Hyperloop could dramatically change how Texans do business statewide | Crain's Dallas

Hyperloop could dramatically change how Texans do business statewide

  • Magnetic levitation and low-pressure tubes would allow hyperloop vehicles to reach speeds of 700 mph. | Photo courtesy of AECOM

    Magnetic levitation and low-pressure tubes would allow hyperloop vehicles to reach speeds of 700 mph. | Photo courtesy of AECOM

  • The hyperloop tubes could be elevated above existing highways in Texas. | Photo courtesy of AECOM

    The hyperloop tubes could be elevated above existing highways in Texas. | Photo courtesy of AECOM

  • A multi-level rendering of what a hyperloop station could look like in downtown Dallas. | Photo courtesy of AECOM

    A multi-level rendering of what a hyperloop station could look like in downtown Dallas. | Photo courtesy of AECOM

  • A close-up look at the platform at a future hyperloop station. | Photo courtesy of AECOM

    A close-up look at the platform at a future hyperloop station. | Photo courtesy of AECOM

A 700 mph hyperloop could revolutionize travel to Texas’ biggest cities, shuttling people and freight across the state in less than an hour.

While it sounds like science fiction, the technology is being tested now in the Nevada desert. In short, the hyperloop launches a pod in a low-pressure tube at high speeds using magnetic levitation.

A proposal to connect Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Laredo was chosen as a finalist by Hyperloop One, a private company based in Los Angeles. The 640-mile route is competing with several others around the world, including Pittsburgh to Columbus, Denver to Pueblo and Miami to Orlando. International routes include India, England, Mexico and Canada.

Steven Duong, senior urban designer for the Dallas office of AECOM, was the project lead for Texas’ bid and likes the state’s chances. AECOM, an international engineering firm, also led bids in Colorado, Florida and Canada.

“That half of the winning teams are supported by AECOM demonstrates the power of our connected expertise and is further evidence that these are the kinds of problems AECOM is built to take on and solve,” Michael Burke, AECOM’s chairman and CEO, said in a statement.

Duong explains what makes the hyperloop different than any existing transportation.

“Imagine taking the fuselage of an airplane and bringing it down to the ground, putting it on magnets and bringing it down to a low-pressure environment,” Duong said.  “Because it’s a low-pressure environment, once it approaches a certain speed the pod lifts off the magnets and glides. It’s so energy efficient you can turn most of the power off and it just glides. When it needs a little more power again, it turns back on.”

Each pod could hold about 20 people or could be converted for freight. But it’s still in the early stages and no decisions have been made on routes or station locations, Duong said.

Rather than just being a transportation project, futurists see this as a way for business and leisure travelers to save precious time. A trip from Dallas to Austin could take 19 minutes. Trips to Houston would take about 45 minutes, about half the time it would take the 200 mph bullet train, another transportation alternative that’s in the works, to cover the same distance.

“They’re not selling travel. They’re selling time," Duong said. "I can get from Austin to San Antonio or Dallas to Austin faster than I could get from downtown Austin up to Roundrock or from downtown Dallas to McKinney.”

Lawyers, salespeople and others could easily do business in multiple cities across the state and be back home for dinner, Duong said.

Like Texas Central’s bullet train, the hyperloop would have minimal security checkpoints, making it faster and more convenient than air travel.

The goal is to establish a public-private partnership to build the Texas route as opposed to the bullet train, which is privately funded. The hyperloop would be competitive with bus travel, with pods leaving on-demand every few minutes. And it could be more economical than the short-haul flights that airlines often lose money on.

The freight aspect also shifts the paradigm for consumer goods by connecting to Laredo at the Mexican border and the Port of Houston, allowing distribution centers and fulfillment centers to serve a wider area. Perishable items could be moved quicker and more efficiently, too.

The concept of a hyperloop gained popularity in 2012 when Tesla founder Elon Musk inspired companies to develop it. It’s right in line with Musk’s trendsetting electric vehicles and his mission to reach Mars with Space X. Five years later, there’s a hyperloop test track in Nevada working on the concept.

Like self-driving cars, the technology seems to be outpacing government regulation. There’s no precedent for regulating a hyperloop so it will have to be created from scratch, Duong said.

“I’m optimistic just because I think there’s a pent up demand for emerging transportation technologies in this country,” Duong said.

Hyperloop One wants to have a system up and running somewhere in the world by 2021.

The Hyperloop One Global Challenge started as a call to action for innovators, engineers, trailblazers and dreamers around the world who shared our vision of creating a new mode of transportation,” Shervin Pishevar, co-founder and executive chairman of Hyperloop One, said in a statement.  

The challenge involved thousands of people from 100 countries on six continents.

“Like us, they believe that Hyperloop will not only solve transportation and urban development challenges within communities, it will unlock vast economic potential and transform how our cities operate and how we live,” Pishevar said.

Texas is already on the fast-track to getting the country’s first high-speed rail project and now could be home to the first hyperloop, too, said Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG).

Morris has already started conversations with state officials over routes and which mode of transportation works best to connect Dallas to Fort Worth and beyond.

“We’re living in exciting times and Dallas/Fort Worth has an exciting opportunity to have high-speed rail down to Houston,” Morris said. “Now we have someone with the next technology wanting to come here. I think our region is going to have a range of options.”

September 25, 2017 - 2:17pm