Back in 2012, Canadian business magnate, investor, engineer, and inventor Elon Musk proposed the idea of “Hyperloop,” a so-called “fifth mode of transport” at a PandoDaily event in Santa Monica, California. The Hyperloop would be immune to weather, collision free, move at double the speed of a plane, offer lower power consumption, and be operational around the clock.
In May of 2013, Musk coined the new project a “cross between a Concorde, a railgun, and an air hockey table.”
Through the start of 2014, Hyperloop came to fruition thanks to engineers from both SpaceX and Tesla, both companies that were also started by Musk. According to preliminary designs, the pods used to transport passengers would accelerate to a cruising speed of around 700 miles per hour (1126 km/h) using a linear electric motor. An ideal system would be far more energy-efficient, quiet, and autonomous than any preexisting modes of mass transit in history.
In recent years, starting back in 2015, SpaceX began building a 1-mile-long (1.6 km) test track to test pod designs supplied by third parties involved in a design contest. The first clear-cut frontrunner was that of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), whose design was based on an electrodynamic suspension. Earlier this year, the MIT-designed pod demonstrated the first ever low-pressure Hyperloop run in the world, reaching around 200 mph (321 km/h).
The initial routes Hyperloop will operate have also been decided via a competition, with 10 winners. The following routes will be served via Hyperloop in due time:
Toronto – Ottawa – Montreal (Canada, HyperCan)
Toronto-Montreal: 640 km (397 miles) in 39 minutes
Toronto-Ottawa: 450 km (280 miles) in 27 minutes
Ottawa-Montreal: 190 km (118 miles) in 12 minutes
Cheyenne -Denver – Pueblo (United States, Rocky Mountain Hyperloop)
Denver-Greeley: 64 km (40 miles) in 6 minutes
Denver-Fort Collins: 129 km (80 miles) in 9 minutes
Denver-Vail: 121 km (75 miles) in 9 minutes
Denver-Colorado Springs: 118 km (73 miles) in 9 minutes
Colorado Springs-Pueblo: 65 km (40 miles) in 6 minutes
Miami – Orlando (United States, Florida Hyperloop)
Miami-Orlando: 414 km (257 miles) in 25 minutes
Dallas – Laredo – Houston (United States, Texas Triangle)
Dallas-Houston: 789 km (490 miles) in 46 minutes
Dallas-Austin: 322 km (200 miles) in 19 minutes
Austin-San Antonio: 121 km (75 miles) in 8 minutes
San Antonio-Houston: 346 km (215 miles) in 21 minutes
Laredo-San Antonio: 242 km (150 miles) in 16 minutes
Chicago – Columbus – Pittsburgh (United States, Midwest Connect)
Chicago-Pittsburgh: 785 km (488 miles) in 47 minutes
Chicago-Columbus: 493 km (306 miles) in 29 minutes
Columbus-Pittsburgh: 292 km (181 miles) in 18 minutes
Mexico City – Guadalajara (Mexico, Mexloop)
Mexico City-Guadalajara: 532 km (331 miles) in 38 minutes
Mexico City-Queretaro: 190 km (118 miles) in 13 minutes
Queretaro-Leon: 184 km (114 miles) in 12 minutes
Leon-Guadalajara: 205 km (127 miles) in 13 minutes
Edinburgh – London (United Kingdom, HypED)
Edinburgh-London: 666 km (414 miles) in 50 minutes
Edinburgh-Manchester: 330 km (205 miles) in 24 minutes
Manchester-Birmingham: 143 km (89 miles) in 12 minutes
Birmingham-London: 193 km (120 miles) in 14 minutes
Glasgow – Liverpool (United Kingdom, Northern Arc)
Glasgow-Liverpool: 545 km (339 miles) in 47 minutes
Glasgow-Edinburgh: 68 km (42 miles) in 7 minutes
Edinburgh-Newcastle: 193 km (120 miles) in 14 minutes
Newcastle-Leeds: 158 km (98 miles) in 13 minutes
Leeds-Manchester: 71 km (44 miles) in 7 minutes
Manchester-Liverpool: 55 km (34 miles) in 6 minutes
Bengaluru – Chennai (India, AECOM India)
Bengaluru-Chennai: 334 km (208 miles) in 23 minutes
Bengaluru-Chittoor: 178 km (111 miles) in 12 minutes
Chittoor-Chennai: 156 km (97 miles) in 11 minutes
Mumbai – Chennai (India, Hyperloop India)
Mumbai-Chennai: 1,102 km (685 miles) in 63 minutes
Mumbai-Bengaluru: 817 km (508 miles) in 47 minutes
Bengaluru-Chennai: 285 km (177 miles) in 18 minutes
Other proposed routes:
Sydney-Melbourne, Tallin-Helsinki, Madrid-Tangier, Bastia-Cagliari, Berlin-Hamburg, Eilat-Tel Aviv, Amsterdam-Lelystad, Glasgow-Cardiff, Cheyenne-Houston, Reno-Las Vegas, Kansas City-St. Louis, Shanghai-Hangzhou, Warsaw-Wroclaw, Los Angeles-San Diego, Seoul-Busan, Seattle-Portland, Vancouver-Calgary
With the routes announced, such as Chicago-Pittsburgh, Dallas-Houston, and Mumbai-Chennai, short-haul air travel is at a huge risk if Hyperloop truly lives up to its expectations. Not only will the new train system be far more efficient, but will save travelers the incredible inconvenience of showing up to the airport, checking in, boarding, security, and all of the other hassles that can turn a 30-minute, 200 mile flight into a 2-3 hour ordeal.
With Hyperloop truly threatening the future of short-haul air travel, the aviation industry will need to make a move quickly in order to counter the aggressive expansion and growth Hyperloop is forecasted to show. Despite not being anywhere near the speed requirements and land permits needed to start construction on tunnels, bridges, and stations, Hyperloop is the first of what should be many developments made in the near future that will provide the public with a safer, faster, and more inexpensive method of transport between large metropolitan areas.
Thanks to inventors and smart brains such as Elon Musk, the future is nearing quicker and quicker each year. Musk has also began working on SpaceX, a space transport company that is supposedly going to be the first business to promote the idea of lunar tourism and potentially the populating of the Moon and Mars, as well as The Boring Company, an infrastructure and tunnel construction start-up that has expressed interest in building a complex tunnel system underneath the city of Los Angeles to alleviate traffic problems the city experiences.
Perhaps the looming question is, “what will happen to aviation amongst all of this development?”
Well, obviously assuming Hyperloop does get off the ground and launches in 2022 per say, short-haul air travel will take a significant hit temporarily. The one aspect of Musk’s development that has not been confirmed yet is the costs of travelling this way and the construction costs underneath such expensive land in land-constrained areas like London and Montreal. Initial estimates say the hypothetical Los Angeles-San Francisco Hyperloop could cost as much as US $6 billion for a passenger-only variant, and as much as $7.5 billion for a larger-dimension version that can transport vehicles and cargo. Musk has claimed that initial studies show a $20 one-way ticket per person will be able to cover construction costs assuming 7.5 million passengers use Hyperloop each year.
Of course, using the 2022 time frame as an estimate as to when Hyperloop launches is just a guess, and at the current rate at which the aviation industry is growing, who knows how much more developed flight will be 5 years down the line. At current forecasts, a one-way ticket between the cities mentioned could potentially be as low as $20, but in a monopolized industry we are seeing more of every day, economists and airline executives alike are scratching their heads as to how airfares can significantly drop in the near future to accommodate for more swift ways of transport that are posing a serious threat to air travel.
Many still believe air travel will stay on top of the travel pyramid for the forseeable future, using the argument that some major metropolitan areas such as those in Europe, Latin America, and the east coast of the United States are simply too close together for a high-speed rail network to be effective. Routes with heavy demand such as New York-Washington, New York-Boston, Sao Paulo-Rio de Janeiro, Amsterdam-Munich, and Barcelona-Madrid feature cities simply too close together and in too densely populated of areas to ever make Hyperloop a truly feasible option.
Another problem high-speed rail faces is the simple fact that the Earth is covered 71% by water, and building tunnels to connect continents is simply unrealistic at best. For travel between huge financial and tourism hubs different corners of the planet, air travel simply cannot be beaten. It is the quickest, fastest, and least expensive way to connect continents without facing the issues a rail network faces, such as noise abatement, underground construction, and route deviations.
It entirely depends on who you ask to get a true opinion on how the future of air travel sits with newer technologies coming online, but it’s safe to say our love and passion, the aviation industry, is here to stay for a while longer.
Featured photo from Virgin Hyperloop One.