While it was indeed Elon Musk who first conceptualized the idea of the Hyperloop that would see passengers racing at nearly the speed of sound to their destinations, Musk simply presented a white paper in 2013 and encouraged others to get involved as he’s just too busy. Musk has largely stepped away from the project but Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) have really stepped it up.
Both Hyperloop companies in talks to bring it to the UK
In a recent article in WIRED, Alan James, the head of Hyperloop One’s international business development who formerly worked on UK high-speed rail, confirmed that his company (as well as competitor Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT)) have been in conversations with Innovate UK which is the investment agency which decides what transportation plans will see the investment of the nation’s resources.
While a London and Manchester connection would be welcomed by many and, in theory, allow for travel between the two cities in about 20 minutes, James pointed out that Hyperloop One is interested in “making Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds a great single city” by connecting them via its hyperloop.
“Hyperloop could connect all the great cities of the English north not just to London, but to each other,” said James. “Making Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, effectively a single city, for instance.”
The friction-less environment brought by the hyperloop’s vacuum tube is perfect for the UK as well as the rest of Europe and beyond if the aforementioned companies are able to continue their work, get the goverment investments they need an keep charging through the hurdles they encounter.
In addition to the crazy speeds that the technology can reach, it can do it on the “cheap” but getting rid of the need for tunnels simply by raising the tubes above the ground on a series of stanchions.
While both companies will have to put safety first, the two are charging ahead to a future that could see the hyperloop carrying both cargo and people within five years if not even a bit sooner. If the two are able to show these advances, you may begin seeing countries considering high-speed rail systems putting those projects on the back burner in order to see the progress being made by HTT and Hyperloop One.
Innovate UK has shown interest in the project
According to James, so far “there’s been quite a strong response” from Innovate UK.
“Innovate UK has taken the lead on that. It is joining together the department of Business, Innovation and Skills, and DFT [Department For Transport], to produce a coordinated response to the hyperloop opportunity.”
“It’s very early stages,” a spokesperson for the investment group recently told WIRED. “This is a really exciting technology and we’re following it with interest.”
In addition to conversations with Innovate UK, Hyperloop and HTT have been in conversations with the owners of the Manchester Canal route, the Peel Group, about a hyperloop between Liverpool and Manchester.
James is selling the hyperloop against the HS2 “which is currently, I believe, the most expensive railway project humanity has ever undertaken, on a per-kilometre basis,” said James believing that the hyperloop would not only be faster but cheaper.
“To take a UK example, London to Manchester would be 18 minutes. With High Speed Rail, we could reduce the journey time from London to Stoke from one hour 24 minutes to around one hour. With Hyperloop, we can reduce it to around 14 minutes.”
In order to potentially move the hyperloop into the UK, Hyperloop One has partnered with the engineering firm ARUP who sees tunnels as perhaps the way to go along with stanchions to make the UK hyperloop dream a reality.
“You could anticipate it could be quite cost effective,” said John Miles, an engineer at ARUP. “Our angle is looking at: what if we could build the first of its kind development here in the UK? What would the routes look like? I think Hyperloop has the potential to bring the London Underground experience to the national picture.”
Hyperloop routes without a working prototype?
While all this talk is quite exciting it’s important to remember that neither company has anything close to a working hyperloop at present though they promise they are getting closer each and every week. While others work on the pods’ designs (MIT won a SpaceX sponsored event earlier this year) the two companies are more interested in propulsion and working test tracks to make this technology a reality.
It should also be noted that there remain a number of prominent engineers who still believe the new means of transport to be a mere pipe dream.