Few Experts Want to Talk About Hyperloop

Is the high-speed plan too futuristic to be taken seriously?

ByABC News
August 13, 2013, 3:25 PM

Aug. 14, 2013— -- Elon Musk, the man behind Tesla's electric cars and the first privately financed space flight, at last unveiled his design for the Hyperloop Monday afternoon after teasing the public with it for the past year.

The ambitious land-based public transportation system, which would have passengers traveling at speeds of up to 760 miles per hour, is the kind of off-the-wall idea made for conversations around the coffeemaker. Yet the big players in the transportation industry, along with companies and government agencies, have remained surprisingly tight-lipped about Musk's proposed high-speed transit system that would whisk passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Amtrak and the U.S. Department of Transportation declined to comment when ABCNews.com called for comment. And the California High Speed Rail Authority had nothing to say beyond Chairman Dan Richard's official statement, which barely mentioned Hyperloop at all.

Academic experts and researchers were also closed-mouthed, though for different reasons. One professor of civil engineering told ABC News.com that Musk's plan was too futuristic to be taken seriously. Another leader at a high-speed rail research institute said that he and his colleagues were too busy to deal with Musk's proposal.

But some people other than armchair engineers were willing to weigh in. Marc Thompson, a professor of electrical engineering at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts, did his doctoral work on magnetic levitation (Maglev) technology for public transportation.

Thompson told ABC News that the core principles behind the Hyperloop design should work, but that traveling between the two California cities via pods encased in pressurized tubes went beyond core principles. He said it was all the ancillary issues that Musk should be worried about, such as how to shuttle passengers in the Hyperloop's pods.

"The magic is in putting all this stuff together so that [the pods] don't vibrate or make the passengers seasick," he said. "It's an engineering problem."

Elon Musk Elon Musk Reveals Design for High-Speed Transit System Hyperloop

Ernst Frankel, an emeritus mechanical engineering professor at MIT who also designed a tube-based high speed public transit system in the mid '90s that would link Boston and New York, said, "He [Musk] proposes a speed of over 700 miles per hour. That's almost the speed of sound, and that runs risks. It took us decades to get trains to break the sound barrier, and we still don't run passenger trains above that speed."