Yet it’s equally hard to overstate how dramatically the hyperloop could change the world. The first four modes of modern transportation–boats, trains, motor vehicles and airplanes–brought progress and prosperity. They also brought pollution, congestion, delay and death. The hyperloop, which Musk dubs “the fifth mode,” would be as fast as a plane, cheaper than a train and continuously available in any weather while emitting no carbon from the tailpipe. If people could get from Los Angeles to Las Vegas in 20 minutes, or New York to Philly in 10, cities become metro stops and borders evaporate, along with housing price imbalances and overcrowding.
The only thing this geek fantasy is missing: Musk. With his hands full simultaneously running Tesla Motors and SpaceX, he’s left it to others to make his theory a reality. He declined to comment for this story. But his fingerprints are on each of the groups vying to build the hyperloop, even though they couldn’t be more different.