Elon Musk unveiled his concept for a new mass transport system consisting of capsules shot along a partially evacuated pipe at very high speed.
The details contain estimates of a capital cost of less than $10 billion and the cost of a one-way ticket of $20 — not bad. Compare that to the estimated capital cost of $100 billion for a very fast train (VFT) system, a reduction in the transit time between Los Angeles and San Francisco from 3 hours to 30 minutes, and the proposal looks very attractive.
The numbers would be similar for an equivalent system in Australia. The VFT has been costed at over $100 billion for a Melbourne to Brisbane link – but given this estimate is probably optimistic, it comes in at the same price for a similar distance as the Californian VFT proposal.
The savings on capital cost come largely from the greatly reduced land acquisition of an elevated system. It has been the high capital cost (that would have to be borne by the taxpayer) that has made the VFT uneconomic in the past. (Of course, a colossal waste of public money never stopped the Greens from advocating it.)
The Hyperloop would radically change that part of the equation. As Elon said:
It was born from frustration at his state’s plan to build a bullet train that he called one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world.
If tickets on the Hyperloop were comparable with air and bus transport of $100 – or more given the travel time between Brisbane and Sydney would be around 60 minutes – would provide an adequate margin for an entirely privately-funded venture.