Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is building its first Hyperloop track in France

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), a company which works on the concept of ‘Hyperloop’ has started out by building its first full-scale transportation system in Toulouse, France. The HTT project aims to develop a high speed, intercity transporter using a low-pressure tube train which travels in a vacuum at a speed of about 760 miles per hour.

At Toulouse, the company initially plans to complete a 350-yard system within the city this year and then plans to extend out the network for the second phase by another 1000 yards in 2019. Piers would elevate the 1000 yard construction with the tube running about 20 foot above the ground. This initial two phases would serve as test tracks and will be positioned near its R&D center in Toulouse.  

“Five years ago we set out to solve transportation’s most pressing problems; efficiency, comfort, and speed. Today we take an important step forward to begin to achieve the goal,” said HTT’s CEO Dirk Ahloborn. “Hyperloop is more than just displays of rapid acceleration and more than just breaking speed records. The real opportunity is to create an efficient and safe system with an unparalleled passenger experience.”

Toulouse is an important city in France, situated near the country’s border with Spain and is 250 miles away from Barcelona, leading to a possibility of connecting these two cities in the future. The Pyrenees mountains stand up as a natural border between France and Spain, which historically makes road transport cumbersome as roads wind around the ranges. Building a Hyperloop network across the borders by tunneling through the mountains could cut travel time drastically.

A Hyperloop network originating from Toulouse is not just favorable from a passenger front. Airbus, a major aircraft manufacturer, has its headquarters in the city and it frequently shuttles aircraft parts through roads from the nearest ports. The trucks that carry Airbus’ loads have a hard time navigating the highways, as the parts are often too bulky and need specialized routing across the country devoid of overhead flyovers and narrow roads. Transporting the parts through Hyperloop would be a tempting and viable option for Airbus in the future.

But beyond the excitement that surrounds the technology of Hyperloop, the facts on the ground need careful nitpicking, as the technology in its five-year existence seems to have over-promised and under-delivered. Hyperloop attained mainstream limelight when Elon Musk wrote about the idea of a maglev train powering through a vacuum tube, while challenging engineers and tech companies to take it up and develop it commercially.

Though the idea in its barebone state sounds elegant and straightforward, tests that have happened since then have not lived up to the claims of Musk, who purported that Hyperloop could move at speeds exceeding 760 miles per hour. Calling it the transportation of the future and that it can shuttle people between New York City and Washington D.C. in 29 minutes did not help the cause either.

The fastest test ever made in Hyperloop till date is 240mph, which was achieved by Virgin Hyperloop One on its third demonstration in a desert on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Though quite impressive, it still is one-third the speed limit that Musk mentioned on paper and was a system that was not built to scale. Apart from questions that arise about its feasibility, there also is the concern of unit economics once it is built. The infrastructure development for Hyperloop is extremely expensive relative to other comparable forms of transportation, which might lead to the chances of this exercise ending up as a financial black hole.  

Nonetheless, injection of new technology into the transportation sphere is welcome. It needs to be seen how long it takes to build the system and if Musk’s envisioning of the transportation of the future does hold water in the longer run.

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