Thursday, January 4, 2018

Here Comes the Hype on Hyperloop - More in the Game for Superfast Freight and Passenger Transport

Chinese to Compete with US for Latest Transport Mode
Shipping News Feature

US – CHINA – WORLDWIDE – If Elon Musk wasn't the boss of Tesla then his ideas might not be taken as seriously as they are. His success in the field of electric and autonomous vehicles has however drawn great interest from road haulage and freight companies in his proposed development of a full blown HGV rig, a semi-trailer powered by electricity which we have covered in some detail previously. However, up to now, many have looked sideways at his intercity Hyperloop system, not perhaps it seems, those who matter.

The Chinese have apparently seen the Musk hand and raised it with their own, and holding the cards is no less than their own version of NASA. The China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) is a fully state owned enterprise which undertakes the widest portfolio of projects one might imagine. From constructing hospitals to casting iconic bronze statues of the Buddha to a more sinister role in aerospace defence, manufacturing a range of space age weaponry and intercontinental ballistic rocketry, some parallels there with Space X, another Musk operation.

Whilst CASIC apparently has it in mind to start relatively small, developing 16 man passenger pods using Maglev technology as per the Hyperloop, and travelling at up to 750 mph, there is no mention of freight as yet, but plans for the future are grandiose to say the least. Having apparently registered a couple of hundred patents for its system (now that is poacher turned gamekeeper) CASIC has said its final goal will be a system capable of transporting passengers at - wait for it - 2,300 mph!

Now this may of course all be Hyperloop hype, however a Chinese built system has the advantage that it would not run into administrative problems in its home country, and likely the other states linked to its ‘One Belt, One Road’ development policy we have heard so much about of late, would also be inclined to waive it through. Meanwhile Musk, Branson and co may find themselves hung up in the red tape, vested interests and reluctance to spend on infrastructure which is the US we have seen in recent decades.

Whilst road haulage fights for supremacy with rail freight, America, arguably the best suited region for the fifty plus year technology, still hasn’t managed a single high speed rail service. And it’s not only China aiming to beat Hyperloop to the punch as others inevitably look to exploit any possible opportunity.

One such is a system in development by Los Angeles based Arrivo, ironically run by ex Musk colleague and Space X and Hyperloop One co-founder Brogan BamBrogan. BamBrogan, who has the air of a gunslinger, differs from the Musk philosophy of connecting national and international cities using the Hyperloop tube, preferring to predict that a technology first proposed long before Hyperloop will be the way to go, and used on shorter, currently congested, routes.

Arrivo plans to utilise its ‘super urban network’ to provide vehicle sleds on which individual vehicles ride, again on a magnetised track, but alongside established freeways linking key local urban locations. To this end the company has apparently signed an agreement to test the system in Commerce City, Colorado after agreeing a deal with Colorado’s Department of Transportation. The initial track will be just half a mile long, but the next objective is to connect busy Denver routes cutting journey times by up to 80%.

BamBrogan is working with the administration responsible for the E470 toll road, located in the Denver region and he claims that to transport a car along that stretch will mirror the cost of the current toll, that is $5 to $10 per trip dependent on distance travelled. He also claims that his system can carry 20,000 vehicles per hour compared with the 2 - 3,000 a single freeway lane generally copes with.

The Arrivo system will run on an enclosed track to prevent roadside debris affecting transit. Whilst the skids are designed to carry private vehicles there are also plans for a pallet moving system in the pipeline so to speak. The fact the system has no vacuum element will restrict speeds to around 200 mph as opposed to the near sound barrier threatening rate that a Hyperloop would be capable of (although we imagine the vacuum effect probably eliminates any risk of the bang).

Denver seems to be of particular interest to the new modes with Hyperloop One also undertaking a feasibility study for a possible route between Colorado to Wyoming and passing through the city. We have previously covered the other countries studying the system with interest including the UAE and India. With the speed of development and the high profile personalities involved the face of transport is changing, and possibly faster than the legislators in some countries would like.

Photo: The Arrivo system as it might look.