The port of Hamburg is to build an experimental magnetic “hyperloop” track

Hamburg is planning to build a hyperloop, not for passengers, but for goods.  Oliver Moody provides a good article in The Times about latest developments.


Hamburg to send parcels at speed of sound in hyperloop

The port of Hamburg is to build an experimental magnetic “hyperloop” track that could propel goods to their destination at speeds of up to 750mph and replace up to 4,100 lorryloads a day.

The technology, pioneered by Elon Musk, involves firing large carbon-fibre capsules through a tube containing an almost perfect vacuum to minimise air resistance.

Originally intended to be a form of high-speed passenger transport, the hyperloop has now caught the imagination of Europe’s third-busiest port, which handles the equivalent of nearly nine million container units a year. Hamburg authorities want to link the port to other cities across Germany.

“A bold beginning is half of a victory,” Angela Titzrath, chief executive of Hamburg port, said as she announced the €7 million pilot project.

The original concept can be traced to the “vactrain” envisaged by Robert Goddard, an American inventor who designed and built the world’s first liquid-fuelled rocket in 1915. In a hyperloop the transport tube is lined with powerful magnets that levitate a capsule and propel it at breakneck speed through electromagnetic induction. Pumps suck out virtually all of the air to ensure that the course is as frictionless as possible.

After nearly a century of languishing in obscurity, the hyperloop was revived by Mr Musk in 2012. He predicted that the so-called fifth mode of transportation — after boats, trains, aeroplanes and road vehicles — would ferry passengers across the 350 miles between San Francisco and Los Angeles in as little as 30 minutes. However, the reality has yet to live up to Mr Musk’s vision. The best that engineers have managed to date is a German-built test track that achieved a top speed of 200mph last year.

The technical difficulties have not deterred Hamburg, which has commissioned an American firm called Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) to build a 100m-long testing terminal and a loading station by 2021. They hope one day to build a distribution network across Germany and beyond at a cost of roughly €20 million per kilometre. “The whole thing sounds a lot like fantasy when you imagine that we could move goods from one place to another at the speed of sound,” Dirk Ahlborn, HTT’s chief executive, told Der Spiegel.

HTT is building Europe’s first model hyperloop at a site near Toulouse. Its rivals, including Virgin Hyperloop One, have proposed to use the technology to cut journey times between London and Edinburgh, Chicago and Pittsburgh, and Paris and Amsterdam from hours to a matter of minutes. Mr Musk has even suggested that a tubeless hyperloop could link colonies on Mars.

Sceptics claim that the operative part of the word hyperloop is “hype”. Experts have warned that getting rights to build the tracks over property, let alone getting a functional system up and running at a reasonable price, may be impossible. Bill Gates is among those to have warned that the hyperloop could also be marred by fatal safety problems.

For Ms Titzrath, though, this nay-saying misses the point. “Germany needs more of the bravery and the spirit of innovation” of Silicon Valley, she said.

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