Posted 10th November 2017 | 6 Comments

Hyperloop could be ‘a couple of decades’ away

A REPORT from the Science Advisory Council has concluded that a 1,000km/h Hyperloop network is feasible in this country, ‘although an operational Hyperloop system is likely to be at least a couple of decades away’.

Hyperloop was first proposed in 2013 by the American entrepreneur Elon Musk, when he outlined a tube-based system where pods transported passengers or freight at very high speeds in a low friction environment.

Since then, the prospect has intrigued a number of potential developers, who are currently working on commercial versions.

One such organisation, Hyperloop One, delivered a presentation to the SAC. However, the Committee said its report concentrates on the general concept rather than any individual proposal.

Hyperloop systems are intended to operate at very high speeds, with short headways of as little as 10 seconds between pods travelling at up to 1,000km/h in a sealed, low pressure tube. The Committee warned that this ‘introduces a range of risks that will require careful consideration in the design and operation of Hyperloop systems’. 

These risks include the implications of emergency braking at very high speeds, power failure, protection from physical and cyber-attack and the protection and evacuation of passengers if a tube or pod became depressurised.

The Committee also concluded that the topology of Britain and its intensive land use could make Hyperloop construction more difficult and costly than in other countries, which could mean that such a line could have to be built partly or completely underground. Extensive tunnelling would add to construction costs and could also have safety implications, such as making evacuating passengers in an emergency more difficult.

One problem will be ‘selling’ the idea to prospective passengers, recalling some public reluctance to travel on the earliest railways in the 1830s or by air in the last century. The committee said: “It will be critical for the success of the systems to demonstrate to passengers that Hyperloop systems will operate with the highest levels of safety and reliability. Similarly it will be important to ensure that passengers do not feel unduly confined within passenger pods and do not experience excessive or uncomfortable g-forces.”

The report added: “The United Kingdom has a significant level of relevant expertise and experience from its strong academic and industry base to support the worldwide development and delivery of Hyperloop systems.” Some ‘proof of concept’ demonstrations are planned over the next twelve months by a number of Hyperloop developers.

Writing in the September 2017 edition of Railnews, Jeremy White, who is director of transport at design agency Seymourpowell, said: “There are some mighty technical issues to contemplate before Hyperloop can be realised, but these will be solved with time and the right investment. The bigger challenge however will be to convince people to choose this mode over more acceptable, conventional, and traditional forms of transport.”

Reader Comments:

Views expressed in submitted comments are that of the author, and not necessarily shared by Railnews.

  • Dave, Stockport

    People will die at more than 15mph, man will never fly, it's impossible to get to the moon - how true did they all turn out to be. And what of the visionary engineers that pressed on regardless of the naysayers! This will be a great form of transport when (not if) the challenges are solved. Engineering ingenuity will do what it's always done and challenge the art of the possible. How good will it be to open up new destinations and to reduce the time spent getting there...

  • Jonathan Brain, Hertfordshire

    Every now and again I pop over to Australia for an hour or two.
    Using an early version of Startrek Transporter - the internet...

  • Stuart, Plymouth

    I love the Hyperloop concept: take the most expensive to build current land transport technology (maglev) and find a way to make it even more expensive. Just in case enclosing a maglev in a low pressure tube isn’t expensive enough, Elon Musk is now proposing to bury the tubes in tunnels.

    I guess this kind of thinking is to be expected from someone who thinks he’s going to colonise Mars by 2040... I think that’s more likely than a large scale Hyperloop system in the same time period.

  • PeterC, Crawley

    The biggest challenge is not whether people would travel on Hyperloop, but how (or if) it could ever be built. If HS2 is an example, it could never be built on the surface as the Nimbys would be out in force. How much would a tunnel from London to (say) Manchester cost? It might work in the Arizona desert but not in the UK.

  • Chris Neville-Smith, Durham

    Oh no, not Hyperloop again. One of the worst pieces of techno-snake oil in history.

    I could list all the things wrong with the Hyperloop idea, but the obvious one is that if Elon Musk is so convinced Hyperloop is going to be a success, why is he not funding it himself? Not having the time to do it is no excuse - he can simply set up a company and appoint a manager to do the job for him. If he's right about Hyperloop, his investment will hasten its delivery and make him one of the richest men on the planet, if not the richest.

    A far more plausible motive is that he wants to kill high speed rail in California so that he can sell more electric cars. ("But why are we building Victorian technology when 21st-century technology is around the corner?) Of course, should Hyperloop actually turn out to be possible, that would also dent his electric car business, but when people find out how much Hyperloop is really going to cost and how long it's really going to take to form a viable system, that will likely get canned too.

    When someone produces a prototype that does something conventional transport doesn't do, we can take it seriously (and no, all we have at the moment is a Maglev system that goes slower than existing Maglev). Until then, you may as well be promising the personal jetpack.

  • Bill D, Millom

    It'll be here about the same time as Fusion Energy, then! I feel that the safety case will be the hard part to produce.