DfT assesses feasibility of a hyperloop in the UK

Credit: Hyperloop One.
Credit: Hyperloop One.

A hyperloop system would have a transformative impact on the UK, enabling people to “live anywhere within the country and easily commute great distances.”

That is one of the key findings from the Department for Transport’s Science Advisory Council (SAC), which has met to assess the feasibility of the transport mode and provide independent advice on future policy and strategy.

Travelling at speeds of around 700mph, journey times of less than an hour could be achieved between most UK destinations, it added, which would help to stimulate economic development.

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Credit: Hyperloop One.
Credit: Hyperloop One.

In addition, the high-speed transport system would be “very energy efficient” in comparison to planes, trains and cars because of the lack of air resistance.

However, hyperloop systems are intended to operate with headways as short as 10 seconds between pods in sealed, low pressure tubes, meaning there are a range of risks that will require careful consideration, including:

  • Emergency braking at very high speeds;
  • Power failure;
  • Protection from physical and cyber attacks;
  • Protection and evacuation of passengers in case of a depressurised tube or pod.

With particular consideration to the UK, the council said that the country’s topology and dense population may make construction – which would require as straight a path as possible to limit the g-force – more difficult and costly when compared to construction in other countries.

Credit: Hyperloop One.
Credit: Hyperloop One.

Full or partial underground construction may be required to stop such a system impacting existing infrastructure and protected areas, which itself presents more challenges during construction and once it is operational.

Another hurdle that such a radical transport system would have to overcome, the council noted, would be passenger acceptance. Nevertheless, railways and aeroplanes have overcome similar barriers in the past.

In conclusion, SAC reported that: “…whilst there are some specific design and operational challenges to be overcome, there is nothing in the fundamental hyperloop concept that would prevent it from being able to operate safely and securely.

“However, because of the scale of the technical challenges involved (assuming that these are ultimately resolved and that the technology proves acceptable to passengers), an operational hyperloop system is likely to be at least a couple of decades away.”

SAC added that it believes the UK could play an importance role in hyperloop’s development through its engineering expertise, strong professional services and infrastructure delivery sectors.

SAC’s findings follow two meetings, one on October 26, 2016, and another on June 14, 2017, in which SAC received a presentation from Hyperloop One, one of the organisations working to develop and commercialise a hyperloop system.

Hyperloop explained: 

Read more: How long would your commute take on a hyperloop?