Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Challenged by Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop

The Hyperloop is one of Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s many ambitious endeavors. Like a futuristic maglev train, the transportation system would shuttle freight and people quickly over long distances. In addition to installing Hyperloop routes for statewide travel, Musk thinks it would also be useful on Mars.

However, the Hyperloop project has stagnated for years due to multiple issues. Besides the usual Tesla problems concerning delays and safety, other engineers are running with the concept for themselves. According to Autoweek, the Virgin Hyperloop might be implemented long before Musk’s Boring Company can get the Hyperloop running.

Where is Elon Musk’s Hyperloop?

Tesla CEO Elon Musk at a Hyperloop competition in July 2019
Tesla CEO Elon Musk at a Hyperloop competition in July 2019 | MARK RALSTON/AFP via Getty Images

The original Hyperloop was announced in 2013, and the first test pod was unveiled in 2016. Tesla’s Hyperloop Pod Competition showcased the Hyperloop’s performance a year later, but it wasn’t even the event’s fastest pod. Even after proposed routes were planned, there is still no official Hyperloop construction in progress.

The Boring Company (TBC) has also had problems selling the Hyperloop concept to state officials. California lawmakers were hesitant, saying TBC’s proposed budget of $6 billion for a mere passenger train would not be sufficient. Without the support of government funds, it’s unlikely any Hyperloop will make it into production.

As with any Tesla project, some safety concerns are also worth noting. Experts on CNN have pointed out that the Hyperloop’s high-velocity travel would make it inaccessible to frail population members. The closed environment of the tubes would also make it difficult for passengers to escape in emergencies. Unlike airplanes, an out-of-control Hyperloop might escape from its tunnel and hit buildings and pedestrians.

Although slower, subways and trains are tried-and-true transportation methods similar to the Hyperloop. So there’s little motivation for investors to fund the project. There is the promise of reduced environmental impact, but the resources needed to build the Hyperloop unfortunately even that out.

About the Virgin Hyperloop

Though TBC proposed the Hyperloop concept, it’s free for any company to perfect. Virgin Hyperloop, founded by Richard Branson, has made the most headway. Last year, Virgin had its first successful Hyperloop test drive in Las Vegas.

Unlike TBC’s Hyperloop, the Virgin Hyperloop is shaped like a singular train rather than several cars. This makes it much more tolerable for all types of passengers because it would be more spacious. It would also run above ground instead of inside a tunnel, making the experience less claustrophobic. 

The Virgin Hyperloop would run on electricity or solar power, traveling through concrete tubes along its track. The pod is hung on its track and levitates off the ground while it travels. The test tube achieved a top speed of only 108 mph due to some stops. However, passengers reported the acceleration didn’t feel jarring.

The Virgin Hyperloop still has some disadvantages, like its inability to travel up steep hills. However, Virgin has stated the Hyperloop has a better turning radius than trains. Virgin also wants to make tickets available at a train’s price level rather than an airplane.

The future of Virgin’s version

Virgin says it would complete the initial innovation of the project no later than 2026. However, it’s still unlikely we will see a Hyperloop in this decade. Autoweek says the first Hyperloop will probably debut in the Middle East or India.

Even though it has a better design, the Virgin Hyperloop likely must overcome the same red tape as TBC’s Hyperloop. However, its success in other countries might sway U.S. lawmakers in favor of this remarkable transportation technology.

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