So, let’s skip over the part where true high speed rail does not really exist at all in the united States today. Is it possible that we’ll see multiple companies competing to provide such on the same route in the near future? If you consider Hyperloop to be a rail project – it qualifies in some ways, not in others – then that just might happen. The latest news from the company has 10 finalists chosen for potential Hyperloop One intercity service and the Miami-Orlando corridor is among them. That’s the same city pair Brightline is hoping to connect with its rail service.
Same city pairs is probably where the similarities between the two projects end. Brightline is mostly repurposing existing track and expects to maybe finally complete the final miles of construction at the Orlando end of the route in the 2020 timeframe. It also plans to launch the South Florida end of the line this year. Hyperloop’s timeline doesn’t come close to the initial launch target, though the full run timeline might be viable.
Hyperloop One will work with the 10 finalists to validate the designs and viability of the projects, with a goal of delivering the first three functional routes by 2021. No guarantee that the Florida line will be among those, but it is one of the ten.
I do find the Florida route most interesting given the geology of the region. While the other proposed markets sit on relatively stable bedrock most of Florida is soft limestone with a high water table that makes underground construction spectacularly challenging. The Hyperloop One project would involve 200+ miles of underground paths for the pods to travel in. That said, the proposed routing stays inland rather than hugging the coast (a la Brightline). That could help with securing right-of-way while working against the potential for intermediate stops at populated areas.
Also, I have no idea where the 3:25 flight time between the two cities comes from. Maybe when considering total travel time city center to city center, but definitely not just the flight.
Of the US markets proposed I’m inclined to think that the business model for the Texas Triangle is most viable, with the Pittsburgh-Chicago route in second. While those appear more fiscally sound to me, they’re not the first to move forward. According to today’s release, “[A]s a direct result of the Global Challenge, Hyperloop One and the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), with support from AECOM, will enter a public private partnership to begin a feasibility study in Colorado.”
In any of the US markets the company will be forced to overcome not only the technical challenges but also a significant consumer mindset that is nearly universally anti-rail/ground transportation.* That’s going to be tough to overcome. And the costs to implement this tech won’t help on that front, either.
Read More: HSR challenges in Florida for Brightline
Still, it is impressive to see the project moving forward. Maintaining the low pressure system safely over hundreds of miles will not be easy, but the potential payoff is huge if it can be successfully deployed.
*I recognize a certain amount of irony in writing this while sitting on Amtrak; I’m trying to make the US rail system work for me but it is decidedly not high speed rail.
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