A Hyperloop route running from Chicago, Illinois to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is one of a few possible routes chosen as a finalist by Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One. Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Columbus, Ohio will be major hubs on the proposed route. The “Hyperloop” is a relatively new concept popularized by PayPal, Tesla, and SpaceX founder, Elon Musk. The technology, essentially a pneumatic tube, has been around for decades, but never as a serious contender to airline travel. Essentially, a vacuum is created in front of the transport vessel, in an enclosed cylindrical tube, which accelerates the vessel in a controlled way until it reaches top velocity, which is massive.
How Fast is the Hyperloop?
On Hyperloop One’s website, it’s estimated that one can travel from Melbourne to Sydney in 55 minutes. Google Maps estimates this distance at 867 kilometers or approximately 539 miles. Doing some quick math the resulting average speed is 588 mph. While that seems very fast for land travel, some estimate that the top speed of this technology ranges anywhere from 700 to 760 mph.
The proposed ticket cost has not yet been made public as it is still a prototype, but Hyperloop One touts it will be “airline speeds for the price of a bus ticket.” Commercial airliners typically travel at subsonic speeds--around 500 to 600 mph. The hyperloop, as stated above, travels at an average speed of 588 mph although the top speed is much higher than that. Since the speeds of these methods of travel are comparable and Hyperloop One claims that it can sustain service at the price of a bus ticket, then at the very least, the hyperloop is a viable alternative to airline travel. It would be the only transportation option for individuals that would otherwise not be able to afford an airline ticket.
What it Means For Participant Cities
Using the average speed for the Melbourne to Sydney calculation of 588 mph, a passenger could get from Chicago, IL to Ft. Wayne, TX (163 miles) in under 17 minutes, Ft. Wayne to Columbus, OH (158 miles) in under 17 minutes, Columbus to Pittsburgh, PA (185 miles) in approximately 19 minutes, and Pittsburgh all the way back to Chicago (506 miles) in approximately 53 minutes. With current automobile technology, these routes take 3 hours 4 minutes, 2 hours 44 minutes, 2 hours 53 mins and 8 hours 41 minutes, respectively.
The Hyperloop is not a new technology, it has not been proven viable at this scale or at these speeds. For instance, if acceleration is too great then people will be affected negatively by the Delta Gs they experience. There is also an issue with the sheer magnitude of the enclosed tube--200 miles of the air-tight enclosure is quite a feat. This technology is also particularly susceptible to earthquakes.
Hyperloop One is working feverishly to alleviate any problems that could arise from this technology. Its teams of scientists and engineers are continually refining the technology. With every disruptive technology, it is sure to have some hiccups--nothing that we can’t solve, but hiccups nonetheless.
Another harrowing facet of this mode of transportation is that at speeds this fast, the route must be as straight as possible. The Gs experienced from a bank could make passengers sick. According to one article published by PBS, “The top speed of the fastest commercial bullet train, the Shanghai Maglev, hovers around 300 mph. But at this speed, it would require a banked curve with a radius of 4,400 meters to keep passengers from losing their lunch.” The Hyperloop would be traveling at 2.5 times that speed. Since the Hyperloop boarding stations would likely be located in densely populated areas in the urban core keeping a straight path through these areas may prove to be difficult or require extensive demolition.
The Hyperloop is elevated, but it may need to run above existing highways, roadways, and rails to be viable. Indeed, this is easily achieved but may add millions to the price tag of any particular stretch of Hyperloop tube.
Why is This Exciting?
For the first time in history, it will be affordable to live in Pittsburgh and work in Chicago, as the current method of airline travel is prohibitively expensive. For the price of a bus ticket, someone with this commute could get to work in 53 minutes. Similarly, it would take someone who lives in Columbus around 34 minutes to go shopping in Chicago’s “Magnificent Mile,” if they were feeling whimsical and needed something to fill their evening.
As a resident of Columbus, this is great news for my city. If chosen, the hyperloop route will pair nicely with the recent “Smart Vision” of the U.S Department of Transportation $40 million Smart City Challenge. It will offer economic and cultural growth in fading Rust Belt cities. It will also offer affordable and convenient travel for the urban poor who will now have better access to economic opportunity and mobility in hyperloop member cities. The Smart Cities Challenge is more akin to this sector, but the hyperloop will only bolster this effort.
Access to equitable transportation is a huge issue for the those who cannot afford it. The single occupancy automobile is the dominant mode of transportation in the United States and if one is unable to afford such, then you are left with limited opportunity for employment and entertainment. The hyperloop could help alleviate the ills that result from this double problem by expanding access to both entertainment and employment.
MORPC will spend between now and the event date expanding its proposal for the Chicago-Fort Wayne-Columbus-Pittsburgh route by partnering with public and private groups. Other proposals of note include Seattle to Portland, Miami to Orlando and Austin, Dallas and Houston.
What innovative transportation methods have come to your city? Would you take the Hyperloop? Share your thoughts and your city’s stories in the comments area below.
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.
Update: The event to announce the winning proposal was held in the nation’s capital on April 6th.