Hyperloop: TransPod takes it a step further

The project of a high-speed train circulating in vacuum tubes caused a stir in 2013. It was this year that Elon Musk revived Hyperloop. Restarted and didn’t run because this idea was clarified long ago by other engineers (such as ET3 in the USA and Swissmetro in Switzerland). However, after the head of SpaceX and Tesla revisited the concept, several companies around the world jumped into the fray. Three are often mentioned: Hyperloop TT, Virgin Hyperloop and TransPod. But their success is uneven. So, Hyperloop TT, based in the Toulouse area, at the former Francazal military base, has just announced that it is refusing to build a kilometer-long test line promised over the years. For its part, Virgin Hyperloop (previously called Hyperloop One, but changed its name when Richard Branson acquired a minority stake in the company) simply decided to focus on freight: it would not be a passenger carrier. These decisions seem to be heading in the direction of downsizing in the Hyperloop area… Not on the TransPod side, where morale is high: the company has just announced that it has raised $550 million from British investors and Chinese investors to build the first section of the 1,000 km/h line In Canada. Science and the future asked French President and co-founder Sebastien Gendron.

Target: 300 km Hyperloop in Alberta.

Sciences et Avenir: Where is the line you are going to build?

Sebastian Gendron: Initially, this is a 17 km section that will connect the city of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada to its airport. This will be the start of a much longer line: 300 kilometers from Edmonton to Calgary.

What calendar?

The goal is to begin construction on this first 17 km interchange in the summer of 2023. We expect construction to take 18 to 24 months. This brings us to 2025. We then estimate that it will take two years of testing to be certified around 2027, giving the green light to proceed with construction of the remaining 280 km. This consists of at least five years of work.

Use Maglev

Many players in the sector thought that Maglev technology, a maglev train (see box), could be adapted to Hyperloop…

We think it was wrong. First, to the question of cost. The Maglev line is five times more expensive than the TGV line. This first element is prohibitive. Then comes the technical consideration: low pressure air is conductive. This phenomenon is similar to what happens at high altitude when auroras form: the air is ionized and conducts electricity. If you have a Maglev system hundreds of miles in a very low pressure pipe, the slightest insulation problem will cause a short circuit almost immediately: over hundreds of miles, this leads to astronomical maintenance costs.

But your technology is also based on magnetic levitation.

Yes, but we approached the system differently. Schematically, we can say that the classical Maglev system plays on the repulsive force acting between two magnets facing each other. This works if one is on the vehicle and the other is on the track. The limitation is that the magnets must be installed throughout the line, which is very expensive. But there is an alternative: it is to turn the problem around using the attractive force of the magnets. This is what we did by putting electromagnets on the top of the vehicle and precisely controlling the way it was attracted to the metal tube it was moving in – a four meter diameter pipeline of sorts. In this way, all our technologies are focused on the vehicle and not on the infrastructure, which remains at the classic level of investment. And therefore realistic.

MAGLEV. Japan has been developing a maglev train known as “maglev” (for “magnetic levitation”) for several decades. In Japan, the prototype reached 603 kilometers per hour on Tuesday, April 21, 2015. With this speed, maintained for 10.8 seconds, it became the fastest train in the world. The industrial operation of the machine can begin in 2027. Will the date be saved? It remains doubtful that the Maglev was developed over several decades, in particular by Germany, without having had time to make an operational breakthrough. As for China, which also presented prototypes with a speed of 600 km/h. “First generation maglev trains with a maximum speed of 100 km/h were put into commercial operation in May 2016 in Changsha, the provincial capital of Hunan.”This is reported by french.china.org.cn.

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