion? Critics Say No, The New York Times (August 15, 2013), http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/15/could-the-hyperloop-really-cost-6-billion-critics-say-no/; Vance, Ashlee, Revealed: Elon Musk Explains the Hyperloop, the Solar-Powered High-Speed Future of Inter-City Transportation, BloombergBusiness (August 12, 2013), http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2013-08-12/revealed-elon-musk-explains-the-hyperloop.)) The paper’s claims that the Hyperloop leaving every 2 minutes from each terminal will allow passengers travel between Los Angeles to San Francisco in 35 minutes at a ticket price of only $20 generated much excitement. ((Brandom, Russell, The Hyperloop’s Biggest Questions Are Still Unanswered, The Verge (June 16, 2015), http://www.theverge.com/2015/6/16/8789061/hyperloop-test-track-problems-elon-musk-spacex; Hyperloop Alpha, SpaceX, http://www.spacex.com/sites/spacex/files/hyperloop_alpha.pdf, 6. 

  3. Thompson, Cadie, The Hyperloop is Much Closer Than People Realize, Business Insider Review (July 6, 2015), http://e.businessinsider.com/join/techinsider-the-hyperloop-is-much-closer-than-people-realize. 

  4. Daniel, supra note 1 

  5. Thompson, supra note 4. 

  6. Upbin, Bruce, Hyperloop Gets Its First Commercial Contract For Short Track in California, Forbes (February 26, 2015), http://www.forbes.com/sites/bruceupbin/2015/02/26/hyperloop-wins-its-first-commercial-contract-for-short-track/. 

  7. Bullis, Kevin, Experts Raise Doubts Over Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Dream, MIT Technology Review (August 12, 2013), http://www.technologyreview.com/view/518076/experts-raise-doubts-over-elon-musks-hyperloop-dream/; Hennessey, Ray, Why California Can’t Be Home to the Hyperloop, Entrepreneur (August 12, 2013), http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/227807. 

  8. Hennessey, supra note 8. 

  9. SpaceX, supra note 3, at 5. 

  10. Id

  11. Bilton, supra note 2. 

  12. Bilton, supra note 2; Madrigal, Alexis, Elon Musk’s Futuristical Napkin Drawing of a Mass Transit System, The Atlantic (August 12, 2013), http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/08/elon-musks-futuristical-napkin-drawing-of-a-mass-transit-system/278608/. 

  13. Hennessey, supra note 8. 

  14. Brandom, supra note 3. 

  15. Id

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Stacie Soohyun Cho

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