-Prateek Raj Joshi

In 2012, sixteen years after the formation of California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), the US government finally authorized the construction of high speed rail that connects San Jose, LA, San Francisco and Anaheim covering a total distance of 510 miles (820 km). An immense budget of $68.4 billion was separated for the project. Till 2016, first phase of this project is in construction and the second phase has already been proposed which is to be completed in 2029. This vast project is supposed to give employment opportunity to more than 450,000 people. Considering these facts, this is a great leap of the US government towards transportation, but there was a person who felt that for the amount of money invested, the technology was outdated and the speed insufficient. Hence, Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Paypal, SpaceX and Tesla motors, put forward the concept of Hyperloop, which was proposed to be a lot cheaper, eco-friendly and efficient for several reasons.

What might be the least possible time to travel from eastern to far-western part of Nepal (800km)? 1.15 hours via air and if we consider road, it’s more than 24 hours via bus. Hyperloop completes this in just 40 minutes at its top speed. Of course, this can only be taken as a reference, since a country without even a rail has a small chance of having a hyperloop.

What is Hyperloop? What enables it to run at a speed of 1220 kmph?

Hyperloop is a structure consisting of a capsule inside a partial-vacuum shield, the capsule works on maglev principle and hence, doesn’t touch any part of the shield. It is simply like an airplane on high altitude and low pressure. The partial-vacuum shield has no or minimal air resistance which enables the Hyperloop to run at a great speed. A single capsule can carry 28 passengers on a single run. Each capsule has its own compressor at the front end which creates a vacuum. This minimizes the drag during the travel. Hyperloop is only a concept for now and its prototype is in construction phase. But, the team publicly performs test and experiments to ensure that this concept will soon turn into reality.

With an estimated budget of about a tenth of total cost of a high speed railway system, this concept has been open sourced so that students and companies from different parts of the world could get involved and present their ideas. “Hyperloop Pod Competition” was recently organized by SpaceX for students and non-students teams from different parts of the world with an aim to award the best designing and building team. The competition, being divided into two stages, 30 of 115 designs were selected to build hardware and the selected hardwares were allotted to compete on a predetermined track.

The principle of hyperloop is not a new concept though. Centuries ago, a British mechanical engineer wrote a book about his idea of transporting people and goods through an airtight tube using air propulsion. This has been described as the 5th mode of transportation after road, air, water and rail. For now, the tracks are being built in Nevada with the collaboration of Hyperloop Transportation Technology Inc., SpaceX and Hyperloop Technologies. According to the Engineers, most challenging of all is the design aspect of this project. It is an unconventional system because of which everything has to be made from scratch. Considering safety as an indispensable factor, the company claims this to be the safest way of transportation since the whole system will be computerized preventing human errors.

What adds icing to the cake is the fact that this will generate more power than it consumes as a closed system. Big arrays of solar panels will power the system preventing it from employing additional electricity.

At such a tremendous speed, passenger comfort will also be an element to be taken into account. This is measured in g-force: a measure of pull on a body due to change in direction when in motion. A force up to 0.5g will not make a passenger feel uncomfortable. At such a tremendous speed, a person is likely to experience a force greater than the threshold. To prevent this, the speed of the capsule will be reduced to 480 kmph on significant bends. To further decrease this force, a banking mechanism has been introduced inside the capsule. While the g-force has not been a deal breaker, Musk’s hyperloop does have some technical challenges. The continuous compression and expansion of air inside the shield is prone to create a lot of heat which might damage the capsule itself. This might be the major issue for hyperloop, however, a water-cooling system has been proposed which might be enough to handle the heat.

Proposed Design

Unlike other modes of transportation, Hyperloop will be fully computerized. This system is supposed to be immune to wind, rain, fog, ice and even earthquake. For this, the tube will be made with the necessary flexibility and the capsules will use mechanical braking systems. While the prototype testing is still going on, it has already been decided to be built in some parts of the United States (LA to San Francisco) and Europe.

At present, Hyperloop Transportation has started building a 5-mile-long test track in California and has already signed contracts with the landowners. Their plan includes finalizing the whole track before 2019 and opening it to the public in 2019 with an aim of carrying 10 million people a year. Success in this project will not only add another way of transportation but will also revolutionize the existing system to a whole new level.

A version of this article appears on our Medium Page.
First Published on Aug 3, 2016. Facts mentioned here may be outdated or inaccurate.