Picture this: The year is 2050, and you just realized you’re late for work. You run out the door and start heading to your job in St. Louis, a trip that would typically take two hours by car from Columbia. Instead of being hours late, you make it in about 15 minutes. You didn’t take a jetpack or flying car. Instead you traveled at rocket-ship speed in Virgin Hyperloop One’s new mode of transportation along I-70.
This vision isn’t the stuff of a sci-fi movie; it may very well be a reality with a new transportation system called hyperloop. It is made of an enclosed tube that transports passengers and cargo quickly from place to place using magnetic levitation and electric propulsion. A vehicle or “pod” is loaded into the enclosed tube and propelled through the tube electronically. All air is removed from the tube, which creates a frictionless environment that allows the vehicle to levitate along the magnetic track at speeds as high as 670 mph.
Ryan Weber, president and CEO of the KC Tech Council, compares hyperloop technology to airplane travel. “Just like when you take off the airplane, you feel that initial acceleration, then you reach terminal velocity, and you don’t feel like you’re traveling at 500 mph, but you are,” he says.
The vehicles slowly accelerate and decelerate, so passengers can easily relax during their trip and enjoy a cup of coffee. The design places safety as a No. 1 priority. It will be fully autonomous, so there shouldn’t be any driver-related issues, and there would be no interactions with other transport systems or wildlife. Weather hazards such as icy roads and storms aren’t an issue because the tube is constructed of thick, enclosed steel and drilled into the ground.
The hyperloop’s speed is more than double that of high-speed trains globally. The fastest train in the world currently is the Shanghai Maglev with a speed of 267 mph. Other trains include China’s Fuxing Hao CR400AF/BF reaching 249 mph and Japan’s Shinkansen H5 and E5 at 224 mph, but nothing would compare to Missouri’s hyperloop.
Kansas City to St. Louis isn’t the only route Virgin Hyperloop One is looking at for its proposal. Virgin Hyperloop One, the only company with a completed hyperloop test track to scale, has projects in nine states and several other countries; however, Missouri has some advantages over the other routes.
“In Missouri, the advantage really is: The state has enthusiasm, it has a vision, it has a sense that it wants to build on a long-standing tradition of being a leader in transportation innovation, and I think that is really, really exciting,” said Jay Walder, Virgin Hyperloop One CEO in an April 2019 interview with The Missouri Times.
In October 2018, Missouri became the first state to complete a feasibility study of hyperloop technology. Engineering firm Black & Veatch examined the social impact, station locations, regulatory issues, route alignments and more to determine if a hyperloop route along I-70 is possible. The study found that transportation costs could decrease by $91 million from the reduction of highway accidents as well as up to $410 million saved from less time on the road.
Missouri House Speaker Elijah Haahr followed up the feasibility study by forming a panel in March 2019. It was tasked with creating a plan to get the first hyperloop track to Missouri, according to KOMU. Panel members include Weber, UM System President Mun Choi, Senators Caleb Rowden and Brian Williams, as well as other private sector leaders and experts.
WHAT ABOUT COSTS?
After about six months, the panel released its final report during a news conference at MU on Oct. 28, 2019. The panel’s report estimates a hyperloop track across Missouri would cost $30 to $40 million per mile, or about $7.3 to $10.4 billion total.
However, taxpayers need not fret just yet. Weber assures that the funding will not come from taxes. “I don’t think there’s any appetite in Missouri for taxpayers to fund the development, and that is certainly not a recommendation any of us are making,” Weber says.
Weber says the development could be funded through a public-private partnership, which would be combination of businesses and the government. It would ensure that the hyperloop project is delivered “in the safest, fastest and most responsible way possible, delivering the full array of project benefits while mitigating the risks to taxpayers,” according to the report.
The report also states a need for a 12- to 15-mile test track costing $300 to $500 million in addition to $50 to $100 million for initial research and development.
How will it affect Missouri?
Hyperloop technology in Missouri means you could grab dinner in Kansas City then catch a concert at Delmar Loop in St. Louis all in the same night. Not only could your weekend plans become limitless, but hyperloop would also connect all of Kansas City, Columbia and St. Louis’ resources in what Weber refers to as a mega-region. “Being able to leverage the assets and all three of those cities will create a mega-region of millions more workers, more health care options; you have more education options,” Weber says. He says that the connecting cities would have access to millions more workers, 2.7 million more according to the report.
The report states that Missouri could reap the social, economic and educational rewards a hyperloop track would bring. This includes 7,600 to 17,200 new jobs, an annual economic impact of $1.67 to $3.68 billion from new jobs and tax revenue generated by the construction of the hyperloop, as well as increased real estate value around portal locations.
“I think for employers, it would be incredibly exciting to leverage much more than what’s in your own backyard with a system like this,” Weber says.
The mega-region would significantly increase Missouri’s global competitiveness for high-quality jobs. It would have an environmental impact as well with a reduction of over 530,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, according to the report.
To take hyperloop from conception to reality, the next step is to try to obtain the Virgin Hyperloop One test track in Missouri. Once it releases its request for proposals, Missouri will be well-equipped to put in a proposal, House Speaker Elijah Haahr said during the October news conference.
Haahr says the first full-length track will be built from the certification track, so bringing a test track in Missouri is absolutely vital. The first certification track in Missouri would also provide opportunities to expand the hyperloop across the country.
“If we build a route in Missouri that comes from St. Louis to Kansas City, then we can go west to Denver in an hour, we can go up to Chicago, we can go north to Minneapolis or south to Atlanta,” Haahr says.
Having the hyperloop in Missouri might seem far from reality, but it isn’t just a pipe dream. Haahr says all of Missouri’s qualities make it a strong competitor for getting the hyperloop.
“We’ve got something that no other state has with our geography, with having a topographical and straight line map between St. Louis and Kansas City, having the second and third largest rail hub in the country that sort of connect the two sides of the state, and then having one of the top engineering schools in the country right in the middle,” Haahr says. “Everything is sort of coming together to dovetail in Missouri.”