Mon 21 Aug 2017 - Projects
Part of a series highlighting proposed routes from the Hyperloop One Global Challenge. Update: The Mexico: Mexico City-Guadalajara route was named one of ten winners of the Challenge in September 2017.
Fernando Romero is one of Mexico’s leading young architects and a staunch national champion. His passion for building a better future for his country comes spilling out after only fifteen minutes in conversation. One phrase that came up the most during our meeting at his office on the Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City was, “this is Mexico’s Moment.” For him, it’s a rallying cry for capturing opportunities now to advance Mexico's culture, commerce and quality of infrastructure.
Early in its term, the Peña Nieto administration demonstrated its commitment to upgrading the country’s infrastructure when it launched the 2014-2018 National Infrastructure Program, which is expected to marshal nearly $600 billion in public works investment. Public-private partnership activity is rising and, despite challenges, the Mexican economy remains resilient. The next couple of years could very well see the transformation of Mexico’s infrastructure fabric.
One of those transformative opportunities happens to come in the shape of a Hyperloop high-speed transportation system. Romero, a protégé of architect Rem Koolhaas and the lead designer of Mexico City’s New International Airport, is one of the creative minds behind the “Mexloop” proposal now making its way through judging in the Hyperloop One Global Challenge. Mexloop is a collaboration among representatives from Romero’s firm FR-EE and engineering firms Arup and Sener. Its proposed Hyperloop route would connect Mexico City to Guadalajara via Querétaro and León, linking a super-region that is expected to include more than 60 million people by 2050. Stations would be strategically located near airports, rail freight hubs, and metro and commuter rail stations to maximize the efficiency of existing transport infrastructure.
Mexloop has attracted public-sector support from various tiers of the Mexican government, which prides itself on bridging East-West and North-South trade routes. A high-speed intercity link could alter the economic calculus of central Mexico: employers in Guadalajara could access jobseekers in León, and industry knowledge created in Mexico City could spill into firms across the four cities. Municipal governments, charged with governing a more connected region, could pursue coordinated infrastructure plans. Despite talk about closing borders, Mexico is and has always been an economic engine of the Americas.
Here’s a look at the route overall with descriptions of potential social and economic impact along the way.
Octavio Paz, Mexico City’s poet laureate, wrote about a metropolis that “in its circular fever repeats and repeats” as a way of describing one of the most snarled roadway networks in the world. In the central, historical heart called the distrito federal, or D.F. (pronounced “day-efay”), 9 million residents of 16 boroughs live in a 570-square-mile tangle of traffic. Chilangos, as residents of the city call themselves, spend 219 hours per year in traffic, thanks to a population that has grown sixfold since 1950. Millions of Chilangos rely daily on public transportation, and mobility within and outside Ciudad de México, or CDMX, remains a critical challenge. Although private cars represent only about a third of daily commutes, more than 80% of roads are occupied by commuters, resulting in gridlock that costs CDMX billions. And, pollution: Mexico City enjoyed acceptable air quality on only 26 days in 2016, the most recent year for which figures have been published.
Despite the congestion and pollution, CDMX, remains a vital economic hub. It’s the eighth richest city in the world (and first in Latin America), with booming tourism and a vibrant creative community. A visit to Central de Abasto, CDMX’s main wholesale market, gives you a sense of the vast amount of goods that pass through the city. A kaleidoscopic array of produce, meats, and packaged goods fill an area the size of an airport. The enormous complex in the eastern Iztapalapa area handles roughly 30% of the entire country’s food supply and attracts as many as half a million people per day. The new international airport, which is expected to handle up to 120 million passengers per year, and the new high-speed rail link to Toluca currently under construction will ignite greater pressure on the mobility grid in CDMX.
The Mexloop team proposes a passenger Hyperloop connection between the new airport and the densely populated western section of the city, and a cargo link from air freight terminals to Central de Abasto. The passenger link is expected to capture a significant portion of the tourist market that concentrates in nearby neighborhoods and ease the flow to and from the airport. The team hopes to integrate the Hyperloop system into existing and future transport hubs by locating the station near three current STC Metro Line stops, an intercity bus depot, and the future terminus of the Toluca-Mexico City HSR. From Mexico City’s new airport, the line runs about 200 km northwest to Querétaro City, the capital of the State of Querétaro.
A metro area of just over two million, Querétaro City is the nexus of Mexico's flourishing aerospace industry and home to companies such as Bombardier and GE. Querétaro has seen incredible growth in foreign direct investment in manufacturing. More than 1,400 multinational corporations now have a presence in the city, and its industrial clusters and economic zones have been lauded as examples of successful economic policies that attract high value-added production sectors. Less than a mile from Querétaro Intercontinental Airport is the Universidad Aeronáutica en Querétaro (UNAQ), with more than 1,300 students pursuing degrees in everything from metallography to aerodynamics. UNAQ works closely with the area’s multinationals to develop the university’s training curricula and workforce programs. To date, UNAQ has graduated nearly 6,500 aerospace technicians.
Competition in Mexico’s aerospace sector is fierce: Querétaro competes with clusters in Sonora, Chihuahua, and Baja California, all of which are closer to the U.S. A Hyperloop portal located near the city’s aerospace hub could secure Querétaro’s place in Mexico’s production value chain and drastically reduce transportation costs for the city’s manufacturing tenants moving goods to Mexico City. The consortium also points to the real estate development potential around the station, as Querétaro’s population is expected to continue growing.
León is the proposal’s smallest municipality, at 1.3 million people and is located about 175 kilometers west of Querétaro in the state of Guanajuato. The drivers of León’s economy are leather and footwear manufacturing, and, more recently, the automotive sector.
Despite the city’s topographic limits in the north and west, León has managed to curb the characteristic urban sprawl that plagues many Mexican cities. This, along with public bike system and investments in bus rapid transit lines has solidified León’s reputation as an eco-city.
Connecting León to Guadalajara in the west and Querétaro and CDMX in the east typifies the Hyperloop strategic application of linking smaller cities to more dominant urban areas. The economic and social potential of such a link includes wider and more integrated labor pools, and economic rebalancing. A Hyperloop connection would induce greater travel to and from León and deepen economic linkages to Guadalajara and the rest of the Bajio region.
The proposed Hyperloop corridor terminates in Jalisco’s capital, the second most-populated metropolitan area in Mexico. Guadalajara has been crowned Mexico’s Silicon Valley, housing the likes of IBM, Oracle, and Intel and spurring a technology and a startup footprint that challenges CDMX’s economic hegemony. The Guadalajara metro area includes the surrounding municipalities of Zapopan, Tlaquepaque, and Tlajomulco de Zúñiga and serves as Mexico’s Pacific gateway.
For all its success, Mexico’s second city also faces critical transport issues such as severe congestion and rapid sprawl. Between 1980 and 2010 the area size of greater Guadalajara nearly quadrupled, resulting in greater reliance on private vehicles and unsustainable levels of carbon emissions. Hyperloop would redirect a significant portion of the estimated 1.5 million people that travel from Guadalajara to CDMX via motorized vehicles every year, freeing up Guadalajara’s roads. A Hyperloop portal connected to the city’s light rail and transit line could shift more travelers to environmentally friendlier options and strengthen the city’s transit-oriented development strategy. Linking Mexico’s two powerhouse urban economies would also result in transformative social and economic impact for the entire central region.
Read more about Hyperloop One Global Challenge semifinalist proposals
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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.
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.
To date, we have received over $400 million.
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.
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.
No, there’s no connection with Elon Musk.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
The focus would be on high-priority, on-demand goods – fresh food, medical supplies, electronics, and more.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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