Elon Musk is a natural born optimist, without that quality then he simply could not have achieved some of the incredulous feats we talk about on a daily basis. But now Forbes has revealed leaked documents that show he got his calculations badly wrong when it came to the costs involved with Hyperloop.
His original estimate for a high-speed link between Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area was $6 billion, or $11.55 million per mile. Now Hyperloop One has revealed that it expects to spend $9-$13 billion on the route, which works out at $84-$121 million per mile.
This is brand new, everyone is learning as they go
These are mindboggling numbers and the simple fact is that Hyperloop has never been done. This isn’t like estimating the costs of a commercial airline, where we have precedents to draw upon. So it isn’t really a surprise that the costs have risen and they may well get even higher when the pods start testing.
There are so many variables that we just cannot consider right now that the only real surprise is that Forbes and others are surprised. The University of Cincinnati issued a press release when its pod hovered on the tracks for the first time recently and it has to have a fully functioning transport pod ready to go in January when Hyperloop runs its competition to find the best design.
In short, literally every part of this process is a giant leap into the unknown and critics are even suggesting that the high speed travel system that could take us between cities at 700mph+ could have a serious impact on the human body even if it works perfectly.
Based on the new numbers, Hyperloop One has estimated that the route linking Abu Dhabi and Dubai will cost $4.8 billion. That’s $52 million per mile and it also shows that the costs will differ wildly between territories.
The amount of tunneling required, the number of stops and land acquisition costs will all have a major impact on the final price per mile. Labor costs will also change dramatically, but one thing that Forbes doesn’t seem to have considered is that the construction time should decrease dramatically once Hyperloop One has installed a number of functioning systems and ironed out the bugs.
High-speed rail option is more expensive
It’s also worth mentioning that the California high-speed rail system proposal settled on a final price of $68 billion. That system is simply leagues behind Hyperloop in terms of the concept, speed and just about everything else. So we should maybe cut Hyperloop One some slack and let them get on with building the first installation in Dubai that will handle commercial freight.
The first Hyperloop will carry containers from the Jebel Ali port to a depot that is 18 miles inland. That should cost $936 million, according to the company’s own figures. More importantly, it will give Hyperloop a real-world testbed and case study so that it can work on reducing the costs and improving the system.
Hyperloop is a truly stunning concept that has the potential to serve as a Metro system for the entire world. Nobody really knows how it will develop as yet, but there is real potential for it to link the major cities in Europe, North America and other continents. That could slash our reliance on planes for shorter journeys and inevitably economies of scale will kick in and drag the price down at some point.
So take these numbers with a pinch of salt, as widespread adoption of Hyperloop will ensure they come down. Even if they don’t, a system like this could have a much more profound effect on the world at large than Tesla Motors could ever hope to and it could simply be the price of progress.