The prototype hyperloop tube in North Las Vegas. REUTERS / Steve Marcus
The prototype hyperloop tube in North Las Vegas. REUTERS / Steve Marcus

A Los Angeles company working to make a 30-minute trip between Southern California and San Francisco a reality took a major step forward Wednesday when it used a prototype motor to propel a train over 100 mph along a stretch of track in North Las Vegas.

Hyperloop One is among several companies competing to bring to life a technical vision by Elon Musk, the founder of rocket maker SpaceX and electric car company Tesla Motors, who suggested sending pods holding passengers and cargo inside giant tubes from Southern California to San Francisco.

The technology could allow speeds of up to 800 mph, and carry both both people and cargo.

Brogan BamBrogan, a former SpaceX engineer who co-founded Hyperloop One, called the test a major milestone.

“Technology development testing can be a tricky beast,” he said to a crowd of 300. “You never know on a given day if things are going to work exactly like you want.”

The sled began on a train track and then was rocketed to 105 miles per hour by electromagnets as electricity was shot into copper coils. After a short ride, the sled ran into a sand trap, sending out silicon sprays. If all goes according to plan, sleds will levitate and carry pods in a test later this year. Gigantic tubes already are scattered around the Las Vegas area test site.

Company Chief Executive Rob Lloyd on Wednesday forecast a hyperloop would transport cargo by 2019 and passengers by 2021.

“We’re practicing large, fast construction that includes robotic welding — techniques that allow us to create a perfect production level,” he said. “What people think takes years should take quarters.”

Musk created a stir by saying California could build a hyperloop from San Francisco to Los Angeles for around $6 billion, a 10th of the cost of the state’s high-speed rail project.

Skeptics say real-world challenges ranging from construction permits to making the new technology work mean the costs are likely to be far greater.

“The hyperloop might be promising, but it’s still unproven and just an idea. High-speed rail is a proven technology that’s been in use around the world for decades,” said Lisa Marie Alley, a spokeswoman with the California High Speed Rail Authority.

A hyperloop, she said, will run into the same challenges of any other large infrastructure project, including funding, right of way, environmental permits, approvals and clearances. “None of it is easy,” she said.

Reuters and City News Service Contributed to this article.

Chris Jennewein

Chris Jennewein is Editor & Publisher of Times of San Diego.