- Hyperloop would transport people at 670mph (1000kph) between locations
- One firm working on the technology is Virgin Hyperloop One
- The firm has previously said that an operational system will be ready by 2021
- But the Department for Transport has cast doubt on this timeline in a new paper
- Key concerns include public acceptance and building around dense populations
- The DfT says the ‘scale of the technical challenges involved’ will mean a Hyperloop system is unlikely to be ready for decades
Hyperloop systems could revolutionise transport around the world – but while the UK will get one, it could be a while before we see such a system in Britain.
One firm working on the technology is Virgin Hyperloop, which has previously said that it aims to have an ‘operational system’ ready by 2021.
But the UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) says that this is unlikely to be the case.
Instead, the DfT claims that it is likely to be ‘at least a couple of decades’ before an operational Hyperloop system is ready, due to the ‘scale of the technical challenges involved.’
They claim the ‘topology of the UK, its dense population and intensive land use’ may delay the roll-out of Hyperloop in Britain.
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While Virgin Hyperloop One has previously said that it aims to have an ‘operational system’ ready by 2021, the UK’s Department for Transport (DfT) says that this is unlikely to be the case
WHAT IS HYPERLOOP?
Hyperloop is a proposed method of travel that would transport people at roughly 670mph (1,000 kph) between distant locations.
It was unveiled by Elon Musk in 2013, who at the time said it could take passengers the 380 miles (610km) from LA to San Francisco in 30 minutes – half the time it takes a plane.
It is essentially a long tube that has had the air removed to create a vacuum.
The tube is suspended off ground to protect against weather and quakes.
Hyperloop is a proposed method of propelling passengers and freight in pods through low pressure tubes at speeds of up to 670mph (1,000 kph).
It was unveiled by Elon Musk in 2013, although he is no longer involved in the project.
The DfT has published a paper this week titled: ‘Science Advisory Council Position Statement, Hyperloop, Moving Britain Ahead.’
The paper looks at the technical feasibility of a Hyperloop system (not specifically Hyperloop One), and how this technology could be utilised in Britain’s future transport infrastructure.
The DfT describes the system as ‘transformative’ and claims that it could allow commuters to ‘live anywhere within the country and easily commute great distances.’
Virgin Hyperloop One is developing a method of propelling passengers and freight in pods through low pressure tubes at speeds of up to 670mph (1,000 kph)
But the DfT isn’t optimistic about Virgin Hyperloop One’s ambitious timeline of having an operational system ready in just four years.
The paper says: ‘The topology of the UK, its dense population and intensive land use may make Hyperloop construction more difficult and costly than in other locations.’
The DfT claims that finding a suitable route above ground could prove a challenge, and as a result, the system may need to be built underground.
The DfT claims that finding a suitable route above ground could prove a challenge, and as a result, the system may need to be built underground
But the paper adds that building underground ‘would have a significant impact on capital costs and would make maintenance and emergency evacuation more difficult.’
Another issue raised in the paper is whether the radical nature of Hyperloop will raise some issues around passenger acceptance.
The paper adds: ‘It will be critical for the success of the systems to demonstrate to passengers that Hyperloop systems will operate with the highest levels of safety and reliability.
Pictured is Richard Branson, who announced last month that his firm, Virgin, was investing in Hyperloop One
Another issue raised in the paper is whether the radical nature of Hyperloop will raise some issues around passenger acceptance
– Cheyenne to Denver to Puelbo (360 miles / 580 km)
– Chicago to Columbus to Pittsburgh (488 miles / 785 km)
– Miami to Orlando (257 miles / 413 km)
– Dallas to Houston (640 miles / 1,000 km)
– Edinburgh to London (414 miles / 660 km)
– Glasgow to Liverpool (339 miles / 545 km)
– Cardiff to Glasgow (657 miles /1,057 km)
– Bengaluru to Chennai (208 miles / 335 km)
– Mumbai to Chennai (685 miles / 1,100 km)
– Mexico City to Guadalajara (330 miles / 530 km)
– Toronto to Montreal (400 miles / 640 km)
‘Similarly it will be important to ensure that passengers do not feel unduly confined within passenger pods and do not experience excessive or uncomfortable g-forces.’
As a result of these issues, the DfT suggests that it is likely to be ‘at least a couple of decades’ before an operational system is ready.
Hyperloop One and Richard Branson, founder of Virgin, are yet to respond to the paper.
Hyperloop One is in the early stages of making the technology commercially viable after completing a full-scale test in Las Vegas.
In the system, passengers and cargo will be loaded into a pod, and accelerated gradually via electric propulsion through a low-pressure tube.
The pod quickly lifts above the track using magnetic levitation and glides at airline speeds for long distances due to ultra-low aerodynamic drag.
During its second phase of testing, Hyperloop was able to reach speeds of 192 miles/hour (310 kilometres/hour) – although it was only able to maintain this for 10.6 seconds.
Virgin Hyperloop has so far listed three main routes in plans to build in the UK.
A route from London to Edinburgh is expected to take 50 minutes, as will the route from Cardiff to Glasgow.
And the ‘Northern Arc’, which will travel from Liverpool to Glasgow via Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle and Edinburgh, will take just 47 minutes.
As a result of these issues, the DfT suggests that it is likely to be ‘at least a couple of decades’ before an operational Hyperloop One system is ready
The technology is currently being tested at the DevLoop site, just outside Las Vegas.
Sir Richard said: ‘The total ‘DevLoop’ tube length is 500 metres [1,600 ft] and the tube’s diameter is 3.3 metres.
‘The maximum length of propulsion segment used is 300 metres, with an advanced proprietary levitation system throughout the DevLoop Tube.’
COMPANIES BEHIND HYPERLOOP
After a year-long search for the most promising Hyperloop routes, the firm looking to bring Elon Musk’s radical idea to life has finally announced the winners.
Among thousands of applicants, Hyperloop One has chosen 10 routes in four countries including the US, Mexico, India, Canada, and the UK.
In total, they would cross 53 urban centres and span a total of 4,121 miles (6,600 km), connecting almost 150 million people.
The firm, which Elon Musk is not associated with, plans to have three of the routes up and running in a commercial capacity by 2021.
A number of companies will be involved in delivering the routes themselves, and the technology behind them.
Elon Musk’s Boring Company
Musk may be behind at least one of the routes, in a bid to speed up adoption of the radical travel technology he invented.
In July, the Tesla and SpaceX CEO tweeted he had ‘verbal government approval’ to build an underground tunnel to transport passengers between New York and Washington DC in just 29 minutes.
And in August, Bloomberg reported that he plans to build the whole system himself.
‘While we’re encouraged that others are making some progress, we would like to accelerate the development of this technology as fast as possible,’’ said Musk’s Boring Co in a written statement at the time.,
‘We encourage and support all companies that wish to build Hyperloops and we don’t intend to stop them from using the Hyperloop name as long as they are truthful.’
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) have already begun construction on the first passenger capsule, and it could be available early next year.
According to the firm, their pods will be able to carry a total of 164,000 passengers every day, departing every 40 seconds.
HTT and Spanish firm Carbures have started work on the radical pod that they say will be the first passenger capsule in the world.
A video teasing the construction process shows a glimpse at the inside of a futuristic capsule that could fit 28-40 passengers at a time.
The Hyperloop pod, which will be tested at the company’s Toulouse headquarters, will harness passive magnetic levitation and a low pressure tube to hit unprecedented speeds.
Global engineering firm Aecom, who built Hyperloop One’s test track, is backing a number of proposed routes for the high speed technology.
This includes the Miami to Orlando and Dallas to Houston routes in the US and the Edinburgh to London route.
It is expected they will be involved with the construction and engineering side of these routes.
In a written statement on the company’s website, a company spokesman said: ‘Aecom is the only engineering company in the world to have planned, designed and constructed Hyperloop projects.
‘By embracing a relentless drive to stay ahead of the curve, we anticipate complex challenges and unleash the creativity, ingenuity and visionary thinking of a global innovation powerhouse to imagine solutions that revolutionise the way we connect people and places.’