Baltimore City Paper

Elon Musk is here to save us with Hyperloop (but not really)

Elon Musk, former PayPal exec with possible young blood enthusiast Pete Thiel, seller of electric cars to the 1 percent, tech bro evangelist, and aspiring star boy, caused a minor stir yesterday when he tweeted he received "verbal govt approval" to build a Hyperloop connecting Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York, promising travel from one end to the other in a mere 29 minutes.

Just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 20, 2017

For those who don't worship at the altar of Silicon Valley, a Hyperloop is a high-speed maglev that travels through a series of tubes. And it would be constructed with the help of Musk's tunneling venture, the Boring Company (that's really the name).

Not long after the tweet, media outlets both local and national started breathlessly writing about the news as if it was a sure thing.

Mayor Catherine Pugh hopped on board with both feet, which seems to happen in this city anytime some big-deal businessman comes through waving around money (see also: Port Covington, Harbor Point, etc.).

Excited to hear about @ElonMusk's plans for @Hyperloop thru @BaltimoreMD. Potential is tremendous for our city!

— Catherine Pugh (@MayorPugh50) July 20, 2017

But the story quickly crumpled under pretty standard questions.

Who gave the approval? The federal government, apparently. A White House spokesperson would only go so far as to say there were "positive conversations," Wired reports. Officials from Philadelphia and New York tell Business Insider they have not discussed the project with Musk. Jalopnik has a handy running list of government and transportation agencies that seem to have no idea what Musk is talking about—agencies whose cooperation would absolutely be required to work on such a project.

A short time later, Musk was clamoring for the support of tech bros in the Northeast, a hedge that revealed local and federal officials hadn't really signed off on the future tube.

If you want this to happen fast, please let your local & federal elected representatives know. Makes a big difference if they hear from you.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) July 20, 2017

And earlier this morning, he hedged even more.

Even if Musk DID have approval from the federal government, that's not how any of this works, as the aforementioned Wired article makes clear.

“It means effectively nothing,” Adie Tomer, who studies metropolitan infrastructure at the Brookings Institution, says in the article. “The federal government owns some land, but they don’t own the Northeast corridor land, and they don’t own the right-of-way.”

The article goes on to say that there are some other hindrances to Musk's bold vision, nuisances such as determining which federal agency would oversee the Hyperloop, actually funding the dang thing, and doing studies such as how this would impact the environment.

Oh, and there's the little problem that the technology Musk is touting doesn't actually work as effectively as his projections. Hyperloop just ran its first successful test on a 315-foot track, reaching 70 mph in five seconds, putting it somewhere in the range of a Bugatti. It's supposed to get up to 700 mph.

Baltimore, you've just been monorail'd.

Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel is City Paper's web editor. When not writing and editing blogs about breaking news, Baltimore arts, or anything interesting that comes across his desk, he's covering music and culture for the paper or writing his columns on sports, The Undercard, and fast food, Fast Foodie. Before joining City Paper full-time in 2012, Weigel was an editorial aide for The Washington Post's Going Out Guide, where he wrote articles on music and D.C. culture. His work has also appeared in USA Today, SPIN, The Sun, Chicago Reader, Urbanite, and the Baltimore Business Journal.