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Opinion: A TransPod hyperloop line in Alberta would place the province at the forefront of technological leadership

By Thierry Boitier, Director of Procurement and Business Development, TransPod

It is a common sight: new innovations and technologies are often targets for skepticism.

We’ve seen this happen time and again with innovations that have proven themselves and become staples in our lives — petroleum, light bulbs, the telephone, trains, planes, automobiles, the Internet, the iPhone… the list goes on.

A healthy amount of skepticism combined with an openness for learning is the basis for innovation by testing ideas and challenging them to be better. Skepticism alone is a form of denialism that hampers growth and progress.

Here at TransPod, a Canadian-based company that is building a leading hyperloop system to redefine and improve commercial transportation, we are no strangers to conversations about the potential for hyperloop technology to drastically improve the way we live and work.

We are currently in discussions with governments and institutions about a number of projects, and are in the process of designing and building a test track in France (slated for construction in March, 2020). Forward-thinking organizations are working with us to ensure their economies benefit from this innovation.

In fact, the European Union has just approved 19M euros, or $28 million CAD, in funding to support TransPod’s industry-leading hyperloop research and development in Italy and France.

As a Canadian company, we have been working to ensure that Canada reaps the benefits of TransPod’s innovative technology, and Alberta is one of our main focuses for development. In fact, over the past year, we’ve been meeting with officials in Alberta, to discuss the feasibility of developing a research and development headquarters in the province.

Direct response to the high-speed rail opinion piece

TransPod is part of a global network of industrial leaders in the aeronautics, space, rail, and infrastructure industries developing the pods that would carry passengers and cargo through a Hyperloop track.

In a recent opinion piece published in LiveWire Calgary, which advocated for high-speed rail over hyperloop, there were a number of misconceptions that were shared about hyperloop technology.

We’d like to take this opportunity to share some information that will hopefully help readers to become more familiar with the technology and benefits, so you can make informed opinions.

First, the hyperloop concept is not new — it actually dates back to 1904. Elon Musk popularized the idea in a paper he published in 2012. At this point in time, most of the technical challenges of hyperloop technology that could not be solved centuries ago can now be overcome by current technologies.

We know how to fly pressurized cabins 36,000 feet above the ground, and we know how to build safe vacuum chambers, as well as submarines. Four up-and-running demonstration sites in the USA and in Europe prove that hyperloop tubes can be built and operated in a safe manner.

Acceleration of pods is controlled

A TransPod hyperloop system can travel upwards of 1000km/h. Contrary to what some may believe, this is not a problem for the human body, because we don’t feel speed. Acceleration is what we feel when a train departs or slows down, and we control it.

In a TransPod hyperloop system, it will be similar to the acceleration of a train or a streetcar. To make turns, the TransPod vehicle tilts – or banks, to make it as comfortable as possible for passengers. The feeling will be similar to that in a plane when it is turning before landing, for example.

Taking this into account, TransPod hyperloop lines will be used in either straight applications (such as Calgary to Edmonton) or will consider large curves, depending on the geography.

If the curve is a tight one, the vehicle will slow down, for example when approaching the stations, or in mountainous areas. It should be noted that hyperloop lines will not be built everywhere, just like how high-speed train lines or highways are not built everywhere. This is why companies such as TransPod are conducting preliminary feasibility studies to identify the right locations where hyperloop lines could be built, and where they would be beneficial.

Hyperloop doesn’t need underground construction

In regards to the opinion piece’s claim about the difficulties that winter would present to a hyperloop line: Water utilities are buried because water freezes in winter when the temperature reaches zero degrees.

Hyperloop lines utilize steel construction — and steel does not freeze. Neither does vacuum.

In fact, hyperloop lines overcome many challenges other forms of transportations face in the winter. The vehicles circulate in their own guideways, unobstructed by rain, fog, snow, branches, birds, trees, people, animals, etc. When trains are delayed because of a snowstorm, when airports are closed because of bad weather, when roads are icy and unsafe, hyperloop pods will continue to travel, unaffected by weather conditions.

While trains (both slow and polluting diesel trains as well as electric high-speed trains) are indeed a proven technology, so were horse-drawn carts before the train was introduced. The high-speed railway is not profitable, and not so convenient. The TransPod hyperloop is faster, more affordable, more convenient, and less disruptive to the environment.

Hyperloop advantages over current technology

Specifically, it shows several advantages over the current modes of transportation:

  • Ultra-fast and frequent passenger transport: It greatly exceeds the speed capability and frequency of trains, cars, and planes, and provides an on-demand service similar to a subway ride but designed for much greater distances. This will transform cities into metro stops and dramatically enhance labor market access.
  • High-speed delivery of goods: It addresses markets for e-commerce, just-in-time delivery, and industrial processes by offering same-day deliveries for industrial/commercial shipping and urgent business parcel delivery. Besides manufacturing and business shippers, this system will impact agricultural and food product industries by reducing spoilage caused by low-speed trucking of perishable products.
  • Increased safety: It reduces highway congestion and road accidents between cities, decreasing economic losses due to traffic delays and low speeds, as well as lowering maintenance costs on highways.
  • Reduced greenhouse gas emissions: Rather than using fossil fuels on board, the vehicles pick up the tube infrastructure’s electrical power via a third rail. The grid-tube power is regionally generated and delivered by grid, taking advantage of high-efficiency power plants (or solar/wind). This grid power can also be supplemented with photovoltaics optionally integrated to the TransPod infrastructure.
  • Footprint and right-of-way: TransPod lines are elevated above ground and do not disturb current infrastructure networks (roads, train lines, etc.) nor agricultural activities. On the contrary, a high-speed train infrastructure requires a 40-meter-wide corridor, on the ground, cutting fields and properties in half.

Operation of hyperloop from Edmonton to Calgary

A TransPod line between Calgary and Edmonton would operate from 5 a.m. to midnight, similar to a subway system. Passengers do not need to book their tickets in advance, and do not have to worry about missing their departure. They would show up at the station and board the next vehicle, which would depart only a few minutes after boarding.

Passenger and freight vehicles can simultaneously travel in the infrastructure. The throughput of the line is optimized as passengers would travel during peak hours, and express freight would be transported out of peak hours.

TransPod’s proposal to Alberta is to connect the cities and airports of Calgary, Red Deer, and Edmonton. More stops could be considered, but they need to be carefully studied as there is a fixed cost associated with the construction of each station.

A high-speed train departs every hour, and stops at every station, even for a few passengers, extending the overall travel time for most of the passengers. TransPod vehicles are smaller and more flexible. The departure is every two or three minutes, and the vehicles don’t stop at a station if no passenger needs to embark or disembark the vehicle. This makes it much more convenient than conventional trains.

The cost of acquisition of the rolling-stock and the cost of the operations, when weighed against the financial and socio-economic benefits of a TransPod hyperloop line in Alberta, prove it makes sense for Albertans.

Significant tech, economic benefits with hyperloop

A TransPod hyperloop in the region would significantly help to diversify the economy, create jobs, retain talent, and place Alberta at the forefront of high-tech development in the country and around the world. The environmental and economic benefits of a TransPod system would fundamentally improve growth and quality of life in the province.

TransPod already has private investors on board ready to finance the project of building a test track in Alberta. When the project is proven and successful, the investors are ready to further finance the full working line.

In other words, we can significantly improve the quality of life in Alberta at no cost to the taxpayer.

And we think that’s an amazing thing.