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Hyperloop plan revolutionises high speed rail, says developer

The Californian Hyperloop could revolutionise travel and undermine the validity of spending multiple billions on high speed rail systems worldwide, according to one of the futuristic transport scheme’s prominent developers.

Current high speed rail is based on outdated concepts including restrictive standardised rail gauges, said Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) chief operating officer and deputy chairman Bibop Gresta on Wednesday.

“We need evolution,” Gresta said. “Rail gauges are based on Roman measures of the width of two horses’ rear ends,” said, adding that this fact might not be exactly true. However, he stressed that devising a truly new transport system could prove much cheaper than refreshing a traditional rail guage based idea.

His organisation is one of a few taking up the mantle of the scheme first proposed by serial entrepreneur Elon Musk to devise a super fast 1,220km/h low pressure tube transport system that could take 3,400 passengers an hour on the 610km journey between San Francisco and Los Angeles in the US. Travel time would be just half an hour.

 Bibop Gresta, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies chief operating officer and deputy chairman

Source: Shaun Waldie)

Bibop Gresta, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies chief operating officer and deputy chairman

Speaking at engineering technology firm Basestone’s Construct//Disrupt event – a fringe event to Digital Construction Week – Gresta said Musk developed the concept amid frustration at what he saw was great inefficiencies in the $68bn (£44bn), 14 year long California High Speed Rail scheme, which broke ground earlier this year and will also connect the state’s two largest metropolitan areas but with journey times of just under three hours.

In stark contrast, the Hyperloop could cost £6.5bn or even as little as £3.9bn if technologies being developed by his organisation work out, with costs recouped within six years.

Gresta also challenged traditional ticket pricing concepts. One of the fears associated with development of high speed rail, including the UK’s High Speed 2 (HS2) scheme, is that recouping the multi-billion pound price tag drives up operators’ ticket prices.

“Are tickets really the best way to monetise people?” he asked. “The travel can be free – we don’t only have to think about advertisers [to make travel free]. There are other ways but we’re not going to disclose how right now.”

He said that the system could be deployed in the UK as a rival to HS2 and had the potential to be more ambitious in reaching further than the planned route to Manchester and Leeds or Sheffield – taking passengers from anywhere in London to Glasgow in 45 minutes.

HTT is breaking ground on an 8km long test track in Quay Valley, a new solar -powered city being developed midway between San Francisco and LA, at the beginning of 2016 with the aim of it being complete by 2018, where maximum speeds will be trialled.

Final permissions were also being sought in the next couple of weeks to install what Gresta said would be the world’s longest billboard for advertising to run alongside the track.

Echoing the unconventional scheme is the unconventional way HTT has been set up. Some 500 engineers from 21 countries – equating to 80 new people coming on board each month – have committed their time and expertise. Students and professionals will be offered stock options in the organisation instead of a salary.

“We’re not a company, we’re a movement,” Gresta said, by way of explanation of how his largely crowd-sourced organisation works.

The aim is for HTT to go public on the US Nasdaq possibly before the end of this year.

The challenge is still to determine how the system works. Described as a “capsule full of people in a low pressure tube on pylons that goes really fast” each will replicate the same atmosphere in a plane when it goes above 11,000km and the plan is to make each capsule self-sufficient with its own ventilation and other systems in place.


Ambitious: American hyperloop plan for fast Los Angeles-San Francisco link

“We over-engineered the pylons not only to withstand earthquakes but also to see the pylon holistically,” Gresta added. “The pylon is an ecosystem – they can be vertical gardens and harness wildlife. We can collect rainwater and humidity.

“We’re not hippies. It’s because it’s good for the planet but also because it’s profitable,” he said.

The crowdsourcing of ideas is not limited to those who can make a direct technical contribution to the scheme. A “community” of 20,000 are involved with decision-making, including giving feedback on potential new routes, if the first option is proven to work.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Total door to door time is the important measure but 45 min for anywhere in London to Glasgow is unlikely as it can take 45 min to get to a terminus in either city. Moreover increasing the number of stops slows a train. O.08g accel/decal + 1 min stop means that a stop adds 3min to journey time at 200mph.

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