For years now, Elon Musk and his ilk have been encouraging engineers around the world to design feasible high-speed travel solutions. Soon, if Ultraspeed has its way, the space-aged hyperloop travel concept could be coming to Australia.
Ultraspeed, the Australian incarnation of USA-based Hyperloop One, has released plans to bring a high-speed travel network to the country which would connect Sydney to Brisbane via Tamworth and Toowoomba, with another route linking Brisbane to the Gold Coast. The proposal, if realised, would see commuters be able to pop from Sydney to Brisbane for a lunch meeting in just an hour, and then reach the Gold Coast from Brisbane in as little as ten minutes.
While it may seem fantastical, the technological developments necessary are already well underway. Hyperloop, first dreamt up by Tesla and SpaceEx founder Elon Musk, involves either commuter or freight carriages travelling in a vacuum tunnel, suspended on an air cushion and propelled by magnets. The vacuum is key to reducing friction to negligible levels and allowing for ultra-fast transport of ‘pods’ which could carry everything from passengers to cargo between cities at speeds of up to 1000km/hr. Needless to say, this type of transport solution could not only solve Australia’s congestion woes, it could also open up almost limitless possibilities for commerce and significantly reduce the cost and time involved in transporting cargo.
The Hyperloop does have its detractors, however, who worry that Elon Musk and those at Ultraspeed are overlooking one critical hurdle: curves. Currently, high-speed transport (which reaches up to 350km/hr at present) requires a turning radius of at least 7km, meaning that ultra-high-speed transport such as the Hyperloop system would require a much greater radius. There is then the issue of Australia’s eastern coastline. Hardly running in a straight line, and with regular changes in gradient, the experience for passengers could be akin to that of a fighter pilot taking on 5G at each turn.
While the concept is new to Australia, and is still in development around the rest of the world, there is certainly room for improvement regarding concerns such as taking curves at high speeds, and the cost of tunnelling. A Sydney to Melbourne line has been flagged, with Ultraspeed claiming it will cost as little as $40 billion (significantly more affordable, given the benefits, when compared to traditional rail networks), however tunnelling through the likes of the Great Dividing Range could blow out this cost considerably.
Of course, there are also suggestions that curves, ascents and descents could be taken at lower speeds, to avoid making passengers sick, however this would add to travel time. With ticket prices expected to be akin to that of a coach ticket between cities, the cost to passengers and the convenience over catching a plane (read: security checks, checking-in baggage, and making the way to and from the airport) could mean that even a scaled-down Hyperloop speed could still be well worth the investment.
As Hyperloop One and their contemporaries continue to run trials and develop their technology throughout the USA and Europe, there is no doubt that Australia will benefit from high-speed transport once other nations who’ve already committed to the concept have run through the trial and error phases of their installations. But, as Ultraspeed’s Steve Artis told The Courier Mail:
“Unless Australia joins the discussion today, by the end of this year we are likely to miss out [on the technology] for 10 years or more.”