A Photo Tour of the World's First Hyperloop Track
All images: Jason Koebler

A Photo Tour of the World's First Hyperloop Track

Behind the scenes at the hyperloop's public coming-out party.
May 11, 2016, 9:00pm

Wednesday, I was part of the first group of people to ever see the hyperloop test track that's being built about a 35 minute drive north of Las Vegas.

It's only been five months since Hyperloop One, which is seemingly the only serious hyperloop company at the moment, broke ground on the track, which is so remote that—if you can believe it—there's not even a Snapchat geofilter for the site.

The propulsion test, which ran on a track and not inside a tube, was the first time anyone has seen anything concrete having to do with the hyperloop, Elon Musk's futuristic "fifth mode of transportation" that comes with lofty promises of sending people 700 miles per hour down a partially pressurized tube.

The test used magnetic induction motors to propel a metal sled a little over 100 mph down the track. Hyperloop One set no public goals for the test, but said it was successful nonetheless. The goal here was to make the sled move at all—not to necessarily make it move fast.

The company billed Wednesday's test as a "pre-Kitty Hawk moment" for an entirely new method of transportation. If that's the case, it'll be a revolution that happened surrounded by a bunch of cacti and scored by mid 2010s dance hits like "Doses and Mimosas." I'll have a full report from the test site tomorrow, but in the meantime here are behind the scenes photos from one of the most exciting engineering projects around.

This is the start of the track—the metal sled is propelled using magnetic induction motors located along the side of the track. Right now, the power comes from nearby generators that have been trucked in for the test. The motors turn "on" as the sled moves past them—the next step is for the motors to turn off after it passes by, which will lead to energy savings. "It's like turning off a light after you leave the room," Josh Giegel, Hyperloop One's senior vice president of engineering told me.

For today's test, about 200 people sat on bleachers overlooking the track. They were mostly Hyperloop One employees, early investors, venture capitalists, and media. Tuesday, Hyperloop One announced it had raised an $80 million Series B round of investing. The shed you see there is the "pit area," which you'll see in detail in the next photos.

Engineers who worked on this test signed a white board in the pit area.

The electric shop.

A closer look at the work benches—anyone wanna explain what the stuff scribbled on the whiteboard means?

The paint shop.

Last-minute alterations to the sled are done here.

There are an astounding number of highly entertaining signs scattered throughout the test site.

There are also an astounding number of 12-foot-in-diameter steel pipes. These would presumably be the tubes that the hyperloop goes through, but ultimately that may not be the case. Giegel says they went with standard water pipes for the moment because the team wanted to prevent the "number of miracles in succession" the company needs to make the hyperloop a reality. He says production tubes will be something different. In any case, there are lots of tubes scattered around the test site, and they're fun to look through, climb on, etc.

There's basically nothing out here in the desert save for a nearby solar power plant. Hyperloop One is based in Los Angeles, but a smaller team of about a dozen engineers spends much of their time out here, in what is basically the middle of nowhere. Most of that team sleeps in Las Vegas, but a couple on the team camp out or stay in RVs in the parking lot. One of the RV owners also souped up a coffee truck, which is constantly onsite. Hyperloop One cofounder Brogan BamBrogan says the coffee there is "the best in the world." I didn't get a chance to test out his claim.

Hey, how'd that pipe get up there on the pylon?

With the help of a massive tractor, of course.

Here's a mockup of the sled, which wasn't used in today's test.

Within an hour of the test finishing, the grandstands were being taken down, a video board that broadcast the test was gone, and people who may have just witnessed history were loaded back into their over air-conditioned buses. The next time we see the test track will probably be in December, when Hyperloop One hopes to have a full-sized prototype working.