Elon Musk apparently has way too much time on his hands. On July 20th, the Tesla / SpaceX / Boring Company / OpenAI CEO tweeted that he had received “verbal [government] approval” to build a hyperloop between New York City and Washington, DC. Today, Bloomberg is reporting that Musk won’t just be digging the tunnel for the hyperloop, he also intends to build the entire ultrafast transit system himself.
In retrospect, all the signs were there that Musk would reverse his promise to stay clear of commercializing the idea he first proposed back in 2013. He always stayed interested in the hyperloop, hosting several student engineering contests and continuing to hold the trademark on “Hyperloop” through his company SpaceX. The website for the upcoming third phase of the student contest used to display the line: “We are not developing a commercial Hyperloop ourselves.” That sentence was recently removed, Bloomberg reports.
Meanwhile, Musk’s Boring Company recently completed its first section of tunnels under Los Angeles. The ambitious tunnel-boring project was originally pitched as a high-tech, ultrafast way for passenger vehicles to circumvent traffic by traveling on electric sleds underground at speeds of up to 125 mph. Now it appears that Musk also wants to use these tunnels to operate passenger pods at much higher speeds. (His original hyperloop proposal theorized speeds of up to 760 mph.)
Musk’s decision to jump into the race to build the world’s first fully operational hyperloop certainly shakes things up for the three startups that are already working to realize the billionaire’s original vision. The company that appears to be furthest along, Hyperloop One, just conducted its first high-speed test, with its prototype passenger pod reaching a top speed of 192 mph at its facility in the Nevada desert.
But while Musk’s entry is certainly a boost to a brand new industry, it still may not help convince critics and skeptics who see the hyperloop as just a high-speed rail system with a futuristic veneer. Musk also has a reputation for over-promising on big ideas. And while digging a hundreds-mile-long tunnel along the East Coast of the US certainly isn’t landing humans on Mars, it’s not far off.