Traveling by hyperloop — pod-like trains that can travel at near-supersonic rates inside futuristic glass tubes — is still years off. However, the debate over what impacts such transport could have on towns and property is already hitting the fast track.
In one corner are hyperloop programmers, who state that considerably reduced travel times between cities and towns will reshape how and where people reside in positive ways. In the other corner are skeptics who wonder if the assured disruption will indeed be a fantastic thing.
One of the tech’s biggest supporters is Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, who started hyping the hyperloop concept in 2012. Mr. Musk’s idea, now shared by numerous startups across the world, is to propel pods filled with passengers on cushions of air with magnets as opposed to along electrified rails.
It’s very similar to the way magnetically levitated trains in a number of Asian countries currently function, except that hyperloop pods could travel through pressurized tubes. Doing this would decrease air friction and so heat, so that they could go faster still without bursting into flames.
Hyperloop gives the promise of rates surpassing 1,000 kilometres an hour, blowing off by these vehicles as the Shanghai Maglev train in China and its paltry top speed of 431 kilometres an hour.
At this speed, distances between cities can become nearly irrelevant.
Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One, one of a small number of programmers to spring up over the last five decades, believes it could compress the almost 500 kilometres between Helsinki and Stockholm to a breezy 28-minute jaunt, for instance. A flight between the two cities, complete with trips to and from their various airports, takes between three and four hours.
The company last month announced a Toronto-Montreal corridor, with a stop in Ottawa, as one of 10 finalists it is considering for commercial viability. Such a development, suggested by U.S. engineering company AECOM, could cut travel time between the two cities to approximately 39 minutes from five hours.
Toronto-based TransPod Hyperloop also believes it could deliver half-hour trips in two first corridors — both Toronto and Montreal and Calgary and Edmonton — with hopes of starting construction by 2022. It declared $20-million in seed-round funding to this end this past year.
Last month, the City of Calgary carried a motion to encourage the growth of a hyperloop research center and test monitor. TransPod intends to have a one-kilometre test monitor running there in 2019.
Compressing long-distance journeys would lead to significant changes to dwelling patterns, the company says. With efficiently shorter commuting distances, people could opt to reside in smaller towns and cities on the paths — state Kingston and Belleville in Ontario or even Red Deer in Alberta — and thereby take stress off skyrocketing housing costs in the big cities.
“You’ll have the ability to check at the map between Toronto and Montreal or Waterloo and Toronto exactly the identical way you examine the subway map at Toronto,” says TransPod co-founder and chief executive officer Sebastien Gendron. “By shrinking distances, it is going to bring to people what the Web brought to information.”
Such rosy predictions are naturally attracting a plethora of questions and criticisms. A recent report from The New York Times, for instance, brought up Marchetti’s continuous, a concept attributed to Italian physicist Cesare Marchetti that indicates people tend to sail for an hour every day irrespective of how much space they need to cover.
The phenomenon has held true for centuries despite technological improvements in transport techniques, meaning any time savings guaranteed by hyperloop may never be accomplished. People will just spread out and consume more space, maintaining their general commute times exactly the same.
There might be several downsides to this, urban planning experts warn.
At the same time, smaller cities could find themselves unprepared for sudden population increases.
“They will get an influx of prices in their regional systems which they actually can not afford to provide for,” says Shauna Brail, director of the urban studies program at the University of Toronto.
Hyperloop could also exacerbate inequality by forcing up the cost of property near pod stations. Big cities like Toronto are already experiencing this phenomenon, which is leading to longer commutes for less well-off individuals, that are forced to live long bus rides away from subway stops.
The negative effect to this, associated with Marchetti’s constant, is that large cities may experience even more sprawl. Commuters could ultimately save time traveling between towns, but then face more challenges in getting around large urban centers.
“When you’ve sprawl, you increase the overall number of excursions [you must take] unless you’ve got complete communities,” Dr. Brail states.
The rollout of hyperloop technology — and the recognition of its hyped-up advantages — needs to be presaged by plenty of study, the majority of which has not been done yet, ” she adds.
“It is only likely to behave as a Utopia if we could figure out what all of the negative impacts are and find a way to make certain they don’t occur. Given historic precedent, I am not sure that is possible.”
Courtesy: The Globe And Mail