Sydney to Melbourne in 40 minutes: Hyperloop idea pitched to government

From Adelaide to Melbourne travel time would be just over 30 minutes; Melbourne to Canberra, 23 minutes; Canberra to Sydney, 14 minutes; and Sydney to Brisbane, only 37 minutes

A hyperloop proposal to transform Australia’s transport system is once again being spruiked, with eye-watering speeds outlined.

The potential for a hyperloop system to transform Australia’s transport system is once again being spruiked in a new proposal to the federal government.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies has made a submission to a government inquiry asking it to consider the benefits of the high-speed technology.

The hyperloop system would allow capsules contained within large tubes to travel as fast as aeroplanes, with a maximum speed of 1223km per hour.

At this top speed Australians could travel between Sydney and Melbourne in under 40 minutes, Melbourne and Canberra (about 23 minutes), Canberra and Sydney (14 minutes) and Sydney and Brisbane (37 minutes).

But the technology, which was first dreamt up by Elon Musk in 2012, has not yet been proven.

No system has yet been built in the world, although Virgin Hyperloop One has built a full-scale test system in Nevada and HyperloopTT is constructing a short 320 metre system in France as part of a facility to test it.

Image of a proposed ‘Hyperloop’ by Los Angeles-based company HyperloopTT.

HyperloopTT is now hoping the Federal Government will fund an innovation hub to help prove the technology is safe, efficient and feasible.

It also wants the government to take a leading role in evaluating and regulating standards for the autonomous systems and to fund a study comparing various modes of autonomous travel.

Many are sceptical the point-to-point technology will work, although its potential benefits could be transformative.

Defence Industry Minister and Queensland MP, Steven Ciobo, has previously urged the Queensland Government to consider the technology as a fix for the congested M1 Brisbane to Gold Coast motorway. He became a supporter of the technology after visiting the Hyperloop One headquarters in the United States and said it had been proven in test sites in Nevada and San Francisco.

The Queensland government said it had “no business case” but Mr Ciobo has vowed to explore its feasibility despite the state’s lack of interest.

HyperloopTT says its system could allow land travel to be as fast as flying.

The ‘capsule’ in the tube-based system would run from Adelaide to Brisbane at around 1,1223 km/h and pass through major cities along the way

Musk has made the technology open source so that other companies like HyperloopTT can develop it.

The system basically involves using passive magnetic levitation and propulsion to move a capsule — potentially carrying about 38 passengers — through a large windowless tube.

Air pressure in the tube would be reduced to almost nothing so the driverless capsule could travel at high speed without friction.

HyperloopTT suggests the system would use less electricity than a conventional maglev system and renewable energy could also be used to power it, reducing its costs.

The system would also be virtually silent and because people travel within a tube it’s less susceptible to weather events or delays caused by wildlife accidents.

In its submission, HyperloopTT notes that fencing a high-speed road corridor against kangaroo strikes could cost about $2 billion, and also stops animals from passing through the area.

People and animals could around the infrastructure unlike trains that cut the landscape in half.

People would travel in capsules inside a tube.

But Professor Rico Merkert of the University of Sydney’s Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies told news.com.au earlier this year that hyperloop was a “pie in the sky” project.

“Hyperloop is way too expensive; it’s not feasible at the moment because you need a very straight line and any curve in it would be unpleasant for passengers and the sheer distance between the capitals destroys the economics,” Prof Merkert said.

Hyperloop companies say the technology is cheaper than building fast-rail and passengers would feel comfortable.

HyperloopTT suggests the system would be particularly suitable for Australia as it’s most competitive (compared to conventional rail or air) over distances between 700km and 1500km.

At distances of between 400km and 800km existing rail services are already competitive with air travel, while above 800km high-speed rail has trouble competing with flying.

A hyperloop could connect cities on the east coast.

The company points out that the motorway distances between cities like Sydney and Melbourne (898km); Sydney and Brisbane (919km); and Melbourne and Adelaide (726km); are particularly suited to hyperloop technology.

A system connecting Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane would serve more than 10 million people. Adding Adelaide, Canberra, the Southern Highlands and Gold Coast would give access to more than half of Australia’s population across 2000km.

A hyperloop from Sydney to places like Canberra, Nowra, Port Macquarie and Orange would offer significant decentralisation opportunities.

Submissions for the inquiry into the use of automation and new energy sources in land-based mass transit closed on December 7.

What is the Hyperloop? Here’s everything you need to know

Conceptual early stage hyperloop test track

There are of course drawbacks. Most notably, moving through a tube at such high speeds precludes large turns or changes in elevation. As a result, the system is optimal for straightforward trips across relatively level terrain.

California is, of course, susceptible to earthquakes, and the Hyperloop design takes this into account. The tubes would be mounted on a series of pylons spread along the route, each pylon placed every 100 feet or so. The pylons will allow for slip due to thermal expansion and earthquakes, ensuring that the tubes will not be broken by any such movement.

Overview of conceptual early stage hyperloop test track

Overview of conceptual early stage hyperloop test track

Realistically, the most important problem in getting any project off the ground is money, doubly so when talking about a public work. Even if one can produce an impressive blueprint, there are still issues of public approval, legislation, regulations, and contractors to worry about. Fortunately, The Hyperloop would be a cost-saving measure, especially when measured against the corpulent rail project currently underway. Musk’s white paper for the Hyperloop estimates the total cost could be kept under six billion dollars. Meanwhile, phase one of the California high-speed rail project is expected to cost at least $68 billion.

THE HYPERLOOP COMPETITION AND RECENT DEVELOPMENTS

Although Elon Musk postulated the idea, SpaceX is not developing a commercial Hyperloop of its own. Instead, it has held various competitions to encourage students and engineers to develop prototype pods. To facilitate this, SpaceX built a one mile test track in California.

On January 30, 2016, the SpaceX Hyperloop design competition concluded. More than 100 prototype pod designs were submitted, and 27 teams have won the chance to test their designs on the SpaceX Hyperloop test track in June 2016. A team of grad students from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) won Best Overall Design. According to the MIT team, the pod is lightweight and emphasizes speed and safety, including a fail-safe brake system. Whereas many Hyperloop designs use air jets to levitate, the MIT design uses two arrays of neodymium magnets to keep the pod aloft. Additional magnets inside the pod keep it stable as it races along the track. The power of the prototype was impressive, though it’s still very far from a commercial product given it currently lacks space for passengers or even cargo.

In January 2017, the long-running SpaceX Hyperloop competition wrapped up with “Competition Weekend I,” in which completed pods raced on the test track. A team from Delft University in the Netherlands took the top prize.

Delft Hyperloop, the overall winner of the first hyperloop pod competition ever!

Although this particular contest is over, the Hyperloop project is far from finished, as companies and governments around the world explore the concept. For its part, SpaceX will be holding another competition from August 25-27. In HyperLoop Pod Competition II, contestants will strive to attain the highest maximum speed. SpaceX has published the list of entrants, which includes some of the teams from the first contest.

The unveiling of the Quintero One

The unveiling of the Quintero One

On October, 2018, HTT showed off its first passenger capsule, dubbed Quintero One. The capsule is 105-feet long, the Quintero One weighs five tons, and is made from two layers of a material HTT calls “vibranium.” Although HTT’s vibranium isn’t a product of Wakanda, it is the “safest material on earth,” according to co-founder and CEO Dirk Ahlborn, who goes on to say that vibranium, which is a carbon fiber material lined with sensors, can “actually sense integrity” and “monitors impact.” HTT’s capsule consist of two layers of vibranium, so even if the first layer suffers damage, the capsule can survive until it reaches safety.

Bibop Gresta, chairman of HTT, says that the capsule “will be fully optimized and ready for passengers” in 2019. Gresta also emphasizes that HTT has “taken major steps in solving government regulations with our safety certification guidelines and insurance frameworks,” which suggests that the company may be close to getting a legitimate, accessible Hyperloop to consumers.

There’s no guarantee that anything concrete will come out of these competitions, though. They are a way for engineers and companies to exchange knowledge and maybe get the ball rolling to make the Hyperloop system a reality at some point down the line. Like a world’s fair expo, it’s a place for visions of the future to become a little bit clearer.

Developments abroad

While SpaceX’s contest was a good showcase for engineering students, the Hyperloop concept has also garnered interest from businessmen. Startups such as Hyperloop One (formerly Hyperloop Technologies) and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies(HTT) are working on Hyperloop systems of their own, and what they lack in clever naming they make up for in ambition. Both companies are building their own test tracks, and a few years ago, HTT announced partnerships with Oerlikon Leybold Vacuum, an engineering firm specializing in vacuum technology, and Aecom, an international corporation providing technical project support. The companies will receive stock options in exchange for their involvement.

Artist impression of the future with hyperloop transport

Artist impression of the future with hyperloop transport

Artist impression of the future with hyperloop transport

Artist impression of the future with hyperloop transport

Artist impression of the future with hyperloop transport

Artist impression of the future with hyperloop transport

Artist impression of the future with hyperloop transport

HTT’s partnership with Oerlikon and Aecom was a massive development. International, publicly traded companies have deemed the Hyperloop concept solid enough to invest in. They also bring with them much-needed experience: Oerlikon has been a leader in vacuum technology since the dawn of the 20th century, while Aecom has been involved in many high profile engineering projects such as the Cape Town Stadium. This partnership represents a tremendous vote of confidence in the Hyperloop, and brings much needed legitimacy to a project that had been, until recently, a pipe dream.

January 2016 proved to be a big month for Hyperloop progress. HTT applied for a permit to begin construction on a test track along the I-5 freeway in Quay Valley, California. Meanwhile, Elon Musk’s SpaceX, progenitor of the Hyperloop idea, partnered with Aecom to build its own test track in Hawthorne, California. With three test tracks currently in development, the Golden State is at the forefront of Hyperloop development.

In March 2016, HTT announced its intention to build a network of Hyperloop tracks connecting Vienna, Bratislava, and Budapest, with Slovakia serving as a hub between the three.

In May 2016, Hyperloop One showed off its prototype system at a test track in Las Vegas.

At an April 2017 conference called “Vision for America,” Hyperloop One revealed several proposed tracks that it could build across the United States. The proposed routes include a track uniting Dallas, Houston, and Laredo — and stops in between — with a total transit time of roughly an hour or less. Throughout the proposals, the company laid out economic benefits — a route from Chicago to Pittsburgh could create an “economic megaregion” — and environmental ones; Hyperloop One noted that a proposed track from Orlando to Miami could avoid the Everglades.

It is a detailed presentation, offering a look at the many factors these startups are taking into account.

It remains unclear whether commercial Hyperloop systems will ever be widely adopted. As the global population swells and the environment declines, however, better mass transit systems will become essential. Leonard Bernstein once claimed that great endeavors require two things: “a plan, and not quite enough time.” The plan for the Hyperloop is there, but how much time do we have?

Source: Charis Chang, “Sydney to Melbourne in 40 minutes: Hyperloop idea pitched to government”, News.com.au, December 29, 2018. Aidan Wondracz, “Sydney to Melbourne in 40 MINUTES: Ultra high-speed trains could soon slash inter-state travel times across Australia with top speeds of more than 1220km/h”, Daily Mail Australia, December 2018, 2018. Will Nicol, “What is the Hyperloop? Here’s everything you need to know”, Digital Trends, December 27, 2018.

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Sydney to Melbourne in 40 minutes: Hyperloop idea pitched to government