Curious Colorado: Hyperloop A Far-Off Dream, Feasibility Studies Underway

Jun 19, 2018

Imagine getting off your flight at DIA, buckling into a chair inside a pod encased in a vacuum-sealed tube, blasting off at 700 mph and arriving anywhere in northern Colorado under 20 minutes.

That’s the type of mobility promised by new technology dubbed “the hyperloop.”

The next-gen transportation system is still somewhat of a pipe dream; researchers are studying its feasibility right now. Colorado is a finalist in an international competition to become home for the U.S.’s first hyperloop track. 

When listener Marilyn Hile asked us about updates on the project, we called the agency leading the charge – the Colorado Department of Transportation. Check out the highlights from our interview with spokeswoman Amy Ford.

Interview Highlights

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

When did the hyperloop conversation begin?

Amy Ford: Approximately two years ago.

Colorado, as part of an effort to broaden advanced mobility initiatives, we became part of the hyperloop competition. Actually, they reached out to us and asked us to apply in for it. Specifically, with Virgin Hyperloop One, this is the idea that you could have travel that would be in tubes and pods that allow you to go up to 700 miles per hour.

So, we moved through that process from a global challenge perspective. And were able to be really one of 12 worldwide finalists – which happened in 2017.

We actually have several hyperloop-like companies working here in Colorado. Virgin Hyperloop is one. Another is called Arrivo, which is building their test track in Colorado and will start that by the end of 2018. Their technology is just a hitch different than Virgin Hyperloop One, but it still this idea of rapid speed mobility and how to move goods very, very quickly.

 

 What’s happening now with the process? We’ve seen some rumblings about designs of a station at DIA and an environmental impact study. 

 

Ford: Right now the state is moving through what we call our “rapid speed benefits and opportunities study.” The study is designed to answer a lot of questions: How do you move through the regulatory environment of actually building something like this? What are the safety regulations? How does it fit into the larger transportation landscape? Who owns this? All of these types of questions are a part of a state study that we’re about halfway through with.

Concurrent to that, Arrivo and Virgin Hyperloop One are moving forward with their technologist feasibility analyses. In those, they’re working on route definition and deciding where it would go. They’re looking at economic value capture. They’re defining portals and how you’d have a portal in a community and how people would come in and out of those systems.

Why is Colorado a good place to have this?

Ford: I think when you look at us as a state, you know, we grew 50 percent in the last 20 years. We’re going to grow another 50 percent in the next 20 years.

So, when you think about the pressures that are on our transportation system to move our people and cargo, it is significant. And we can’t simply build our way out of congestion always with more asphalt and the like. So, looking at something like hyperloop would add another layer, if you will, to that transportation system.

How do we turn this from a cool idea to reality? What has to happen?

Ford: There are three pieces that have to happen to make this work.

One, the technology needs to mature. I feel strongly the companies will make it work.

The second is that regulatory environment. How do you govern this and make it safe?  That needs to happen.

The third piece is really the money. How do you assemble the partnerships and pieces to really fund something like this? And, when you’re looking at new infrastructure like this, you’re look at a really long game. But there are folks out there who definitely play in that world.

Are we going to see another Senate Bill 1 just for the hyperloop?

Ford: You know, I don’t know if we’ll be there quite yet. Let’s say there’s 100 steps to get this built. We’re probably on step 15 or 20.

The proposed Hyperloop One route through Colorado.
Credit Courtesy Virgin Hyperloop One

What do you know about the cost?

Ford: The initial cost estimates to build the entire track is $24 billion.

Can you put a final completion date on this?

Ford: I know that Hyperloop One was hoping that that they’d start construction on a hyperloop in the early 2020s. We’re on track to put together the regulatory side to support that process. So that’s the goal of the technologists. Arrivo is a similar build.

Where can we go to hear the latest news about these studies and the project?

Ford: Right now, as we finish up our study we’ll be sharing that through all public channels. We also hold a lot of information on our RoadX webpage.

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Jake Pedigo contributed reporting to this story.

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