The Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities’ created by Australia’s Parliament has recommended the government to explore the use of Hyperloop technology as an alternative to investing in high speed rail systems. Australia is two thirds the size of the United States with vast distances between its major cities. Ultraspeed Australia’s Sean Duggan says the Hyperloop could create a network of “30-minute cities.”
That concept has special resonance for Australians. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull made it a central theme in his latest election campaign. As people flock to urban areas, Australia’s cities are experiencing massive growth but also massive congestion. The “30 minute city” envisions new transportation systems that make it possible for people to live in suburban areas while being able to access the employment, education, and entertainment opportunities available in Australia’s cities within 30 minutes.
U.S.-based Hyperloop One maintains constructing a Hyperloop connection would cost 20% less than building high speed rail lines and be able to operate profitably at much lower occupancy rates. According to Australia Financial Review, Dr. Alan James, head of Hyperloop One, claims the high speed pod system would be financially viable at 15% occupancy, whereas such low usage number would “bankrupt a high-speed rail system.” That’s partly because the operating costs of the Hyperloop would be 60% lower than for a high speed rail system. James says it will cost “next to nothing” to move people from one city to another using the Hyperloop because of its low pressure, low drag configuration.
The Committee on Infrastructure, Transport and Cities’ report to Parliament says the Hyperloop would allow passengers to travel between Sydney and Melbourne in less than one hour. Today, that trip requires 12 hours by train or 9 hours 30 minutes by car. Hyperloop One suggests a pod in a “superluxe” configuration could carry 24 people, 50 people if configured for business class travelers, or 90 in economy mode. Pods will be much smaller than rail cars and could operate more frequently with far fewer passengers.
Of course, all of this depends on Hyperloop transportation proving to be technically feasible. The idea is brilliant, as most of Elon Musk’s innovations are, but the engineering challenges are immense. The fact that the Australian government will as least consider using the Hyperloop for some of its future transportation infrastructure is a small but significant step forward for the nascent technology.