Wed 16 Nov 2016 - Impact

Putting Safety At the Heart Of Transportation: The Drive Toward Zero-Risk Mobility

PA Consulting

Toral Patel

Principal Consultant for Technology and Innovation, PA Consulting Group

Over the last century there has been a significant increase in demand for travel by all modes. Given all those people crowding onto trains, planes and highways, it is hard to fathom but is highly admirable that the transport industry has in parallel made correspondingly significant improvements in safety. Historically, the big leaps forward in transport safety have been largely reactive, coming in the wake of major accidents and public outcry for increased safety levels.

Being reactive has worked in the past, but it isn’t going to work in the future. As safety improves, further improvements become more difficult. The industry and its regulators are going to have to shift towards a more preventative approach, with safety built into transport systems from the start and in a more holistic way.

Some nations are already making the switch. Sweden has adopted a target-based approach known as Vision Zero, that seeks to eliminate highway risk and achieve a 100% safety record in any given year. You read that correctly. Sweden is saying that no loss of life is acceptable, and that notion drives the behaviour and decisions to achieve this. Campaigns like the European Day without a Road Death (EDWARD) initiative aiming to achieve zero fatalities in Europe on a given day are important, while recognising that innovative transport technologies are necessary to attain Vision Zero. Practically, this involves planning, designing and building infrastructure to increase safety and reduce fatal accidents.

High-speed rail such as the TGV, Shinkansen and Eurostar is generally considered the safest mode of transportation. Safety figures are exceptional; for the Japanese Shinkansen no passenger has ever been injured or killed in an accident since it commenced operations in 1964. The same applies to the Eurostar service between the UK and France, which has operated since 1994. The reason is that these high-speed rail systems are engineered to be extraordinarily safe. The Shinkansen employs automatic train control to decelerate or halt the train automatically based on conditions of the route ahead and distance to preceding trains. The Shinkansen system is also equipped with an earthquake alarm system that automatically brings trains to a rapid halt when seismic activity is detected.

Every new transport infrastructure project under development today is incorporating some kind of best-in-class safety features into its design. Most of the new road and metro systems are making use of intelligent sensors, autonomous control software, and smart infrastructures. Emerging modes of transportation are well positioned to eliminate risk by incorporating safety at the heart of their organisation from inception, making a Vision Zero-like safety record an operating principle.

We have worked on and studied the safety process for dozens of global clients in the transportation sector, and Hyperloop One as a new “fifth mode” of transportation faces some unique and some familiar transport safety challenges. While there may be no existing precedent for safety available through statistical information and previous data, some first observations on safety risk improvement can be made. People will adopt new technologies only if they perceive them to be safe, both in terms of security of the system and physical safety. People tend to overweigh low-risk probabilities of accident risk and their perception can often differ from reality, notably subjective attitude to objective risk. Communicating the safety risk is a key success factor for Hyperloop, and will need to be managed carefully for all stakeholders from passenger users of the transport mode to those transporting freight and regulators.

In targeting 100% safety, Hyperloop also has some significant advantages over other modes. Being a new mode of transport removes any attachment to legacy systems allowing designers to shape and design safety into the system more effectively by employing the latest advancements in technology. As a new transportation mode, the organisation has the ability to model and control the entire environment as it is a fully enclosed system. Hyperloop is not affected by external factors such as adverse weather conditions or traffic congestion that plague other transport system and networks, neither does it have a negative impact on the environment (greenhouse gases and noise pollution) as it is a closed system. The autonomous nature of operations means that human error is considerably reduced and in effect the uncertainty element is virtually designed out of the system. Nevertheless, an element of human component still exists in designing the system and infrastructure and this must be controlled.

Taking Safety to New Levels

Hyperloop One can make the Hyperloop the safest mode of transport today and in the future. To do this, Hyperloop One is adopting best practices from around the world such as:

  • Taking an overall systems approach (considering all elements both internal and external) to safety in the system design, building the technology and necessary infrastructure to provision a fully operational service.

  • Making safety intrinsic in the design, build and operational phases of the overall system and infrastructure that makes it safer and easier. This avoids the step in the development of earlier modes such as rail and air where safety has been reactive in the early stages when speed and comfort took priority over safety.

  • Learning from other industry sectors and applying continual innovation to deliver a dynamic safety road map.

Making The Safety Case

The safety case is not just about designing a safe system. To demonstrate and prove that the system is safe, the methodology to create, operate and maintain the system needs to be robust. In the absence of existing safety standards for a new mode of transport, the Hyperloop One Proof of Operations Facility provides an excellent opportunity for regulators to work collaboratively with the technology developers, systems integrators and safety case experts to define the regulatory regime for an entirely new mode of transport. They understand the importance of being able to help develop safety cases in collaboration with the providers and establish new certification processes. Ultimately this will avoid the lengthy processes of legacy safety certification which would not, in any case, be able to address the safety requirements of a new transport mode. These new processes can also pave the way for rapid, efficient and effective safety case delivery. In doing this, it will still be important for the regulator to maintain an arm’s length perspective so that design trade-offs are decided in favour of safety rather than cost.

Tackling Public Perception

Managing the public perception of safety risk is potentially a more difficult challenge.

Disruptive innovations and technologies are naturally associated with perceptions of high risk due to the “fear of the unknown.” Seventy years ago airplanes were commonly perceived as “flying tanks of kerosene.” Now, despite the fact that the assertion is still factually correct, aviation is considered the safest way to travel. This is because of the stringent requirements the industry has forced manufacturers and operators to meet.

Taking a wider view, lessons can also be learned from high hazard industries such as oil and gas extraction, nuclear energy, renewables, chemical and petro chemicals which are highly regulated. The implementation of very high safety standards in these industries has led to a wealth of experience in the design, build and delivery of solutions to their customers. The levels of safety incidents indicated by the UK Petroleum Industries Association (UKPIA) shows that per million hours worked there are marginal safety incidents.

Developing a safety culture

Research findings support the view that a safety culture is associated with fewer accidents compared with organisations that do not take this approach. The rationale is that workers who commit to safety practices, and are rewarded for this as well as other outputs, perform better in reducing occupational accident rates. The comparison below between two petrochemical plants of the same type confirms these results. In the following example managers of Company A, which is distinguished by the maturity of its safety culture, has significantly higher employee evaluation scores than Company B (Source: Safety Culture Assessment in Petrochemical Industry: A Comparative Study of Two Algerian Plants in Safety and Health at Work 5 (2014) 60-65 (A. Boughaba et al.)

In 2015 Dow Corning was named as the “safest company” due to its commitment to deliver safety beyond traditional safety metrics (occupational injury and illness rate or process incident rate) to ensure overall safety through its organisation. They deconstructed “What good safety looks like” into operational discipline, risk management, and clarity of expectations. Hyperloop One can enforce, build and further strengthen their safety case using experience from similar industries of these types.

Continuously improve from an already excellent baseline

It will not be enough to implement a system that is the safest mode in the world; safety threats, changing customer expectations, and issues with the system itself will emerge over time so the system will need to improve constantly in a controlled manner to meet these shifts. To be the safest mode in the world Hyperloop One will have to scan the horizon to maintain a view on technologies, capabilities and innovations which can enable it to improve their systems further. Our ability to model complex processes realistically in systems is increasing rapidly and has the potential to be a key tool in decision-making. However we will need to establish a means of quality assurance for those simulations.

Transport systems are increasingly software-based, which provides an opportunity to become safer as they capture more information about the operational system which then can be used to develop an on-going “early warning detection system.” On the other hand this could imply a higher exposure to cyber-attacks which will require careful consideration. Regular sanity checks will also be needed to complement this approach.

All in all, Hyperloop One has an extensive opportunity to achieve its goal of building the “safest mode of transportation on earth,” so long as it takes to heart the experience and lessons gained by other modes and industry sectors.

Toral Patel is a transport safety expert specialising in quantification of comparative safety risk, analysing risk perceptions and their impact on modal choice. She also investigates how innovative transport technology solutions can address future challenges for transportation.

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  • 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 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 Spirit AeroSystems, 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. Watch a video explaining the concepts here.

  • Q. Has hyperloop technology been proven?

    Yes. We’ve successfully run hundreds of tests at our full-scale prototype in the Nevada desert. On November 8, 2020, the first passengers traveled safely on a hyperloop – making transportation history. This test demonstrated that we can safely put a person in a near-vacuum environment, and our entire safety approach was validated by an independent third party.

  • 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 VH 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. Our goal is to achieve safety certification by 2025. We are on track to meet this goal and have unveiled West Virginia as the home of the world’s first Hyperloop Certification Center (HCC). This announcement builds off of significant progress around the world on the regulatory front. In July 2020, the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary Elaine Chao and the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council unveiled the guidance document on a clear regulatory framework for hyperloop in the United States. In the EU, the European Commission (EC) has just released the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy and hyperloop is explicitly identified as a game-changing mobility technology. We are also working closely with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DGMOVE) and Shift2Rail to deliver the next wave of sustainable mobility through robust regulatory standards. In India, the Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) to the Government of India, 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 placed along the route length while engaging pod brakes to safely bring 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 on a 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 VH 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 VH 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 VH 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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