Pod Travel May be Next Big Transportation Invention

Arlington — Imagine traveling from the Dallas-Fort Worth area to Laredo in less than an hour. Currently, such trips only exist in people’s imaginations or science fiction universes where space ships are powered by warp drive, protected by invisible shields and have artificial gravity. However, one group hopes to make such travel a science fact, perhaps even in the next decade. They are members of Virgin Hyperloop One (VHO), which is aiming to revolutionize the concept of mass transportation.

“We’re hoping it’s not a next step; we’re hoping it’s a giant leap,” Ryan Kelly, VHO’s head of marketing and communications, said. “We haven’t seen a new mode of ground transportation, mass transportation in over 100 years.”

VHO is taking its product on a U.S. roadshow to bring the XP-1 hyperloop pod to communities across the United States and start a dialogue about the power of this new form of mass transportation. The company recently stopped in Arlington to unveil XP-1 at AT&T Stadium.

VHO’s proposes people travel in pods that will carry around 28 passengers, which will travel through tubes that can be built above or below ground. The idea is the have a series of self-driving, autonomous passenger pods, which will move like a train, but also will have designated stops where the vehicle leaves the tube, much like a car or truck leaves a highway, so others behind it would not wait for a single pod to stop and unload.

The vehicles will move at aircraft-like speeds, and unlike a train, there would be no stops between starting and ending cities.

“It’s a lot more like cars on a highway,” Kristen Hammer, VHO business development manager, said. “First, there are individual pods holding about 30 people, rather than a train holding hundreds of people.”

Previously, Hammer was the company’s material engineering manager and was involved in design of the system.

The autonomous vehicles also will be overseen by a central command center, said Sarah Lawson, a marketing project manager for VHO.

“The max (speed) will be like 670 mph,” Kelly said. “We could potentially put about 16,000 passengers per hour into a main tube.”

Currently, studies are being done to see how many pods will be needed along a proposed system, Hammer said.

Recently, a prototype, the XP-1, reached a speed of 240 mph on a 550-yard (about 500 meters) test track in Nevada. That test run consisted of reaching top speed in about 300 meters and then braking over the final 200.

VHO’s current design has a pod traveling within a “low-pressure environment” tube, Hammer said.

“From an engineering standpoint, we [call it a] vacuum, but it is closer to air than vacuum,” she said. “We are about 1/100th of an atmosphere, kind of like flying at 200,000 feet. That gives us an aerodynamic advantage to reduce the amount of energy we need to go really fast and allows us to hit speeds you wouldn’t normally hit in the air.”

The pod is propelled through the tube with a linear electric motor, which creates a magnetic field that interacts with magnets on the pod and propels the vehicle.

“Our proposition is to connect cities like metro stops,” Kelly said. “Something that would arrive in 3½ to 5 hours, we can now do in a half hour. You’re creating these mega regions, so the economic benefits are massive.”

Should such a system become viable, then those living in places like Waco or Austin could use it to commute to and from work in the DFW area.
Currently, VHO plans to set up a system in India, which would connect the cities of Pune, a city of about 7 million people, and Mumbai, a city of about 20 million residents. Currently there are people who live in Pune and work in Mumbai, about a four-hour drive, and because of the distance, they stay in Mumbai for multiple days.

“We can connect them with the Hyperloop in about 22 minutes,” Hammer said. “We’re trying to break ground next year, which is pretty aggressive. Our goal is to have people riding that by 2030.”

VHO officials also have met with the North Texas Council of Governments and several chambers of commerce regarding designing a Texas Hyperloop system, as well as a possible testing track.

“Our next step is to get this ready for passenger safety, and we want to get that done by 2024,” Kelly said. “We want to get a certification track somewhere in the United States. Could it be here in this region? That is what we are discussing now.”

Once a VHO system is operable, it will be designed to complement current transportation methods. Passengers could connect with other modes of transit, such as planes or trains, at their destination.

As for what it would cost a passenger to ride from point A to B, Lawson said that is still being studied.

“I can tell you that in Missouri, we did a feasibility study from Kansas City to St. Louis, and that showed the ticket price for a ride in a Hyperloop would actually be about the cost of gas to drive the route,” Lawson said. “It’s really a mass transportation system for all types of people who can do it on a daily basis for [business] or leisure.”

Written by Greg Ford