Hyperloop technology: Regional Transportation Council looking at possible projects

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North Texas transportation officials are thinking outside the box.

The North Texas Regional Transportation Council (RTC) announced July 11 it will explore hyperloop technology for two transportation Initiatives — one linking Dallas, Arlington and Fort Worth and the other what has long been known as the Texas T-bone linking Fort Worth to Waco, Temple-Killeen, Austin, San Antonio, Houston and Laredo roughly along the Interstate 35 path.

The RTC will issue a request for proposals for a consultant team to complete the Tier 2 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for a high-speed corridor connecting Dallas, Arlington and Fort Worth, the July announcement said.

In addition, the announcement said the RTC has provided funding and has obtained additional funding commitments to do a conceptual feasibility study of high-speed technology including hyperloop for the Texas T-bone. That proposal will move to a more detailed Tier 2 EIS after the feasibility study.

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Hyperloop technology, which is already being tested, moves passenger-carrying vehicles through a tube either below or above ground, much as a vacuum tube carries checks and money back and forth at a drive-through bank station.

The concept was presented in detail at the Ninth Annual Northeast Tarrant Transportation Summit, held on Feb. 16.

Tarrant County Precinct 3 Commissioner Gary Fickes said at the February event that the “idea of traveling at breakneck speeds through a tube conjures up visions of H.G. Wells and sci-fi movies from the 1950s.”

A delegation from the RTC visited Virgin Hyperloop One’s full-scale test track in the Nevada desert recently to see the technology firsthand.

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“The RTC is all about bringing innovation to the transportation system in the Dallas-Fort Worth region and hyperloop would be an exciting technology to add,” RTC chairman Fickes said in the recent news release. “I think the future’s very bright for hyperloop and its use in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.”

Using hyperloop technology, the trip between Dallas and Fort Worth could take as little as six minutes.

“We’re interested in bringing this technology to the Dallas-Fort Worth region, and maybe to the whole state of Texas, so it’s been a great day,” said Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, speaking in a video that Hyperloop One produced about the visit to the test site.

“Our board wants us to advance technology as part of the fabric of how we think and what we do. So this technology, I think, very much fits that mold,” Morris said.

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Nathan Roth, assistant general counsel for Virgin Hyperloop One, said at the February transportation summit that travel between Fort Worth and Austin could take as little as 25 minutes, and between Austin and San Antonio 11 minutes.

An offshoot of that route — the T-bone part — between San Antonio and Houston could take 25 minutes. San Antonio to Laredo would take about 20 minutes.

“The Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Transportation Council has proven itself as a forward-thinking agency that wants to give its region a competitive edge by leveraging next-generation technology,” Rob Lloyd, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop One, said.

“Virgin Hyperloop One is excited to pursue these projects, which would transform what are now separate metropolitan areas into one economic mega-region connected by high speed transport,” Lloyd said.

“As our region grows from 7.2 million people now up to 11.2 million by 2045, we are planning a transportation system that offers choices to our residents. Adding an option like hyperloop to the existing system of roadways, rail transit, bicycle/pedestrian facilities and high-speed rail to Houston would expand the system in an exciting way,” Morris said. “Connecting other regions in Texas through hyperloop would open up economic opportunities throughout the state.”

Cedar Hill Mayor Rob Franke is a member of the transportation council and was among those visiting the demonstration site.

“Seeing the hyperloop in person was really pretty exciting, because it looks like a lot of advancements have been made in what the technology can do, and a lot of the tests are being run to be able to answer the questions we have,” he said in the video.

“Our region has been really progressive in looking at how do we transport people and goods around the region, bringing that quality-of-life issue as well as the efficient movement of things. So this is just another form of technology that I think could really help us relieve some of the congestion of course, but also open new avenues.”

Beth Van Duyne, the former mayor of Irving and now the Southwest regional administrator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, was also on the team that visited the Nevada test site.

“It’s a very large state and it’s a very populous state with a lot of jobs and lots of people. And I think we have that environment that you can definitely see people accepting of this technology and wanting to try it,” Van Duyne said.

“I think that there may be no region in the country that has been more open to technology and applying it to everyday challenges,” said Bill Meadows, chairman of the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport board.

“It will impact the whole region, and that connectivity, not only to the region but connecting our region to the rest of the state, is the possibility,” said transportation council member Kathryn Wilemon, who is also an Arlington City Council member. “We wouldn’t want to stop at just the region, because it’s important to connect people for many reasons.”

Dallas City Council member Lee M. Kleinman pointed out that North Texas has historically been accepting of technological advances.

“Our region has been built on technology for a long time, and from our personal perspective, very much about kind of all modes for all people,” he said. “We gotta get people walking, biking, training, busing, driving and hyperlooping, absolutely.”

Texas Central Partners, a self-described investor-funded company, is working on a high-speed rail line between Dallas and Houston following roughly the Interstate 45 corridor.

The Texas T-bone was presented at the transportation summit in 2011 as a concept of the Texas High Speed Rail and Transportation Corp., formed in 2002 after earlier attempts to build high-speed rail in Texas collapsed.

AECOM, a company based in Dallas but with offices in Fort Worth and around the world, proposed the new T-bone concept for a competition called Global Challenge that Virgin Hyperloop One staged to seek ideas worldwide for a hyperloop project.

Eleven U.S. semifinalists were selected to compete and AECOM represented five of the eight teams selected, including the Hyperloop Texas route.

Steven Duong, AECOM’s associate vice president for Design + Planning and Economics, said after the February transportation conference that AECOM drew inspiration from the Texas mega-region concept, while also examining historical efforts to connect Texas cities.

“The proposed corridors were selected based on the growing economic climate, booming population, key connections to cargo infrastructure, and its central location within North America,” Duong told the Fort Worth Business Press.

“Cargo users will be able to ship their goods seamlessly between air, sea and land. Passengers will be able to travel between major cities in Texas in mere minutes, as opposed to hours,” Duong said. “A hyperloop network in this mega-region would not only increase global economic competitiveness, it would reduce carbon emissions and traffic congestion in one of the country’s most environmentally stressed areas.”

Richard Branson’s Virgin Group invested heavily enough in startup Hyperloop One in October that the company became Virgin Hyperloop One.

The company has built a full-scale system in the Nevada desert, demonstrating speeds of up to 240 miles per hour in the 500-meter prototype.

“My understanding from the engineers is that with that system we have built out there, if we had a longer track, we’d get up to 670 miles per hour,” Virgin Hyperloop’s Roth said at the February summit.

Hyperloop technology allows vehicles to travel at very high speeds with minimal aerodynamic resistance by operating in a low-pressure environment using magnetic levitation technology.

In essence, that means turning the vehicle into an electric motor that moves in an elongated linear pattern instead of a tight rotation.

AECOM’s Hyperloop Texas team is composed of urban planners, engineers, architects, economists and policy experts, Duong said. He said the proposed route is 640 miles connecting DFW Airport, Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, Houston, including the Port of Houston, and the Laredo Inland Port “to form a uniquely connected mega-region.”

The world is entering a new transportation age, he said.

“As we enter a new age of investment in infrastructure around the world, there is considerable focus on mobility, disruptive technologies and the power of infrastructure projects to deliver positive change. The future is faster, smarter and better, and AECOM is at the forefront of the industry,” Duong said.

“Imagine roads that charge trucks and cars, autonomous public transit that gets you where you’re going safely and more efficiently, and infrastructure that communicates and helps save lives,” he said.

This report includes information from Business Press archives.

How it works:

Essentially, a hyperloop involves an electric motor, a tube that is nearly a vacuum and magnets that, as any child knows, can either attract or repel each other based on orientation.

There are two components to an electric motor — what is called a stator, the fixed part of the motor, and the rotor, which rotates around the stator when electricity is applied. An electric drill is a good example.

In Hyperloop One technology, the company has turned the vehicle into a linear rotor and the stator into the track. Magnets lift the vehicle off the track, greatly reducing friction. Air is pumped out of the tube, simulating the atmosphere at an altitude of about 200,000 feet, and that reduces drag.

“Only the smallest amount of electricity is needed to achieve extraordinary speeds and creates a more cost- and energy-efficient system than high-speed rail or airline transport,” the company says.

– Fort Worth Business Press, Feb. 26, 2018