We should have Hyperloop in Australia

australia-hyperloopIf our government wanted to do something visionary it would seem that seriously investigating Hyperloop as a transport option for the East-coast corridor would make a lot of sense.

It always leaves me befuddled that Australia does not have a high-speed rail network between Melbourne and Sydney. It’s one of the most highly-trafficked air routes in the World, trains make for more comfort and better overall travel times at the distances involved, and planes require use of finite fossil fuels so we’re going to have to find an alternative sometime. A high-speed rail system is certainly an expensive undertaking for a country like ours, but the benefits would be palpable. That’s why increasing levels of chatter about Hyperloop make sense: potentially all the benefits, but at significantly less cost.

There’s nothing revolutionary in suggesting this. There have been questions and articles popping up with increasing frequency over the last nine months. If Hyperloop technology works at all, then the East-coast corridor of Australia ticks every box for making it viable – both economically and in engineering terms.

The question I ask is what would it take to get the Government, with its continuing rhetoric about innovation and technology, to look at something like this seriously? People have been agitating for a high-speed rail line for ages and the level of traction the idea has achieved is minimal. But I wonder if a cheaper, and frankly cooler, alternative might be easier to get behind. Here from someone who knows are some of the benefits of Hyperloop over high-speed rail:

  • It is much faster. Almost the speed of sound. Faster than air travel
  • It is much safer. Cannot derail because it is in a tube. Trucks etc cannot accidentally get stuck while crossing the tracks.
  • Capsules are small (22 passengers vs 800) this means that capsules leave every few seconds and you don’t have to wait for the next train.
  • Hyperloop carries freight and passengers while HSR is passenger only.
  • Hyperloop uses much less energy than HSR.
  • Hyperloop requires minimal maintenance because the capsule does not make physical contact with the tube. HSR requires regular expensive maintenance. In fact most HSR systems are operated at reduced speed to reduce maintenance costs to barely affordable levels, but HSR is still expensive.
  • Hyperloop does not stop at intermediate terminals. The capsules are small so everyone in a capsule is travelling to the same destination. There is no need to stop so that some passengers can board/disembark.

Imagine being able to jump on a capsule to Melbourne, or catch one five minutes later if you miss that one, and end up their under an hour later. That’s pretty amazing stuff. That’s visionary.

Now clearly the elephant in the discussion here is that Hyperloop is bleeding edge technology. High-speed rail is extremely well-established – just look at the astonishing speed with which China has rolled out the longest high-speed rail network in the World. While I’d happily argue for the Australian government actively pursuing a high-speed rail network, how much more visionary would it be for them to take a leading position on something like Hyperloop. Perhaps we could end up selling technology top the rest of the World; and wouldn’t that be a great outcome?

Oh how I would love to see the Government investing in something like this. I’d like to think that my children and grandchildren will live in an Australia that’s seen as more than a quaint place for rich Chinese tourist to visit to see how people used to live in the olden days.

It would be expensive, but compare that to buying submarines that might well be obsolete before they get delivered. The role of government is supposed to be to invest in the long-term plans, the things that will change our nation. I know today’s political climate means that doing anything that is even slightly risky, or with a horizon of more than six months seems almost impossible. But this is the sort of project that builds for our future that we really should be pursuing.

 

Image: Designboom / Weston Williams.

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