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Edmonton-Calgary corridor perfect distance for hyperloop: Expert

Timing might be right to explore new technology instead of high-speed rail

Imagine climbing into a pod and shooting through a tube towards Edmonton at 900 kilometres an hour. That's Elon Musk's vision of the hyperloop. Although he wants to see one between San Fransisco and Los Angeles, some think it might work well between Alberta's two biggest cities.

(SpaceX via AP)

Imagine climbing into a pod and shooting through a tube towards Edmonton at 900 kilometres an hour. That's Elon Musk's vision of the hyperloop. Although he wants to see one between San Fransisco and Los Angeles, some think it might work well between Alberta's two biggest cities.

High-speed trains? Those are so 1980s.

A Calgary PhD candidate in transportation at the Schulich School of Engineering thinks if Alberta is serious about a high-speed line between Calgary and Edmonton, it should look at the hyperloop instead.

In a post on his blog Spur the New West, Willem Klumpenhouwer argues that the transportation technology being spearheaded by SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk would be idea for the roughly 300km trip.

“From a planning perspective and from a technology perspective – I don’t think it’s the stuff of science fiction any more,” he said.

Although no hyperloop has been built yet, Musk recently hosted a competition at SpaceX headquarters where engineers tested proof-of-concept designs in a mile-long tube.

A working hyperloop could still be 20 or 30 years out, but then again, that’s at least how far away a high-speed rail might be as well.

Klumpenhouwer said Edmonton is just far enough away to make the three-hour drive a pain, but to make flying not quite worth it.

No other form of travel technology serves these moderate distances, but a hyperloop might.

Elon Musk has suggested hyperloop tubes could be built on raised structures, and take up less space than a rail right-of-way.

SpaceX via AP

Elon Musk has suggested hyperloop tubes could be built on raised structures, and take up less space than a rail right-of-way.

“The idea, both with high speed rail and hyperloop, is that if you can make the journey fast enough and connected with the city cores, people will forego having a vehicle at their destination for the ease and speed of travel,” he said.

A hyperloop would have some definite advantages over a train, according to Klumpenhouwer. First, a hyperloop would require land acquisition. With the tubes on raised posts, the footprint would be much smaller than a railway corridor, and could run across farmers’ fields like power lines.

Another is flexibility. While a train runs on a set schedule, a hyperloop could accommodate passengers arriving at just about any time. Pods could leave as soon as they’re full during peak hours, or on a timed schedule when demand is low.

Transportation expert Peter Wallis, president and CEO of the Van Horne Institute at the University of Calgary, said the hyperloop’s ability to have a flexible schedule would be a benefit to the market.

While he’s familiar with the idea, his concern is cost, which is something Musk hasn’t talked much about, and isn’t covered in the blog post.

“(Klumpenhouwer) doesn’t speculate on the cost for the trip or the cost of construction – both could be very high,” said Wallis.

Metro contacted the provincial transportation ministry to see if hyperloop technology is something staff is exploring. Press secretary Aileen Machell said while the idea is interesting, it’s not something the ministry is considering as a viable option at this time.

Klumpenhouwer said people sometimes roll their eyes at the subject, but he thinks it’s better to keep an open mind.

“I like to plant the idea in people’s heads,” he said. “The city at least has been into accepting automated vehicles are coming. If you keep planting the idea in there it might become a little more mainstream.”

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