ten years after the promises, the transport dreamed by Elon Musk remains a mirage

Between delays, repositioning and layoffs, the various projects linked to Hyperloop are struggling to convince, despite the large sums invested.

Ten years after being mentioned by the whimsical billionaire Elon Musk, hyperloop is not ready to levitate its first passengers at more than 1,000 km / h, but several companies are still working on the subject.

“It’s like the early days of aviation,” remarks Rick Geddes, an expert at Cornell University, near New York. “There hadn’t been a new mode of transportation for over 100 years!”

Elon Musk originally thought to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles in half an hour. Tired of traffic jams, and obviously not believing in the Californian high-speed train project.

1,000 to 1,200 km/h

Taking up an old idea, he proposed circulating capsules (“pods” in English) carrying around thirty people at speeds ranging from 1,000 to 1,200 km/h. They would follow one another in low-pressure tubes, perched on pylons.

We have spoken of a “fifth mode” of transport, after planes, trains, road vehicles and boats. Beyond the feasibility, uncertainty remains on the costs. And many transport experts remain frankly puzzled.

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Hyperloop’s “Passenger Hyperloop Capsule”, which was to be assembled in Toulouse © HTT

Elon Musk did not embark directly on the adventure, contenting himself with encouraging start-ups to realize his dream. He recently returned to the debate, proposing to levitate the “pods” in tunnels dug by his company The Boring Company. At the risk of making the concept even more expensive.

hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HyperloopTT) has been very active, multiplying agreements here and there. The latest dates back to March 21: it aims to open a line between Venice and Padua, Italy, for the 2026 Winter Olympics.

“HyperloopTT is ready to build,” assured its general manager Andres De Leon. A speech that the Californian start-up had already given to AFP five years ago. And which contrasts with the more measured words of marketing manager Rob Miller, who now wants to “be more careful with this kind of announcement”.

We are still waiting for the first section which was to open for the Dubai 2020 World Expo… A project that is still relevant, according to Mr. Miller.

The company successively mentioned studies in the United States, France, Germany, China, Brazil, India, South Korea, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, Ukraine… It also had to install a large test center in Toulouse, which will never see the light of day.

Another flamboyant start-up, Virgin hyperloop (ex-hyperloop One) tested in the Nevada desert, reaching 387 km/h. In November 2020, it transported passengers for the first time, at 172 km/h… before announcing in February 2022 that it was reorienting itself towards freight transport.

The company has also laid off half of its employees and hired the Frenchman Pierre Chambion, who came from Safran, to lead engineering. More discreet, the company TransPod. Based in Canada, it is headed by Frenchman Sébastien Gendron, an engineer with a much more measured approach than its competitors.

France not interested

Its first link is found: between Calgary and Edmonton, in Western Canada, 300 km apart. The line, planned to carry passengers and light freight, would cost him 18 billion euros.

“The reaction of the authorities was: ‘we will not put public money, but if you are able to finance the project by finding private capital, we will accompany you'”, explains Mr. Gendron to AFP.

The company – which is due to present a 1/3 scale demonstrator in July in Toronto – indicated in March that it had succeeded in raising $550 million from the British fund Broughton Capital Group, with a bank guarantee China-East Resources Import & Export Co. (Cerieco).

“It has a snowball effect” and should make it possible to “finance technology this summer”, says its leader.

A first section of about 20 km should connect Edmonton to its airport if all goes well in 2027, the line to be open to Calgary “between 2030 and 2035”, according to him. It would then take 45 minutes to connect the two cities, for 60 euros one way.

“In France, for the moment, the public authorities are not interested”, he regrets. A 3 km test track should still be open in early 2023 in Haute-Vienne.

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