How many hurdles stand in the way of hyperloops becoming a commercial reality?
- Hyperloops are a new type of transportation technology that involves vacuum tubes and passenger pods traveling at ultra-fast speeds.
- Although no commercial hyperloops exist yet, a handful of companies around the world are building test tracks, some in partnerships with national governments.
- Hyperloops could prove to be a faster and more environmentally sustainable form of transportation than flying and high-speed rail, though many obstacles remain.
Artist rendering of Virgin Hyperloop passenger pod
Virgin Hyperloop<p>Hyperloop companies, which would be overseen by the Federal Railroad Administration, would also have to sort out issues related to <a href="https://www.railwaygazette.com/dont-believe-the-hype-about-hyperloop/46126.article" target="_blank">headway</a>, maintaining a vacuum in the tubes, emergency exits, government regulations, <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03081060.2020.1828935" target="_blank">passenger capacity</a> and the simple possibility that people might not want to shoot through a vacuum tube at 600 mph.</p><p>(On that note: It's unlikely that hyperloops would reach average speeds of 600 mph because the pods would need to accelerate and decelerate at slower speeds for safety and comfort reasons.)</p>
Virgin Hyperloop<p>But hyperloop technology is moving forward. In July, the U.S. government published a policy document intended to serve as a regulatory "<a href="https://www.transportation.gov/briefing-room/us-transportation-secretary-chao-releases-pathways-future-transportation" target="_blank">roadmap</a>" for hyperloop companies seeking to test their technology in the country. Virgin recently announced plans to build a $500 million <a href="https://www.theverge.com/2020/10/8/21507532/virgin-hyperloop-one-certification-center-west-virginia" target="_blank">"certification center" in West Virginia</a>, where the company will test future versions of its hyperloops, aiming to get government approval.</p><p>Virgin plans to build its first operational hyperloop in India, whose government has been in talks with the company since 2017. While still in the planning stages, the company hopes to have a commercial hyperloop up and running in India by around 2030.</p>
Underground tunnel built by the Boring Company
Boring Company<p>Virgin isn't alone in the hyperloop space. For example, there's Los Angeles-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, which is working on test projects in the United Arab Emirates, France, and Germany, where the company aims to move cargo through hyperloops. The company said it hopes to open its <a href="https://www.smartcitiesdive.com/news/hyperloop-transportation-technologies-commercial-service-2022/546820/" target="_blank">first commercial operation by 2022.</a></p><p><a href="https://hardt.global/" target="_blank">Hardt Global Mobility</a>, a Dutch hyperloop startup, hopes to build a 10,000-kilometer network of hyperloops throughout Europe. Meanwhile, Elon Musk's Boring Company is building underground tunnels designed for cars traveling short distances. But the company <a href="https://www.boringcompany.com/faq" target="_blank">says</a> its tunnels "are designed and built in preparation for their eventual transition to Hyperloop."</p>Some critics of hyperloop technology say it's a <a href="https://www.technologyreview.com/2016/05/10/159479/the-unbelievable-reality-of-the-impossible-hyperloop/" target="_blank">"utopian vision"</a> that's unlikely to pan out, while others note that hyperloops would essentially be maglev trains, but more expensive and faster (because the vacuum tube reduces drag). But if successful, hyperloops could not only decrease travel times, but also become a more sustainable form of transportation, <a href="https://www.constructionweekonline.com/projects-and-tenders/261881-zero-emission-powered-virgin-hyperloop-one-can-run-unplugged" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">potentially magnitudes more efficient than high-speed rail and flying.</a>
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies recently unveiled the Quintero One, a hyperloop passenger capsule that can travel at a top speed of about 760 mph.
- Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, or HTT, is one of several companies seeking to build the world's first hyperloop.
- HTT's new passenger pod can carry about 30 to 40 people, and the company plans to test it at a track in France.
- The CEO hopes to have a full-scale hyperloop up and running in about three years.
Artist rendering of a passenger capsule on track.
Image: HTT<p>HTT CEO Dirk Ahlborn hopes to have a full-scale hyperloop running in a few years.</p><p>"In three years, you and me, we can take a hyperloop," he told <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2018/10/02/ground-transport-at-760-mph-new-hyperloop-passenger-pod-unveiled.html" target="_blank">CNBC</a>, adding that widespread implementation of hyperloop systems could occur within five to 10 years. "It's definitely much sooner than anybody would expect," Ahlborn said.</p><p>Based in California, HTT has said it wants to be the first company to build a hyperloop in the U.S. In February, the company published a <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xy_7Az_v0CI" target="_blank">video</a> teasing the possibility of building a hyperloop that would connect Cleveland to Chicago, though Ohio officials said they'll need to complete a months-long feasibility test before HTT could potentially pursue the plans.</p>
Artist rendering of a hyperloop station.
Image: HTT<p>HTT plans to test Quintero One at a track in Toulouse, France. The company has already signed agreements with China, Ukraine and the United Arab Emirates to build full-scale hyperloops in the coming years.</p><p>In addition to HTT, two other companies are vying to build the first full-scale hyperloop in the U.S.: <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2018/04/29/richard-branson-wants-hyperloop-up-and-running-within-3-years.html" target="_blank">Richard Branson's Virgin Hyperloop One</a>, which he hopes to have ready within three years; and Elon Musk's Boring Company, which recently began building a prototype of a tunnel system that could someday <a href="https://www.theverge.com/transportation/2018/9/13/17856078/elon-musk-boring-company-underground-garage-hyperloop" target="_blank">connect residential garages to a hyperloop</a>.</p>
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