Elon Musk plans to build Hyperloop test track

The CEO of SpaceX and Tesla wants to speed up the development of 800-mph tube transport. He's willing to pay for testing -- most likely in Texas -- to make it happen.

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Elon Musk calls the Hyperloop a fifth mode of transportation. Using electromagnetic pulses and pressurized tubes, Hyperloop could hit near-supersonic speeds. HTT/JumpStartFund

Billionaire and entrepreneur Elon Musk is getting more hands-on with the Hyperloop.

Musk, who heads up both space transportation outfit SpaceX and electric-vehicle maker Tesla Motors, casually announced via Twitter on Thursday that he's decided to help accelerate development of his vision for near-supersonic tube transportation, first outlined in August 2013.

Musk said he will build a five-mile test track for the still-theoretical system for students and companies to use. A possible location would be Texas, he added, where presumably there is plenty of flat land to go around.

Musk originally floated the idea of the Hyperloop with help from fellow SpaceX and Tesla engineers, releasing their collective work in a 57-page concept paper that generated headlines worldwide. Until today, Musk has been notably hands-off about the project and has said it remains an open-source and collaborative process. SpaceX declined to comment further on Musk's plans or whether the test track will involve additional collaboration from members of his two companies.

Musk is known for dropping bombshell announcements on his personal Twitter account, like when a rocket from his space transportation outfit SpaceX exploded mid-flight because "rockets are tricky" or how he thinks artificial intelligence may be more dangerous than nukes.

Though Musk speaks of the Hyperloop with similar nonchalance, the idea could revolutionize land transportation. It's simpler than it sounds. A Hyperloop would work similarly to an air hockey table, but instead of floating on a cushion of air, solar-powered electromagnetic pulses would propel pressurized cabins inside elevated tubes.

Theoretically, the resulting system could reach speeds approaching 800 mph, faster than the speed of sound, through tubes held up by pylons placed between strategic cities like San Francisco and Los Angeles. The system still needs years of testing, and as much as $10 billion to create even just one 400-mile stretch.

Yet Musk's willingness to get involved after almost a year and a half of silence on the subject shows he's serious about the idea and will, as he has with his other ventures, spend some of his own money to get it off the ground.

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Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, a collection of crowdsourced engineers working on the system, is already under way working out routes around the country. HTT/JumpStartFund

Musk is known for taking risks and transforming industries. He did it with Web-based payments and PayPal during the first dot-com era -- then again with electric vehicles and private spaceflight.

Critics, including members of the US High Speed Rail Association, say high-speed rail is a more-viable option. High-speed rail is widely used throughout Asia, and the state of California this month broke ground for its high-speed rail system costing $70 billion. Musk has criticized the project's high costs and sees the Hyperloop as leapfrogging the technology.

Musk isn't alone in trying to make the idea a reality. A group of entrepreneurs and scientists have banded together to create Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. Put together first on a crowdfunding platform called JumpStartFund, it's a collective of around 100 engineers, unaffiliated with Musk, who exchange free time for potential equity. Each works in small teams focused on specific interests, such as designing passenger pods and propulsion prototypes.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies has also partnered with UCLA's SUPRASTUDIO design and architecture program to design capsules and stations, as well as work out prospective routes around the country that could potentially be linked into a nationwide Hyperloop network.

JumpStartFund refused to comment on Musk's plans, but CEO Dirk Ahlborn said the company will know soon where a finalized test site will be located.

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