Travelling at 670mph, Virgin Hyperloop One could make the journey from London to Edinburgh in less than an hour and to Manchester in less than half an hour. Compelo was in the audience at London Tech Week as the futuristic company's creative director Colin Rhys set out its ambitious plans to revolutionise transport
Hyperloop transport that could take passengers from London to Edinburgh in less than an hour is not science fiction but a very realistic prospect.
That’s the view of Colin Rhys, one of the key men spearheading Virgin Hyperloop One – the Richard Branson-backed company leading the race to build a ground transportation system that’s faster than a commercial airliner.
Creative director Mr Rhys was one of the headline speakers at London Tech Week’s TechXLR8 event in a bid to drive up interest and investment in a project he believes could transform people’s everyday lives by dramatically speeding up commuter times.
He explained how successful tests have already been carried out in the Nevada desert and expects the lightning-speed transport to be operational within the next five years.
“Many people might have thought Hyperloop is a sci-fi fantasy but it’s very real and it’s here today,” he said.
“We went from having five of us in a garage to testing it successfully in just under three years.
“It makes you realise this technology is going to happen in your lifetime. You will be able to ride on a Hyperloop and your time will be given back to you.”
Cutting down the commute
Apparently capable of travelling at speeds of up to 670mph in a magnetically levitating pod, Hyperloop transport could travel from Dubai to Abu Dhabi in 12 minutes, New York to Los Angeles in four hours and 28 minutes, or Barcelona to Berlin in an hour and 45 minutes.
Localising it for his London audience at the ExCeL, Mr Rhys said: “When you think about a half-hour commute to work, it doesn’t get you very far at all in London.
“But what if I told you that the half-hour commute could get you to Manchester? One hour could get you to Edinburgh?
“Time is the most important asset in our lives but we can’t buy it.
“We will give up four years of our lives commuting but it doesn’t have to be this way – and we think we’ve found a way of changing that.
“Now is the time for a physical revolution – one that brings people together in a short period of time.”
From an economic perspective, such tight links between London and the UK’s regional cities would present previously unimaginable opportunities for balancing work and life.
“It would be possible to live in Manchester and work in London,” said Mr Rhys.
“Living in London is very expensive if you want to have a house with a garden. But you could afford to live and work wherever you want.
“It’s not just about getting from A to B as fast as possible, it’s about enabling a new type of life because currently there’s a whole band of cities in the north that are isolated from work opportunities in London.
“As a result, it drives new business hubs in places like Birmingham and Manchester, as well as higher job growth and productivity because people are happier with what they’re doing.”
How Hyperloop One works
Hyperloop transport works by propelling pods – each holding eight to 12 passengers – through a narrow, elevated tube spanning the distance between the journey’s starting point and destination.
It can hit speeds of 30 metres per second and 670mph, almost 200mph faster than a commercial airliner.
This is achieved using electromagnetic propulsion – in which an object is accelerated by using a flowing electrical current and magnetic fields.
The technology has been designed and built to be automated.
Mr Rhys said: “This will be the single safest mode of transport. We’ve removed the operator, which is responsible for 85% of accidents today.
“It will be very efficient and very quiet. A Hyperloop tube could be running behind you and you wouldn’t hear a thing.”
Cheaper than HS2 – but Hyperloop One can run alongside other transport
In Britain, the UK Government is pushing ahead with plans to build HS2, a high-speed rail route connecting London with other parts of the country.
The £56bn project, currently in the design period, will link London and the West Midlands in the first phase and then connect the West Midlands to Crewe in the second phase.
The railway is due to open in December 2026 and, once the entire project is completed, will significantly cut journey times – including connecting London with Birmingham in 50 minutes, Manchester in an hour and 10 minutes and Leeds in an hour and 25 minutes.
But Mr Rhys believes Hyperloop One will provide a far more cost-effective solution at up to $22m (£16.5m) per km, compared to the £78.5m per km for HS2.
He said: “We’re using robotics and automation to deliver it at roughly a km per two weeks, so it also brings down manpower numbers.
That’s not to say the two transport modes can’t co-exist, though, as he added: “We look to enable more people to travel by timing it with other existing modes of transport.
“We don’t want to eliminate other modes of transport at all – our big thing is integration, not replacement.”
Ticket prices would be similar to other public transport across the world at an average of about 10 cents (8p) per km, said Mr Rhys.
What’s happened so far with Hyperloop One?
Hyperloop One has advanced the vacuum train technology first dreamed up by rocketry pioneer Robert Goddard in 1909 – although the modern concept was suggested by Tesla founder Elon Musk when he published a white paper proposing a hyperloop route from Los Angeles to San Francisco for the Obama administration.
Hyperloop One was incorporated in 2014 and, having started in a garage, now has a team of about 300 engineers, technicians, welders and machinists based in LA.
Mr Rhys said: “Obviously Hyperloop has never been built before so every tool and component has to be built by ourselves.”
In October last year, Richard Branson invested about $50m (£37.6m) in the company – which was renamed to Virgin Hyperloop One – to take its total funding at the time to $245m (£184.5m) and market value to $700m (£527m).
The company opened the world’s first test site on a 0.75-mile track in the Nevada desert and has carried out three successful experiments last year, reaching speeds of 240mph.
Hyperloop One’s first destination will likely be in the east
Mr Rhys, who is also vice-president of Middle East and Asia for Virgin Hyperloop One, believes the system could be built in these regions first.
Branson said in April that he wants to see the company’s hyperloop operational in the next two to three years, while it has a partnership with Dubai-based port operator DP World to transport cargo.
But the firm already has a competitor in the form of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), which is about to start building a hyperloop track in Abu Dhabi with the aim of having it operational by 2020.
Mr Rhys, whose company has yet to announce similar concrete plans in the region, said: “When you look at the economies that are growing in the Middle East, this is the chance to have the next broadband.
“Except rather than sending music and data at fast speeds, you’re sending people and goods.
“I think we will see a production system running from 2022-23 in India, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates because those places are easier in terms of government and regulatory practice.
“They’re in a race right now to have shovels in the ground.”