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Hyperloop May Connect Chicago, Pittsburgh in 56 Minutes

It’s feasible to build a high-speed hyperloop system that would carry passengers from Pittsburgh to Columbus, Ohio, in about 20 minutes at a cost of $33 and to Chicago in about 56 minutes at a cost of $93.

by Ed Blazina, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette / May 21, 2020
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(TNS) — It’s feasible to build a high-speed hyperloop system to carry passengers from Pittsburgh to Columbus, Ohio, in about 20 minutes at a cost of $33 and to Chicago in about 56 minutes at a cost of $93.

That’s the conclusion of a  released Wednesday by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, one of two groups studying the new transportation mode that moves pods through low-pressure tubes at speeds of more than 500 miles an hour. The other group, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, said in December a route connecting Pittsburgh to Cleveland also would be feasible.

“It’s basically the cost of gas or less,” said Thea Ewing, director of transportation for the Mid-Ohio group. “That’s one of the reasons we like working with [Virgin Hyperloop One]. Their strategy all along is we have to keep the cost below the cost of flying.”

The best path for a hyperloop system would be on flat, straight ground using existing railroad corridors, but the 19-page study by engineering firm AECOM determined that could only be done on parts of the route. In other places, the system would involve building tunnels where there are hills and using rights of way along existing highways.

“The hyperloop route is not feasible to be built entirely on existing rail corridors for optimal hyperloop speeds of 500+ mph,” the study said. “The mainline alignment proposed in this study is a combination of existing rail and road/highway corridors, as well as some tunneling and greenfield portions for which right-of-way will need to be acquired.”

The study proposes portals or stations for loading passengers or freight in the three main cities as well as Lima, Dublin and Marysville, Ohio, and Gary and Fort Wayne, Ind. The system would be built in segments, likely beginning from Columbus, and probably wouldn’t be finished until about 2050, Ms. Ewing said.

A hyperloop system is able to reach such high speeds by creating a vacuum in a tube to remove almost all air resistance and propel pods on a magnetic field. Pods likely would hold 20 to 40 passengers or tons of freight.

In addition to saving time and money for riders, the study estimates other substantial benefits from hyperloop travel. Over 30 years, the study said, 1.9 billion passengers would shift from driving to hyperloop, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 2.4 million tons, and 450 million hours driven in commercial trucks would be eliminated.

The Cleveland route promises similar benefits, but there are differences in the approaches the two groups are taking.

The Columbus-based proposal is working with developer Virgin Hyperloop One, which solicited proposals from around the country and is proceeding with 10 of them. That project has projected the fare for passengers, but Ms. Ewing said the group is “still trying to nail down” the cost of construction.

The Cleveland group is working with developer Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc. Their feasibility study estimated the cost of building a system at about $50 billion but estimated it would turn a profit of $30 billion for private investors over 25 years.

Both groups say the projects likely would involve a combination of public and private funds to build the system. 

Ms. Ewing said she believes the next big step will involve construction of a certification facility where hyperloop technology can be proven and government standards would be established. Virgin Hyperloop requested proposals to build the facility and Mid-Ohio is among about 10 finalists, including a West Virginia proposal based at West Virginia University.

Virgin One is expected to choose a site by next year for the facility, which is expected to cost several hundred million dollars and draw substantial ancillary economic development. Ms. Ewing said her agency is “working on the financial pieces” of its proposal such as issuing bonds or offering financial incentives to firms that would participate in the project.

“[A certification facility] would be a help to the industry that’s pursuing this,” Ms. Ewing said, even if it isn’t built in Ohio. “That would give us what we need to determine what this corridor would cost.”

©2020 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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