Are we one step closer to zipping around in pods at hundreds of miles per hour? One company would like us to think so. Hyperloop One announced last week that 10 winners have been selected in their global competition for potential Hyperloop routes.
The hyperloop was the brainchild of tech entrepreneur Elon Musk. Musk proposed the hyperloop as a form of passenger and freight transportation in which pods travel at incredible speeds through nearly frictionless tubes, essentially allowing for Jetson-like travel between cities at a highly reduced time.
The CEO and founder of Hyperloop One, Shervin Pishevar, met Musk during a 2013 humanitarian trip to Cuba and presented Musk’s white paper on the Hyperloop to President Obama only months later. Less than a year after that, Pishevar had founded his own company, Hyperloop Technologies, Inc. (now Hyperloop One), in a garage. Mobilizing his extensive background in venture capital to get the project off the ground, he has already funded one of the world’s first full-scale systems test of a Hyperloop project on a test track in the Nevada desert.
The company announced its selection of 10 winning teams from a pool of 35 semi-finalists. The winners demonstrated the “strongest routes” for potential Hyperloop lines. The list will not seem intuitive to many, but below are the routes that were selected.
488 miles, proposed travel time: 47 minutes
640 miles, proposed travel time: 46 minutes
257 miles, proposed travel time: 25 minutes
400 miles, proposed travel time: 39 minutes
414 miles, proposed travel time: 50 minutes
339 miles, proposed travel time: 47 minutes
- Mexico City-Guadalajara
330 miles, proposed travel time: 38 minutes
208 miles, proposed travel time: 23 minutes
685 miles, proposed travel time: 63 minutes
Why did a route from Cheyenne to Pueblo win, you may ask, rather than one that connected San Francisco to Los Angeles or New York to D.C.? In Hyperloop One’s global competition, the latter two routes weren’t proposed to begin with, for what we can only speculate are political reasons. Both are routes that Musk has talked openly about his proposals for creating under the auspices of two companies he’s CEO of – SpaceX and Tesla.
According to Hyperloop One’s website, however, the Colorado route would support the state’s “population growth and emerging industry sectors,” such as biotechnology, technology and aerospace. The route between Bengaluru and Chennai would support an industrial corridor that is becoming “one of the fastest growing economic regions in India.” The link between Edinburgh and London even aims to – by the company’s humble claim – “reduce the country’s socioeconomic inequalities and rebalance growth in the region.”
Of course, behind such grandiose language there’s a much more complicated story. The selection of winning routes entails no commitment to actual construction in the future, but rather to technical and feasibility studies to see whether each of the proposed projects are economically feasible and commercially viable. AECOM will serve as an engineering consultant for the Colorado route.
A vital question remains: Who is Hyperloop for? Surely a form of transportation with such astronomical construction costs won’t be cheaper than an Amtrak ticket, and the company hasn’t detailed its ticket pricing plans. Some skeptics have argued that if Hyperloop One had any real commitment to equity in transportation, maybe those same funds would be better reallocated to repairing the nation’s existing, decaying infrastructure. Those who have experienced the New York City metro system’s “summer of hell” will probably understand this argument intimately.