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Opinion: Forget hyperloop – high-speed rail is sustainable, proven technology to connect Alberta cities

This piece is co-authored by Justin Simaluk, CET, Willem Klumpenhouwer PhD, and Thomas Fryer PEng.

Alberta Regional Rail / Albertans for Regional Rail / @RailAlberta

If only the residents of Springfield on The Simpsons would have listened to Marge.

All Marge wanted was to fix Main Street. Then that smooth-talking Lyle Lanley came along and convinced the town that what they needed was something they didn’t need at all: A monorail.

Hyperloop is our monorail.

RELATED: (2018) Hyperloop startup seeks $9.5 million from Calgary Economic Development fund

The concept isn’t new. A “vacuum train” was first proposed in 1904 by Robbert Goddard while attending Worcester Polytechnic Institute. While some brilliant minds have worked on hyperloop proposals, there are some serious challenges involved in shooting a passenger missile in an airless environment.

The first problem is pressure. Hyperloop consists of a person in a pressurized capsule in an airless tube, propelled by magnets. This requires an object which has more pressure inside than out (e.g. an airplane), and a tube with more pressure outside than in (e.g. a submarine).


Hyperloop is an airplane, inside a submarine, hundreds of kilometres long.

The second problem is speed. Hyperloop proposes moving people at speeds of upwards of 1000km/h, propelled by magnets. Because humans can only withstand so much acceleration, turns are next to impossible. Airplanes handle this problem by making large, banking turns on a cushion of air.

Then there’s winter. Just as all water utilities need to be buried to avoid freezing and cracking, Hyperloop would have to be buried as well. Tunnelling, as we’ve seen most recently with Calgary’s Green Line, where they’ve opted not to dig, is extremely expensive. As a comparison, Japan’s Tokyo-Nagoya 286km mag-lev train, mostly buried underground, is estimated to cost CAD $60 billion.

That makes the $6 billion price tag quoted for Hyperloop a literal pipe dream.

Not hyperloop: Proven tech that’s connected cities around the world

Enter the humble train; a proven technology used around the world to connect cities and boost economic growth. A high-speed train could bring passengers core-to-core in under 90 minutes, and even a conventional train with some upgraded track could provide a safe, comfortable, and sustainable trip to Edmonton faster than chancing it on the highway.

Connecting the province’s two urban centres with fast, reliable transportation unlocks a huge amount of opportunity for Albertans. Each city can benefit from the best of the other, and each town in-between is now brought closer to the urban centres.

All for potentially less than the cost of a ring road.

That’s right. The last Calgary-Edmonton high-speed rail estimates (Van Horne Institute, 2013) sit at between $2.6 billion and $5.6 billion. Edmonton’s Anthony Henday ring road was over $4.0 billion.

The world knows how to build railways. The price tag is right.

Let’s take Marge’s advice. Fix our Main Street in a way we know how.

2013 HSR Update December Report by Darren Krause on Scribd