Freight at a speed of 700km per hour? By 2050 says Hardt Hyperloop
Same-day delivery on a continental scale. Turning entire continents into a single-market. A futuristic scenario? No, a concrete projection of what a hyperloop network can do in Europe. And not only can, but will do, if it is up to Hardt Hyperloop. “Hyperloop is happening”, said David Cao, transport network development specialist at the Rotterdam-headquartered company.
Cao presented the tube technology at trade fair RailTech on 23 June. By 2050, Hardt Hyperloop plans to deliver 100,000 km of mixed-use network, and this is only 69 per cent of what the company plans to roll out in Europe.
Rotterdam-Milan in an hour
Just a quick recap of what the technology entails and you easily get impressed. Hyperloop transportation is floating without friction. Pod-like coaches float through a tube using magnetic propulsion at a speed of 700 kmph. This puts it in the same category as flying. Lane-switching happens autonomously, there is no need for signalling.
This will certainly mean a great leap forward in the movement of freight. The fastest freight train currently runs at a speed of 350 kmph, and this is in China. In Europe, high-speed freight trains are less common, because the network is much more complex. With the hyperloop, the distance between Rotterdam and Milan in theory could be covered in a little more than one hour. “It is designed as a global interoperable standard from day one, circumventing the apparently insurmountable challenge to standardise rail systems throughout the world”, said Cao.
A hyperloop freight network
The specialist explained what a network would look like for freight. The hyperloop can basically run between any two points, based on demand rather than a fixed schedule. There will be large consolidation points, from where smaller distances are covered at a lower speed. “High-speed (international) lines will avoid highly urbanised areas; the cargo hubs can be located in an urban logistics zone on the edge of a city.
“It massively increases logistics efficiency, where warehousing can be centralised and orders shipped just in time to a hub near an urban centre for last mile delivery, rather than duplicating warehousing, stock and processes nearby every city”, Cao explained.
The network will be constructed between 29 core hubs in Europe. These are hubs where the company receives support, but these are also start and end points of corridors with the highest traffic intensities in Europe. “International origin-destination pairs with high demand potential are Frankfurt-Paris, Munich-Paris, Frankfurt-Lisbon and London-Amsterdam. 65 per cent of the hubs are on TEN-T corridors.”
“We haven’t had a big breakthrough in transport for a long time. Hyperloop could be that breakthrough”, says CAO during his 45-minute workshop at the trade fair. The breakthrough narrative is compelling when comparing it to the traditional transport modes. Not only in terms of speed, but also in terms of sustainability, as it reduces overall energy-usage and emissions as well as land use.
Currently, transport in general covers 10-25 per cent of urban space. Hardt Hyperloop claims to use only half of the space road, rail and metro use while offering the same capacity. If correct, this could indeed be a solution for the already congested railway network, and the long-held competition of passenger and freight transportation, which both argue for sufficient capacity on this network.
Competition for rail?
Yet, not everybody is equally welcoming of the new technology. In March 2021, the Community of European Railway and Infrastructure Companies (CER) published a position paper on the hyperloop, pointing out areas of potential conflict. According to the industry association, these lie in the availability of funds for the railway industry, unfair competition and competition with other high-speed rail projects.
“Just as what happened to railway transport when road traffic came up in the second half of the 20th century, the hyperloop should not interfere with the current developments of traditional railways”, the CER said. Nevertheless, traditional rail and hyperloop could complement each other and connect, as they have several characteristics in common, it added.
Competitor or partner?
Cao presented at RailTech that in order to handle the growing demand based on the current transport infrastructure, investments of more than 50,000 billion euros are required towards 2050. For rail as a modality, this figure is 3,304 billion euros. “By repurposing about 6.7 per cent of projected transport infrastructure investment needed for Europe, a comprehensive hyperloop network can be built”, he noted.
Does this mean that funds reserved for the railway network could indeed be re-allocated? According to Cao, this is not the case. “We work together with large railway operators, all of this is based on partnership. We want to see how we can complement each other.”