Wed 28 Jun 2017 - Projects

Three Hyperloop Networks That Could Transform EU Commerce

Bruce Upbin Author

Bruce Upbin

VP of Strategic Communications

Part of a series highlighting proposed European routes from the Hyperloop One Global Challenge. Posts featured routes in Germany, the UK, the Baltics, Corsica-Sardinia. Update: Spain/Morocco: Madrid-Tangier and Netherlands: Amsterdam-Lelystad route were named finalists in the Challenge.

The Hyperloop One Global Challenge unleashed a remarkable variety of uses for fast, clean and direct Hyperloop technology. This post focuses on proposals from three EU nations that want to leapfrog existing transportation modes and bring new productivity and growth to their economies. This is European innovation on a regional scale.

Hyperloop Spain-Morocco

Transportation engineers have always dreamed of spanning the nine-mile wide Strait of Gibraltar with a fixed link. Some have proposed floating bridges, like the kind Xerxes lashed together with boats in 480 B.C. to cross the Hellespont to invade Greece. Others have suggested more conventional approaches such as tunneling under the sea bed. A third option is the most daring, as it has never been tried before, which is to suspend a floating Hyperloop tube 25-50 meters underwater. The tube would be anchored by cables to the sea floor or to sturdy buoys on the surface. Within a few minutes, passengers or cargo could leap this ancient trade gap between Africa and Europe.

A floating Gibraltar tunnel may sound like a radical idea, but it’s part of an otherwise pragmatic Hyperloop One Global Challenge proposal from the Hyperloop Spain-Morocco team. Their idea, showcased in early June at our Vision for Europe event in Amsterdam, earned its way into the semifinalist round in the Global Challenge with a high-speed route from Madrid to Morocco, crossing under the Strait of Gibraltar. A truck-plus-ferry takes 6.5 hours. A flight takes five hours. With a Hyperloop, the journey would be only 50 minutes.

Building a 21st century link across El Estrecho would leave a lasting impact on global commerce. “We are not talking about two cities, we are talking about two continents — that’s global,” says Carmen Palomino Pérez, Team Advisor and Director of Talent at the Fundación Universidad-Empresa. One-third of the 100,000 ships that pass through the Strait run north-south between Spain and Morocco, and the cargo terminals on either side are booming. Good for the economy, at the expense of congestion, emissions and road accidents. The Spanish port of Algeciras has been one of Europe’s fastest-growing ports for decades, and is now a member of Europe’s 100-million metric-ton club. The Moroccan port of Tangier-Med, Africa’s second largest by volume, is expanding to accommodate another 5-million twenty foot equivalent units (TEU) a year, doubling its capacity by 2019. Renault’s automobile factory in northern Morocco is a major exporter from Tangier-Med, producing 229,000 cars a year with capacity to produce 50% more vehicles if needed. A Hyperloop could offer clean and continuous capacity for all that growth.Spain has experience building big transit and infrastructure. It’s a competitive advantage among EU countries. Twenty-five years ago people in Spain embarked on an ambitious high-speed rail investment program. This could be one of the sectors where they can continue to lead over the next 25 years.

Hyperloop Spain would link three of Southern Europe’s most strategic cargo nodes into a multimodal super-corridor. The five to six million passengers crossing on ferries every year (and roughly two million air travelers) would cut their journey times by up to 80%. There will be heavy demand to shift from ferries to Hyperloop if it gets built. The Eurostar within 3 years had captured 70% of the passenger traffic between Paris and London.

The bigger picture is in freight. A container offloaded in Morocco’s sprawling port of Tangier-Med could be at an air cargo center outside Madrid In less than one hour. Today, it takes four to six days to move a container by train and ferry from Tangier to Madrid.

The biggest question mark in the proposal is the tunnel under the Strait. A conventional subsea tunnel excavated by giant boring machines is a known quantity, but could take a decade to complete. A submerged floating tube, also called an Archimedes Bridge, could be deployed far more quickly if approved, and it would be straighter and faster for Hyperloop transport. We’ve written about them before. They’re slightly flexible, well-sealed tubes stabilized with surface pontoons or cable stays to the sea floor. Their depth takes advantage of the hydrostatic effect between 25 and 60 meters with the least turbulence, and it’s down far enough to allow shipping and wildlife to pass. On land, acquisition of the rights-of-way can get complex but Spain and Morocco have similar policies regarding expropriation and the negotiation process is nearly automatic once it’s decided that the state will buy the land from the existing owners.

Even without the Gibraltar crossing, the domestic portion of the Hyperloop Spain-Morocco route would yield serious economic and environmental benefits. The Mediterranean port of Algeciras, Spain’s largest by volume, lacks a robust and reliable domestic freight link north to Madrid and greater Europe beyond. Everything goes north by truck, adding to congestion, pollution, and accidents. A Hyperloop link could transform Algeciras from a port focused almost entirely on transshipment today. More than 90% of arriving containers go right back onto another ship. A high-speed, emission-free and continuously operating Hyperloop running north to Madrid could convert Algeciras into an import hub, increasing productivity in Spain’s economy and adding a deep-water import hub to the smaller ports of Barcelona and Valencia.

The European Commission has identified the Europe-Africa corridor as one of strategic interest. Trade through the Strait of Gibraltar impacts the lives of 2 billion people. This proposal, which received the endorsement of both governments and private sector players such as Acciona and Fundacion Universidad-Empresa, deserves watching.

Hyperloop One Global Challenge semifinalists representing the Spain-Morocco route.

Hyperloop Netherlands

The Netherlands prides itself as the world’s most “connected” economy, and made an excellent host for the Hyperloop One Global Challenge showcase in early June.

“The Netherlands wants to lead the world in innovative and sustainable mobility,” said Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment Melanie Schultz van Haegen at the event. The proposal by the home team of Hyperloop Netherlands was in many ways characteristically Dutch: socially conscious, pragmatic and creative in its approach. If built out to its final phase, a “Randstad” loop that would connect all the major cities and airports of the Low Countries in a metro-like system. Imagine Amsterdam to Rotterdam in 10 minutes. The Hyperloop Netherlands network would turbocharge its domestic economy while keeping its logistics capabilities high atop the global rankings for good.

The first phase of the project would be constructing a shorter (15-50 km/10-30 mile) proof of operations facility to test, optimize, validate and certify the safety of Hyperloop technology. Minister Schultz van Haegen has already begun a study for the feasibility of a Hyperloop facility near Lelystad Airport and has asked for the proposal to build a proof of operations facility be included in the coalition agreement of the recently elected national government. "A new era of mobility has begun and in the next 20 years we will see more changes than in the last 100 years,” she said. “We need new concepts that are smarter than laying new asphalt. With no emissions and powered by solar panels, Hyperloop promises to be the only net-positive energy transport system.”

Acknowledging that people need to get comfortable with Hyperloop technology, the Netherlands Hyperloop team also proposes creating an Experience Center at Schiphol Airport that would feature a virtual reality simulator. The Experience Center would generate excitement and interest, and perhaps some cash to fund more feasibility studies. A later stage proposed by Dutch high school students would be an Organ Loop connecting leading medical centers in Amsterdam and Rotterdam for shuttling living tissue to where it’s needed with minutes, eliminating the delays and shortages that hamper transplants in any country. It would also prove the technology’s value and feasibility before it has to be tested on living people.

The ensuing stages of the Dutch proposal would continue to lengthen the track for the proof of operations facility to create the first leg of an Airport Loop that would unite the country’s three airports: Schiphol, Rotterdam and Eindhoven. The idea would be to shift primary cargo operations to the latter two hubs and free up more capacity for passenger traffic at an already overstretched Schiphol. From there, the final phases would complete a circuit around the country to make the Randstad loop, using existing highways where possible as the rights of way.

Hyperloop One Global Challenge semifinalists TNO executive Nico Zornig and his daughter Elisa, and siblings Roan and Jonne van der Voort, representing the Netherlands route.

Hyperloop Poland

Poland is one of biggest countries in the European Union, and at the crossroads of several major EU transport corridors, yet it is also the biggest EU nation without high-speed transportation. The engineers, architects, and designers behind the Hyperloop Poland proposal seek to change that with a plan to connect the capital city of Warsaw with the manufacturing and tech center of Wroclaw in 40 minutes, compared to 3.5 hours by rail or three to four hours by car or truck. The route’s first phase would connect Warsaw to Lodz, a logistics hub in the heart of the country and midway along the route. A Hyperloop terminal could catalyze economic development in Lodz, which is already one of the European terminals of China’s New Silk Road logistics network from Asia. It would also reduce daily commute congestion along the Lodz-Warsaw corridor, where seven out of ten passenger trips are done by vehicle.

The Hyperloop Poland team adapted its route from a 2012 feasibility study for an $8 billion high-speed rail project that was suspended by the federal government in 2014. That bullet train’s speed-to-cost ratio was deemed “dissatisfying,” but Hyperloop offers speeds 2-3 times faster than high-speed rail and can be built for two-thirds of the cost while fitting into narrower rights of way that trains cannot. The Hyperloop Poland team believes the new federal government coalition formed in 2015 would be more receptive to backing a Hyperloop project over the rail plan. Hyperloop Poland won the support of the Polish Development Fund and the Ministry of Economic Development. Poland’s special tax on the increase in property values caused by infrastructure development could be a major source of funds for the project.

The proposed east-west route is geographically attractive as it’s flat and follows existing rights of way along rail and road. The Hyperloop Poland team considered a southern route from Warsaw to Krakow, Poland’s second-biggest city, but saw greater benefits in aiming the first leg of this network west toward the European heartland. Krakow and Warsaw already have good rail connections whereas Wroclaw-to-Warsaw does not. The team’s business case assumes connections to city center train stations as well as airports and expects that, if successful, would be certified and operated by the Polish Rail Administration.

Hyperloop One Global Challenge semifinalists, Team Leader Krzysztof Tabiszewski and Architectural Project Coordinator Kasia Foljanty, Chief Brand Officer, representing the Poland route.

The Polish group, as with all Hyperloop One Global Challenge proposals, still has a lot work to do to firm up their business case, secure a path to financing, and sort out an approach to gaining regulatory approvals. The Global Challenge has unearthed creative ideas and enthusiasm around the world. Now the real effort begins.

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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 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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