IMAGINE stepping out your front door for a daily commute from Edinburgh to London – and in less time than it takes to finish the crossword, arriving there just 40 minutes later.
With today’s grumbles over slow trains and queues at airports, it might seem like a far-fetched prospect, but this could be a reality in the not-too-distance future with the development of a new ‘super train‘.
A number of projects are currently trying to build the Hyperloop, a cross between a train and a plane that is expected to be able to travel just below the speed of sound, at around 700mph.
The concept involves a pod that will hover above rails through the use of magnetic levitation, traveling along a tube where a vacuum has been created to remove any air resistance.
Designs for human-sized pods will be tested this coming weekend at a test track in California specially created by the firm Space X, which is holding a series of competitions to help accelerate the design of the Hyperloop prototype.
Next month a team of students from Edinburgh University will submit their design to SpaceX, with the aim of traveling out to the test track in summer to develop a prototype vehicle.
Just as Lukosiunas, an electronics and electrical engineering student and secretary of the university’s Hyperloop Edinburgh (HypED) team, said the system would have the ability to change the socio-economic landscape of the country.
“You could imagine living in Edinburgh and commuting daily to London for your job,” he said. “If implemented on a full scale, from London to Edinburgh, you can expect just 40 minutes of travel time.”
These include Hyperloop One, a company based in Los Angeles which describes the concept as “broadband for transportation”.
Lukosiunas said it was difficult to say how long it would take for the concept of the Hyperloop to become a reality. But he added: “There has been a lot of interest worldwide and start-up companies forming. An example is Hyperloop One – they are already performing feasibility studies in the United Arab Emirates and are expecting to produce something tangible in the next 10 years or so.”
Lukosiunas said students in their HypeEd project were also looking at issues such as routes and the costs of implementing the idea.
He said the advantages would include shorter boarding times compared to planes and frequent services.
“What we are proposing is sending one of these pods every 10seconds,” he said. “So although you might think the infrastructure is really expensive and there are huge capital costs, by this kind of decreased access time and greater frequency of service you do make it more attractive as a transport system.”
Daniel Cooper, a senior editor of online technology magazine Engadget, said the development of Hyperloop across a country could end the need for short-haul flights.
“If you imagine the number of car journeys and short-haul flights and inter-city train journeys there are – in a world where the Hyperloop is everywhere you won’t have any of that. “Instead you would go to a portal, get into a capsule and be in another city in a matter of minutes.
“It is do-able – perhaps not at the speeds they say but even if it was 400-500mph, you are still getting there in ridiculously short amounts of time.”
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But Cooper said one major stumbling block would be whether private companies or governments would be willing to invest in the idea – even though it would be less expensive than building a new railway as the track could be built on stilts, for example, which would reduce the cost of buying land.
He added: “The issue will not be whether it is feasible, but whether there is appetite enough on behalf of governments and the business community to actually make it happen.”
Source: Edinburgh University