Tue 05 Jul 2016 - Projects

We Ran the Numbers on a European Hyperloop — And They Look Fantastic

Bruce Upbin Author

Bruce Upbin

VP of Strategic Communications

On Tuesday, FS Links and global accounting firm KPMG made public the results of a pre-feasibility study for a 500-kilometer high-speed Hyperloop One network connecting Finland and Sweden across the Aland Islands. Using Hyperloop technology, passengers (or cargo) could get from Helsinki to Stockholm in less than 30 minutes, compared with 3.5 hours via the airport or overnight by a ferry. Trips to Helsinki and Stockholm’s airports from city centers would be slashed to less than 10 minutes. An entire region of 5 million people would become a metro network, lifting property values and productivity along the route. Click here to download the FS Links/KPMG report.


FS Links, a multi-stakeholder consortium formed to bring the Hyperloop to the Nordic region, will now move to begin the full project scoping study required to secure funding and approvals to begin construction of a test section along the route. Assuming the project is funded and clears regulatory and safety hurdles, the domestic networks could take about 8 years to complete and the international link four years after that. The domestic sections in Sweden and Finland are viable stand-alone projects and can start generating revenue before the sea-crossing tunnel is complete, reducing commercial risk for the overall project. Hyperloop One, meanwhile, is aiming to demonstrate a full-scale, high-speed test of its track, vehicle and controlled-environment tube in late 2016 or early 2017.


The next step began last Friday when Hyperloop One and FS Links signed a letter of intent with the City of Salo, Finland to begin a detailed study of the first stage of the network: a 50-kilometer route west from Salo to the coastal city of Turku. A second stage of the proposal covers a 140-kilometer eastward extension from Salo to Central Helsinki and its airport. That link would cut travel time from Salo to downtown Helsinki or the airport to 10 minutes, and the trip from the historic capital of Turku to the current capital Helsinki would be only 12 minutes. That compares with up to two hours by train today, and even longer driving.


Let’s get the biggest number out of the way: 19 billion euros. That’s the estimated capital budget for the entire project, including tube, track, civil engineering, vehicles, and allowances for risk, overhead and project delivery costs. It even includes 3 billion euros to build one of the world’s longest marine tunnels through the Aland archipelago. That works out to 36.7 million euros per kilometer, or $64 million per mile. That’s a lot, and on the high side of what a Hyperloop could cost per mile, to be sure. But the speed, frequency and convenience of Hyperloop (non-stop journeys with departures every few minutes and cruising speeds nearing 1,000 km per hour) would slash transit time across the region, increase property values on the route and unlock new travel demand by creating a super-metro area of 5 million people.


The study projects that a completed system would quickly begin generating a surplus over operational costs and a capital surplus as well within 10 years once you factor in the wider economic benefits to the region. The project pegs the value of time saved over existing transport modes at 321 million euros a year. Greater Stockholm is growing at 30,000 people a year and has a serious housing crunch with a 13-year waiting list for a rental apartment. Sweden has announced plans to to add 210,000 new commuter homes, which could to be built around a new Hyperloop station in a less-expensive site well beyond current city limits. With Hyperloop, residents of these new locations wouldn’t spend hours a day commuting, they’d be in Central Stockholm in less than 8 minutes. Engineers who live in Salo, Finland (home of thousands of talented tech workers idled by Microsoft’s closure of its Nokia business) can now access good-paying engineering jobs in either Helsinki or Stockholm.


Annual revenue and operating profit for the entire 500-km system is projected at 1 billion euros and 814 million euros, respectively, based on forecasts of 42.7 million passenger trips a year at an average ticket price of 25 euros. Most of those trips, some 35 million per year, will take place within Sweden or Finland at ticket prices below 20 euros. It was crucial to the FS Links study to base its revenue numbers on the prices people are already paying for current modes of transport.


The FS Links study reinforces the cost advantage and flexibility that a Hyperloop One system offers over other advanced transportation alternatives. Assessing the costs of different transport infrastructure projects is very tricky because so much depends on terrain, price of land, business model and project finance structure. We’ve said that, generally speaking, a Hyperloop system can be built at 50% to 60% of the cost of high-speed rail because Hyperloop technology requires less intensive civil engineering, its levitated vehicles produce fewer maintenance issues and its electric propulsion occupies far less of the track than high-speed rail. With Hyperloop, passengers glide most of the way above the track in a near-vacuum tube with little air resistance. At 36.7 million euros per kilometer, a Baltic Super Region Hyperloop line comes in well under the 100 million euros per kilometer infrastructure estimate for the UK’s London to Birmingham HS2 rail project, just as an example. But it's important to remember that Hyperloop is a new kind of transport technology that can adapt to its environment in new ways.


Who’s going to pay for all this? There are many private and public options at our disposal. Governments at the city, regional, national and EU level may choose to fund the project or provide loan guarantees to a private entity based on the wider economic benefits FS Links can deliver in time saved, higher productivity, reduced pollution and wear-and-tear on roads. A transformational infrastructure project of this nature will have a profound impact on property values, in which case it could make sense to create a special-purpose vehicle to capture the value uplift of strategic urban and economic development and use it to contribute to the capital cost of the infrastructure. Given the size of the project, it will likely be a blend of public and private sector capital.


A recent precedent supporting the economic case for a Baltic super-regional Hyperloop is the Oresund fixed-link across the strait between Denmark and Sweden. In 2000, the two countries completed an 8km bridge and 4km tunnel for road and rail joined by an artificial island in the middle. About half of travelers take the rail service, which connects Copenhagen, its airport and Malmo in Sweden. The economic gains to date from the fixed link—7.7 billion euros—has far exceeded the 2.5 billion euros it cost to build it. Daily commutes between Copenhagen and Malmo rose from 2,800 to 18,000, split equally between highway and rail. Immediately after the opening, the volume of goods transported by rail increased 33% and the Oresund region saw 76,000 new jobs created in the first decade after the bridge opening. The bridge-tunnel is supposed to pay for itself by 2037.


The European Union’s Transportation Commissioner Violetta Bulc has put “disruptive innovation” at the heart of the EU’s transport policy. We look forward to working with the relevant EU programs to prove not only how Hyperloop disrupts conventional thinking, but also delivers transformational benefits. Thanks to our partners and contributors who worked on the FS Links study: KPMG, Ramboll, Volterra, Setterwalls, and the Railway Consultancy Ltd.


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FAQ

  • Q. What is Virgin Hyperloop?

    We're a privately-held company on a mission to create fast, effortless journeys that expand possibilities and eliminate the barriers of distance and time.

  • Q. Why are you building a hyperloop?

    There are too many people caught bumper-to-bumper in traffic, who have to make a hard choice with their family on where to live and work, and who are limited in their access to experiences and opportunities. We're building a system that will give back time and deliver the travel experience of the future.

  • Q. Why do we need hyperloop now?

    The number of cars is set to double worldwide by 2040, same with air and trucking. We are already dealing with the effects of pollution, lack of access, and congestion. If we only invest in the same technologies we’ve had for more than a century, tomorrow will look like today, only much worse. It’s been over a century since the Wright Brothers first showed us human flight was possible. It’s time for a new era in transportation capable of carrying us forward for the next 100 years.

  • Q. How much funding has Virgin Hyperloop received?

    To date, we have received over $400 million.

  • Q. Who are the key investors in Virgin Hyperloop?

    A major investor of ours is DP World, a leading enabler of global trade who sees the potential of sustainable hyperloop-enabled cargo systems. Additionally, we are backed by the Virgin Group, an industry leader across rail, aviation, ships, and even spacecrafts. For more on our investors, visit the company page.

  • Q. Does Virgin Hyperloop have any partners?

    Virgin Hyperloop One is the only hyperloop company that has a strategic partnership with a mass transportation company, the Virgin Group, an industry leader across rail, aviation, ships, and even spacecrafts. Another key partner of ours is DP World, a leading enabler of global trade who sees the potential of sustainable hyperloop-enabled cargo systems. Other industry-leading partners include KPMG, Foster + Partners, Systra, BIG, SNCF, GE, Deutsche Bahn, Black & Veatch, McKinsey, Deloitte, Jacobs, Turner & Townsend, ARUP, and Steer, among others.

  • Q. Is Elon Musk an investor or affiliated with Virgin Hyperloop?

    No, there’s no connection with Elon Musk.

  • Q. How do you plan to scale up operations around the world?

    We aren't just building a hyperloop; we're building a network of public and private partners to scale an integrated supply chain ecosystem. Our business model is based on partnerships that create local jobs and opportunities for those who choose to invest in this technology. We are working at the highest level of governments around the globe to put in place commercial agreements to make hyperloop a reality.

  • Q. What is hyperloop?

    Hyperloop is a new mode of transportation designed to eliminate the barriers of distance and time for both people and freight. It can travel at speeds approaching 700mph, connecting cities like metro stops - and it has zero direct emissions. The journeys can be booked on demand so there’s no wait time or delays.

  • Q. How does hyperloop work?

    With hyperloop, vehicles, called pods, accelerate gradually via electric propulsion through a low-pressure tube. The pod floats along the track using magnetic levitation and glides at airline speeds for long distances due to ultra-low aerodynamic drag.

  • Q. Has hyperloop technology been proven?

    On May 12th, 2017, we made history two minutes after midnight when we successfully launched our vehicle using electromagnetic propulsion and levitation under near-vacuum conditions at our full-scale test site in the Nevada Desert. We've since run hundreds of tests, acquiring validated knowledge that only comes from real-world testing. For more info on DevLoop, our 500 m test track, visit our progress page.

  • Q. How fast can hyperloop go?

    We estimate that the top speed for a passenger vehicle or light cargo will be 670 miles per hour or 1080 kilometers per hour. That is about 3 times faster than high-speed rail and 10-15 times faster than traditional rail. The average speed vehicles travel will vary based on the route and customer requirements.

  • Q. Why keep the tube at low-pressure and not at a perfect vacuum?

    A perfect vacuum would decrease the drag on the vehicle even more, but not significantly. We have already gotten rid of 99.9% of the air in the tube. Lower levels of vacuum than this are important if you are performing scientific experiments, but the cost would not be worthwhile.

  • Q. How is hyperloop different from high-speed trains?

    Hyperloop is an entirely new mode - think the best of trains, planes, and the metro. Hyperloop is on-demand, offering flexible travel schedules with no stops, no transfers, and no weather delays – all at speeds about 3 times faster than high-speed-rail and less cost. Hyperloop is highly efficient, with a smaller environmental impact than high-speed rail because the closed system can be tunneled below or elevated above ground, avoiding dangerous at-grade crossings. The VHO system is 100% electric and can reach higher speeds than high-speed rail for less energy due to our proprietary electric motor and low-drag environment.

  • Q. Is hyperloop safe?

    Fast, effortless journeys go hand-in-hand with journeys where everything works reliably without interference, and where all passengers feel comfortable and safe. The Virgin Hyperloop is designed to be inherently safer than other modes, with multiple redundancies in place. Our system operates autonomously in an enclosed tube and is not susceptible to weather delays, accidents from at-grade crossings, human error, or power outages. Our proprietary high-speed switching architecture eliminates unsafe track configurations and moving trackside parts, a failure point of traditional rail with mechanical switches.

  • Q. How do you plan to get hyperloop certified?

    As new mode, we have to prove our safety case to regulators and work with them to develop a regulatory framework, so passengers can ride the hyperloop in years not decades. We are encouraged by the support we are seeing at the local and federal level around the world to support hyperloop certification based on the fundamentals of safe operating that are already standard practice. In March 2019, the U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, created the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council to explore the regulation and permitting of hyperloop technology to bring this new form of mass transportation to the United States. This Council is an important step forward in recognizing hyperloop is a new transportation mode and that we need to shift our mindset and acknowledge that this technology does not fit into a regulatory structure that is over 100 years old. The European Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DGMOVE) has also been leading discussions with hyperloop companies to advance regulatory standards and, in India, the Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA), Prof. Vijayraghavan, has set up an independent committee called the Consultative Group on Future of Transportation (CGFT) to explore the regulatory path for hyperloop. For more, visit our regulatory progress pages.

  • Q. What will it feel like to ride hyperloop?

    While flying through a tube at more than 1000km/h might seem like a thrill ride, the truth is we are able to mitigate any uncomfortable acceleration forces within our controlled environment. The journey will be so smooth, you could sip a coffee the whole time without spilling a single drop. Normal acceleration and deceleration of 0.20 Gs will feel similar to a train. As a comparison, flooring a typical sedan gives between 0.4-0.5 Gs and commercial airplanes see 0.3-0.5Gs depending on the plane and load.

  • Q. What happens if there's a sudden breach in the tube?

    Pods will continue to travel safely to the next portal even with a large breach. Our response to a breach would be to intentionally repressurize the tube with small valves places along the route length while engaging pod brakes to safely bringing all pods to rest before it is deemed safe to continue to the next portal. A sustained leak could impact performance (speed) but would not pose a safety issue due to vehicle and system architectural design choices. This assessment is based in solid understanding and analysis of the complex vehicle load behaviors during such an event.

  • Q. Is hyperloop sustainable?

    Without a massive leap forward, pollution from the transportation industry is expected to almost double by 2050 - well above the carbon budget. By combining an ultra-efficient electric motor, magnetic levitation, and a low-drag environment, the VHO system can reach airline speeds for 5-10x less energy (depends on route length) and can go faster than high-speed rail using less energy. In regions like the Middle East, we could power the system completely by solar panels which cover the tube. As fighting against climate change becomes an existential issue for cities across the globe, hyperloop will create a new, shared, electric mobility model for helping to permanently reform an industry with some of the world’s highest carbon emissions.

  • Q. How much energy does hyperloop use?

    We are designing Virgin Hyperloop to be more efficient than other modes of transportation. Modern jetliners use up to 10 times the energy we use per passenger-mile over the entire journey. We can cruise at 500 miles per hour for less energy (per passenger) than an electric car doing 60 miles per hour. At peak speed, the VHO system consumes approximately 75 watt hours per passenger kilometer (Wh/pax-km). To put this in perspective, the fastest conventional maglev train travels at about half our speed and consumes 33% more energy.

  • Q. Where will hyperloop get its power?

    Our system is 100% electric with zero direct emissions. We're energy-agnostic. Our system can draw power from whichever energy sources are available along the route and support a transition to a renewable energy-powered future. In regions like the Middle East, we can completely power the system with solar panels which cover the tube.

  • Q. How much noise does hyperloop make?

    It’s similar those new electric vehicles that are so quiet they need to create noise to indicate movement. With hyperloop, we eliminate sources of mechanical noise, like wheels on track, and we actually have a sound barrier inherent in our tube design

  • Q. Can hyperloop be used for cargo?

    DP World Cargospeed is a global brand for hyperloop-enabled cargo systems operated by DP World and enabled by Virgin Hyperloop technology. These systems will deliver freight at the speed of flight and closer to the cost of trucking for fast, sustainable, and efficient delivery of palletized cargo.

  • Q. What type of cargo would a hyperloop system transport?

    The focus would be on high-priority, on-demand goods – fresh food, medical supplies, electronics, and more.

  • Q. How can hyperloop help transform logistics?

    With DP World Cargospeed, deliveries can be completed in hours versus days with greater reliability and fewer delays. It will expand freight transportation capacity by connecting with existing modes of road, rail, ports, and air transport, and will provide greater connectivity with manufacturing parks, economic zones, distribution centers, and regional urban centers. This can shrink inventory lead times, help reduce finished goods inventory, and cut required warehouse space and cost by 25%. DP World Cargospeed networks can also enable just-in-time, agile manufacturing practices.

  • Q. Will the first hyperloops be passenger or cargo systems?

    The Virgin Hyperloop is unique in that it doesn’t need to be passenger-only or cargo-only. We are designing a mixed-use system that fully utilizes system capacity while maximizing economic and social benefits. However, it is possible to run cargo commercial operations while certification and regulation are still ongoing for passenger use.

  • Q. When will hyperloop systems be ready for cargo and passengers?

    We are working with the most visionary governments around the world to make sure you can ride the hyperloop in years, not decades. Our goal is to have operational systems in the late 2020s. Our ability to meet that goal will depend on how fast the regulatory and statutory processes move.

  • Q. Where will the first hyperloop get built?

    We are working with visionary governments and partners around the world to make hyperloop a reality today. To learn more about our projects around the world, visit our progress page.

  • Q. How much will hyperloop cost to build and operate?

    Capital and operating costs will range widely based on the route. We recently released a study that showed our linear costs are 60-70% that of high-speed rail projects. In addition, we expect the operational costs to be significantly lower than existing forms of transportation.

  • Q. How much will hyperloop cost to ride?

    It’s simple – if it’s not affordable, people won't use it. We are looking to build something that will expand opportunities for the masses, so they can live in one city with their family and work in another. Currently, that kind of high-speed transport is not feasible for most people. The exact ticket price will vary for each route, but a recent study showed that riding a hyperloop in Missouri could cost less than the gas needed to drive.

  • Q. How are hyperloop routes selected?

    We are in the business of serving local needs, not the other way around. Public and private support is key. In some cases, we will respond to solicited bids with partners when we feel the technology matches the project’s objectives. In other cases, we will make an unsolicited bid for a project when we see that hyperloop could offer a unique solution to market needs.

  • Q. What is the process for getting a passenger route up and running?

    While the technology is different, the process for building a hyperloop is similar to that of building a highway, railway, or any other type of linear infrastructure. The first stage is project development. This phase includes feasibility studies, and then more detailed engineering reports and environmental impact studies. Once a project is approved to move forward, a consortium is formed to finance and deliver on the project.

  • Q. How much land does hyperloop require?

    Many infrastructure projects succeed or fail based on right-of-way issues. We are designing a system that requires only about half the right-of-way as high-speed rail and can more easily adapt to existing right-of-ways. At high speeds, the VHO system has a 4.5 times tighter turn radius compared to high-speed rail and can climb grades that are 6 times steeper, reducing the disturbance at crossings. Portals will be purposely integrated into and support existing communities and landscapes. Low noise levels will expand opportunities to build hyperloops closer to the city center.

  • Q. With the focus on connecting cities, how will hyperloop support rural communities?

    Hyperloop also holds enormous promise for rural communities. Virgin Hyperloop systems can be built below or above ground, which means no one’s farm needs to be cut in half. Our system enables rural areas to retain residents, who can now have more access to urban job centers, educational opportunities, and health care facilities. Additionally, hyperloop could enable freight distribution centers to be placed in rural areas, leading to job growth and industrial clusters. After a system is built, there is the opportunity to add additional on and off-ramps, supporting a greater number of people along the route.

  • Q. How will hyperloop projects be financed?

    Transportation infrastructure has traditionally relied on extensive government funding. This is because the benefits of clean, safe, and efficient transportation are enjoyed by the entire community, not just the user buying a ticket. However, most existing mass transportation modes are unprofitable and hindered by existing infrastructure built in the past century or by legacy systems. We want to change that and are focused on public-private partnerships. By developing a new mode of transportation from scratch, we're able to leverage technological developments that have occurred in the last century, especially the IT revolution. We're able to keep maintenance costs low, energy efficiency high, and transport tens of thousands of passengers per hour. This keeps margins and accessibility high, contributing to more financially attractive returns than if the corridor was served by existing modes. These benefits aren’t just hypothetical. While this is an exceptional case due to high demand, a third-party evaluation found that our Mumbai-Pune Hyperloop Project could be funded 100% by private capital. In the U.S. we see enormous potential to attract investment from the private sector, leveraging public investments. Involving government stakeholders as well as potential private investors early in the project development process is critical.

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