Virgin Hyperloop One, one of several companies working a version of the hyperloop, announced Wednesday, Oct. 17 that their first feasibility study had been completed, which confirmed that the concept is viable in Missouri.
The concept of a hyperloop was first proposed by SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk in 2013. It is a ground-transport system designed to carry passengers and freight at speeds, in theory, over 700 mph. It is a very complicated system but, put simply, it is basically a super high-tech, futuristic version of a train. You have the track, which in this case is a low-pressure tube which drastically reduces the speed lost to friction, and you have the train cars, which are pods that are raised above the track, using either magnetic levitation or a cushion of pressurized air. The pods are piloted by a computer and theoretically safer than all other forms of transportation.
When hyperloop routes eventually come to the U.S. they would provide countless benefits. Say you really want to go to the beach in California but you live in the Midwest. A ride on the hyperloop would take less than three hours, compared to an almost six-hour plane ride. It is also much cheaper than a plane ride, with much less hassle – turning a stressful trip that would take at least a couple days into a relaxing trip that would let you go to the beach and be back at your home within the day.
They would not only carry passengers but also cargo – fresh produce and seafood could be transported straight to restaurants around the country extremely quickly. You could potentially order something on Amazon, and it would be on your doorstep within a few hours. The country would be connected like never before, opening the door for tremendous economic development.
Since Musk’s original proposal several companies have begun working on their own variation of the Hyperloop, including Virgin Hyperloop One – the company that conducted the feasibility test in Missouri. There have been several proposed routes, like one between Los Angeles and San Francisco, but Missouri is the first location in the U.S to pass the feasibility test as of now.
The proposed route in Missouri would connect Kansas City, Columbia and St. Louis and run parallel to I-70. It would allow people in Kansas City to travel to St. Louis in about half an hour, and people in Columbia could get to either city within fifteen minutes. By comparison, it is a roughly four-hour drive, depending on traffic, from Kansas City to St. Louis. It is a fairly straight route over flat ground, which is part of the reason that the Missouri location is the first proposed route in the U.S. to pass a feasibility test.
While the Missouri study left out official cost projections of building the Missouri Hyperloop, Elon Musk estimated in his original proposal that the California route would cost about $11.5 million per mile to build. If it costs around that much per mile to build the Missouri hyperloop, the grand total would be close to $3 billion, although these numbers could easily change.
A hyperloop would potentially bring many benefits to Missouri. It would allow Kansas City and St. Louis to better compete against bigger cities in terms of jobs, company relocation and the like. It would almost unite the two cities, forming a megacity of sorts, the likes of which haven’t been seen in the U.S. before.
For citizens, the price of a ticket on the Hyperloop is estimated to be less than the cost of gas from Kansas City to St. Louis, saving them money and time. According to the study, it would also generate more than $500 million in annual benefits through the combined travel time savings and accident reductions.
In general, people are somewhat skeptical about the idea of a hyperloop. There are many questions, mostly regarding safety and cost, that Virgin Hyperloop One attempts to answer on their website.
It is reasonable for people to be skeptical. It doesn’t seem feasible that traveling in pods at speeds of almost 700 mph could be in any way safe. If you look at the concept of a hyperloop, it sounds like something out of a science fiction movie.
However, a hyperloop route would have to go through a lot of testing and trial runs, and would not be approved if it were not safe. So while some skepticism about safety is expected, it is theorized that the hyperloop would be one of the safest forms of transportation, and it is highly unlikely that we see routes in the U.S. if that isn’t the case.
It will probably be at least a decade before we see fully operational hyperloop routes here in the U.S.
The reason for this is more about policy than anything else. There is a significant amount of standards and regulations that must be met, cooperation from different levels of government and countless other obstacles that have to be overcome. For these reasons, it is likely that the first fully-operational hyperloop routes will be in countries with fewer regulations.
This hasn’t stopped Hyperloop One and other companies from beginning the process of transforming the hyperloop from a theory into a reality here in the U.S. Feasibility tests are being conducted all over the country, and an actual Hyperloop was tested in Nevada earlier this year.
The Heartland Hyperloop is still a ways away from becoming a reality, but with the feasibility test, it has become a possibility. We may not have flying cars, but with innovations like the hyperloop, we are getting closer and closer to “Back to the Future’s” vision of the 21st century.
Photo courtesy of Reuters Newslook.