A railgun is a device where two magnetically charged rods rapidly carry a projectile up a track until it goes flying out of a barrel. Suck out all the air and you can get up to speeds in excess of 5000 miles an hour. And the guy who built Tesla Motors, Elon Musk, wants to put people in these things. But it’s not as insane as you might think.
Musk has been talking up his Hyperloop, a transit concept, for a few weeks now, although the full plan hasn’t been revealed yet, and will need substantial tinkering before it actually becomes a product. But the basic idea seems to be this: You get into a pod in a tube, all the air gets sucked out of it, and it uses magnetic levitation to throw you between Los Angeles and San Francisco at six hundred miles per hour, turning an eight-hour car ride into a half-hour trip.
Musk isn’t really reinventing the wheel, here: His basic idea boils down to a vacuum train. Vactrains have existed in theory, but has never actually been built, because it requires an engineer with billions of dollars to waste to actually build the damn thing and work out all the kinks.
Fortunately, Elon Musk is an engineer with billions of dollars to waste. And, as much as we like to mock him for being a wee bit pissy, the man has been a trailblazer and a savvy businessman when it comes to electric vehicles, and is pretty much single-handedly building the infrastructure to make these things work. If the US goes largely gasoline free in the next decade, it’s going to be at least partially because Musk proved there was money in it.
In short, as insane as building a train system that consists of firing yourself out of a cannon sounds, if anybody can make the damn thing work, it’s Musk. He just should be sure to route any PR questions to a professional as he’s building it.