getting around

Elon Musk’s ‘Hyperloop Prototype’ Was Always a Gimmick

RIP, fake hyperloop. Photo: Kate Allen/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Elon Musk has dismantled the “hyperloop prototype” that sat across the street from SpaceX’s Hawthorne, California, headquarters, Bloomberg reported this week. A parking lot for SpaceX employees has taken its place — a development that is being heralded as a kind of death knell for Musk’s dream of getting places very quickly. “The demise of the test tunnel,” according to Bloomberg, “is symbolic of a larger retreat.” For five years, the dearly departed white steel tube ran for nearly a mile along Jack Northrop Avenue with a platform on the western end that read, “Hyperloop,” like a portal to another dimension. But “hyperloop prototype” is a generous description of a 72-inch-diameter cylinder-shaped test track that most notably hosted competitions in which teams of college students built “pods” propelled by electricity in an attempt to achieve speeds of up to 760 mph — but didn’t.

The so-called hyperloop is a theoretical pneumatic-tube transportation system that promises supersonic, emissions-free ground transportation, and people have been talking about it since the 19th century. In 2013, Musk wrote a white paper on how a hyperloop might work. Then he started tweeting about it (foreshadowing), which led to many breathless profiles, which led to many people believing that Musk not only invented the concept of the hyperloop but was on the verge of building it. (In 2017, he even tweeted that he was given “verbal government approval” to build an underground hyperloop from New York to D.C. Obviously, no such hyperloop exists right now.) The closest Musk’s team has come in his own test tube is reaching a speed of 220 mph with a tiny vehicle and no human passengers onboard. (The Acela, which has the advantage of actually existing and transporting people, can currently do about 150 mph.)

Musk has built loops — just not hyper ones. The 1.14-mile proof-of-concept for his Loop transportation system, which is literally just Teslas driving in tunnels, was dug in a different SpaceX parking lot in 2018 and closed after the company relocated to Texas in 2020. The Boring Company is now building similar tunnels in Las Vegas, where the system is known as the Vegas Loop. It is limited to a top speed of 40 mph, but that’s only if you don’t get stuck in traffic.

Elon Musk’s ‘Hyperloop Prototype’ Was Always a Gimmick