Plans revived to build 3-kilometre Hyperloop in Switzerland
When it comes to public transport, nothing captures the imagination more than the “Hyperloop” - a pod system which is theoretically able to take passengers and cargo down a pressurised tunnel at airline-like speeds. Now, authorities in Switzerland have announced that a new 3-kilometre stretch of Hyperloop track is in the works.
New life breathed into Swiss Hyperloop project
At a meeting of the local council and authorities in Collombey-Muraz, Canton Valais, it was confirmed that the EuroTube Hyperloop project was finally taking shape. Initially scheduled for construction in 2019, the project had been dormant for the past two years due to a lack of funding blamed on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, local council president Olivier Turin confirmed that “contacts with the EuroTube Foundation have been regular again since the beginning of this year.” It was revealed to 20 Minuten that the organisation now have the administrative structure, and most importantly the cash, to proceed with building the track in Collombey.
Partnered with Swiss public transport provider SBB and the local authorities, the EuroTube track will be a three-kilometre-long tunnel that will be able to test Hyperloop technology. It would be the longest Hyperloop system built in the world so far. The municipality told the newspaper that 18.000 square meters of land will be made available free of charge to help the project along, so long as they are able to keep the system once it falls out of use.
What is a Hyperloop?
An idea that has existed since the 1920s, the Hyperloop is a proposed form of high-speed transportation that in its purest form involves running a magnetically levitating train or pod through a pressurised tube. In theory, the lack of any air pressure or rail resistance would allow the train to operate at speeds of around 1.000 kilometres per hour, making it up to 10 times faster than high-speed rail and providing a comparatively greener and just as fast alternative to flying.
“Hyperloop” is a term that was first coined by entrepreneur and tech magnate Elon Musk in 2012, although other companies, such as Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, have taken the lead in developing the system so far. Hyperloop One - formerly Virgin Hyperloop before Branson withdrew from the project in November 2022 - has arguably made the biggest strides, running a limited passenger test of the technology in 2020.
What are the issues with the Hyperloop?
While it may have captured the public imagination, analysts have raised concerns regarding how slow the development of Hyperloop has been so far - at the aforementioned test in 2020, the pod only reached a speed of 172 kilometres per hour. Many have also questioned whether the limited capacity of a hyperloop pod and the cost of developing a route make the technology unsuitable as a form of mass transit.
Safety concerns were also raised by UC Berkley physics professor Richard Muller regarding the pressurised tube system and how the technology would work over long distances. In a piece released by the New York Times in 2022, public transport commentator Adam Kovacs even called the idea a "Gadgetbahn" - a piece of public transport technology hailed as futuristic and innovative but is in reality less feasible, reliable and economical than regular buses, trams and trains.
Swiss Hyperloop track to be used for research
However, unlike other companies involved in Hyperloop, EuroTube is simply focused on researching the technology. The foundation was created by ETH in Zurich in 2017 and focuses on teaching students and developing Hyperloop as a not-for-profit.
Council president Turin said that “the project is on track”, despite concerns raised by environmental organisations Pro Natura and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), who told construction new site Batimag that while they do not oppose the idea of a Hyperloop, they have concerns about the project's impact on the local natural environment. He confirmed that discussions with the two bodies are still ongoing.
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