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U.S. Department of Transportation Posts Hyperloop Framework

Proposed hyperloop transportation, which can move pods with passengers or freight through low-pressure tubes at more than 500 miles an hour, have received a key endorsement from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Hyperloop Illustration
(TNS) — Proposed hyperloop transportation systems, which developers say can move pods with passengers or freight through low-pressure tubes at more than 500 miles an hour, have received a key endorsement: validation by the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao released a 22-page document Thursday called Pathways to the Future of Transportation that’s designed to encourage innovation and place new transportation concepts under a specific regulatory agency. The document was developed by the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology Council that Ms. Chao appointed about 18 months ago. 

For hyperloop advocates, the important step was placing hyperloop proposals under the Federal Railroad Administration and making hyperloop projects eligible for federal grants to help fund projects.

“This is a turning point for the industry,” said Ryan Kelly, vice president of Virgin Hyperloop One, one of two developers proposing systems to link Pittsburgh with Chicago.

“It gives confidence to stakeholders that this is a priority. This is not a pipe dream.”

Virgin is working with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission on a system that would connect Pittsburgh to Chicago via Columbus in about 56 minutes at a cost of about $93. The agency has completed environmental and feasibility studies for the system, which likely would be built in sections from west to east and take about 30 years to complete.

“Just the Federal Railroad Administration alignment for hyperloop is a big announcement,” said Thea Ewing, director of transportation for the Mid-Ohio group. “That alone is a pretty significant message from the U.S. Department of Transportation. 

“Once you get to this point and you don’t have an answer for who regulates you, you don’t know what to do. [The proposal] becomes a non-starter for whoever you’re talking to.”

Mr. Kelly said the other important component to Thursday’s announcement is making hyperloop projects eligible for federal funding. The Pittsburgh-to-Chicago proposal always has been pitched as a public-private partnership, but at a cost of more than $20 billion it would be difficult for local agencies to pay for the public share by themselves.

The report said that once the technology is proven, hyperloop projects could be eligible under four different funding categories that have a combined $2 billion available in the current fiscal year.

“This is an opportunity to compete,” Mr. Kelly said. “We are at the point where we want to get safety certified. We feel confident in our technology.”

The company operates a facility with a 500-meter test track near Las Vegas

The other proposed hyperloop project with a Pittsburgh component is being developed by the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency in Cleveland and would connect Pittsburgh to Chicago on a path through Cleveland and along the Great Lakes. That group is working with another technology firm, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies Inc.

Rob Miller, chief marketing officer for Hyperloop TT, said the DOT decision shows hyperloop technology “has moved into the mainstream in the government’s eyes.”

“The first thing is it shows the work that has been done [on the Cleveland project] really left an impression on them,” he said. That project has completed a feasibility study and soon will begin an environmental impact statement.

Mr. Kelly said the next step is moving ahead with the selection of a site for government testing and certification. Virgin is reviewing proposals for possible locations for the several hundred million dollar center — including a site in central Ohio pushed by Ms. Ewing’s agency and one in West Virginia working with West Virginia University — and expects to pick a site by the fall, six months earlier that originally anticipated.

“We’ve seen some really strong proposals and we want to get started,” Mr. Kelly said.

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

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