Rendering suggests how the elevated hyperloop could run parallel to a Texas highway right of way like I-35 or I-10.

Hyperloop Could Add a New Dimension to
Texas Freight Movement and Then to Travel

 

October 10, 2017

 

The Dallas-Fort Worth-Austin-San Antonio-Laredo-Houston route has been named one of ten winners of the Hyperloop One Global Challenge.

 

Texas has key ingredients that could make it the site of one of the first routes. That includes mostly flat geography east of the Balconies Escarpment, large metro centers experiencing sustained strong population growth, a business-friendly political environment and a culture receptive to dramatic advances in technology. It also has major freight ports at Houston, DFW and Laredo with cargoes that lend themselves to hyperloop transport and creation of a mega logistics hub for certain kinds of cargo.

 

AECOM, Fortune 500 engineering, design and construction company, pitched the Texas proposal in the Hyperloop One's challenge. The 640-mile Texas corridor would serve some of the world’s busiest international air, sea, and inland ports and connect five of the top eight fastest growing cities in America: Dallas (both DFW airport and the downtown CBD), Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio and Houston. AECOM notes these cities make up an area the size of Georgia, with a population expected to reach 33 million by 2030, about the current population of Australia. A Hyperloop One system can connect them all with vehicle speeds of up to 700 mph.

A key feature of the proposal is to combine a passenger system serving the main “Texas Triangle” cities with a cargo Hyperloop to the border city of Laredo, home to North America’s busiest inland freight port.

 

The Port of Laredo is arguably one of the most important economic assets to the country. Close to $300 billion in annual trade flows through it from Mexico, China, Japan, and Malaysia. The combination of freight and passenger volumes, coupled with the efficiency of connections between so many economic hot spots, would maximize the potential of Hyperloop One’s fast, packetized transport system.

 

AECOM says that with passenger and freight vehicles arriving and departing at portals stations or portals a few times per minute, a Texas Hyperloop would create efficiencies throughout the region.

 

The Dallas Morning News provides insights into how the hyperloop concept could change the future of transportation in Texas in a recent piece by writer Melissa Repko. She discussed it with Steven Duong, a senior urban designer for AECOM in Dallas. Here is their Q&A:

 

How do you typically explain the concept of the hyperloop?
I like to ask people a couple of things. The first is to imagine a larger-scale version of the pneumatic tubes at the banks. Imagine that on a much larger scale, but obviously, a lot more technologically advanced.


The other thing I ask them to envision is imagine taking a plane flying in the air. Take the fuselage and remove the wings and bring that fuselage down to the earth and have it move at about the same amount of speed. Now, you bring the low-pressure environment of the upper atmosphere down to the earth by putting it inside the tube. That's essentially what hyperloop is. You're moving at commercial airline speeds — in some cases, potentially faster — near the surface of the earth, so the actual riding experience, the sensation, to the rider is very similar to flying.

 

Why did your company propose Texas as a potential hyperloop route?
The distance between the cities in Texas is ideal for a technology like hyperloop. It kind of hits the sweet spot between automobile travel and airline travel. For an airline, the plane is going to have to burn a lot of fuel to go up into the air and then once you're in the air, you almost have to come right back down because of the distance between the cities. And anyone who's driven between Dallas and Austin and along I-35 knows how much congestion we have, so it's not convenient by automobile travel either. So the actual distances between cities — which are somewhere between 200 and 300 miles or so — are really appropriate for a technology like hyperloop to service.

 

Additionally, the Texas economy is very strong. The population is growing quickly. It's a pro-business environment here, which all factors into the feasibility of bringing something like hyperloop here.


Do you see any other advantages to Texas vs. some of the other routes on the short list?

We have existing efforts that we can build upon, such as the Texas Central Railway (bullet train) effort between Dallas and Houston, which we're hoping our Hyperloop Texas effort could build upon and supplement.

 

From a topography and geographical standpoint, we are well-suited to build out large infrastructure just because we can avoid things like the mountains and rivers. Dallas growth, in particular, along with Houston and Austin, are very strong and because of that strong growth, you can expect a very strong future market for something like hyperloop. 


Texas actually leads the U.S. in what we call super-commuters, which are commuters who travel long distances between cities for work or leisure frequently. We lead that in the country already. That's before we even talk about the potential market that a technology like hyperloop might induce.

 
You said you see the hyperloop as complementary to plans for high-speed rail. Tell me how that would work.
If you look at the way we've laid out the routes for Texas, we intend to flesh out the rest of Texas. Existing efforts for a Dallas-to-Houston high-speed rail are well underway. They're very far along. And it's a great technology, but the idea we have here is to connect the rest of the cities and in particular, connect the freight ports, which is a key differentiator. We talked a lot in our proposal about what it would look like to connect something like the inland port of Laredo, which is a major inland port for the U.S., to the port of Houston and DFW Airport. By combining all of those together, you're creating a mega-logistics hub that covers both land, sea and air. 


What are some of the biggest engineering challenges involved with the hyperloop, whether in Texas or elsewhere?
I actually think the engineering side is not too entirely difficult. If you look at the videos and the explanations for the recent hyperloop test they did in Nevada, you see the technology itself is well underway and already sophisticated because it's built on the backs of existing technology. ... The real difficulty of delivering something like the hyperloop is more on the policy side. With a new technology like hyperloop, there's not a lot of existing "go-bys" for how to implement a technology like this. We don't have existing safety standards yet. Working with the local, state and federal government to understand 'How exactly do we regulate and operate and maintain a technology like this?' is the more difficult part.


Another challenge of any new technology is selling the public on it. How do you see hyperloop catching on?
You can see the excitement people have about moving away from traditional automobile travel and the excitement over autonomous vehicles and how quickly Uber and Lyft have risen from a startup to a company with a higher market cap than General Motors and Ford. There's clearly a lot of pent-up demand to move on to the next generation of transportation. 


It could potentially be used with freight first to build people's confidence. Once they see it, understand it, they will be really open to using it. 


What makes you excited about the hyperloop?
I personally commute to Dallas and San Antonio and other Texas cities quite a bit, so the idea that I could hop in and be at my afternoon meeting within 30 minutes certainly excites me. Also, as an urban planner, a lot of us want to work on the most challenging urban issues of our time. Transportation and accessibility are certainly among those, especially in the U.S. 


When do you think the hyperloop will be a common mode of transportation?
You could certainly expect to see a working hyperloop system somewhere in the world sometime in the next five years or so. As far as widespread adoption, it's hard to put a number on it, but I mentioned earlier that I think there is a strong pent-up demand for a new innovative transportation method, so I would expect a very fast adoption rate.