The Power of the Network
Our current transport systems are at saturation point, and the hyperloop technology has real potential to help combat the issues of increasing demand, worsening quality, and essential carbon reductions. The key to realizing hyperloop’s full potential lies in its networked capabilities.
As Anna Dabrowska, Transport Economist at Hardt puts it: “Transport is the engine of the economy,” regulating the flow of goods and services through today’s globalized environment - and yet, she is quick to point out why traditional transport modalities are increasingly hard to implement:
“In Wales for example, new roads will only be approved if absolutely necessary, as they seek sustainable options to reduce CO2 and noise pollution. And, in many areas of the world there is dwindling space in which to build new transport hubs.”
By 2050, demand for transport of goods and passengers is set to rise almost threefold, and as 30% of all CO2 emissions come from the transport sector, something needs to be done as soon as possible. Hyperloop has massive potential to ease overloaded road and rail systems and aid reduction of carbon emissions in Europe, thanks to its low energy use (power which will increasingly come from renewables) and zero operational CO2 output. A European Hyperloop Network developed holistically will exponentially amplify these benefits.
The European Hyperloop Centre, Groningen
The development of the European Hyperloop Center (EHC), within the public-private Hyperloop Development Program, was announced in 2019 when Hardt’s mag-lev, propulsion, and lane switching technology for hyperloop were proven to work at low speeds.
The design of the EHC is being finalized and construction of the center will be underway within the next calendar year. We’re at “a critical milestone,” Dabrowska explains. Once active, the EHC will provide everything necessary to test the safety and performance of hyperloop technology at increasingly high speeds over longer distances.
This high-speed testing is to ensure hyperloop is “tech-ready” and the full system is realizable. It also goes towards informing the work of the joint technical committee (JTC20, of which Hardt is an active member), which is developing European standards for hyperloop technologies, and that of the EU commission working group concurrently looking at compliance and regulation.
The center will also be beneficial for the region and increase the visibility of hyperloop progress to stakeholders and the wider world. Ultimately, it will be the first step towards the first commercial implementation of hyperloop.
The first routes
Hardt’s first proposed cargo route, running from Barendrecht to Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, aims to connect the international Port of Rotterdam with the Amsterdam logistical hub. The transportation of cargo before passengers is the obvious place to start from a safety point of view. Such a route would serve to immediately help alleviate the pressure on roads and rail (from both large and small-scale freight) by connecting production facilities all along the way.
The route has a potential to remove 25% of truck traffic from adjacent roads in 2030 and almost 50% in 2050. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, e-commerce has experienced double-digit growth, and demand for relief of this pressure has escalated even further in the last year.
It might seem that the next stop for Hardt would logically be the Dutch Hyperloop Network - but ‘next’ doesn’t properly illustrate Hardt’s multi-pronged approach. Plans for a first route, which could be the main corridor of the Dutch hyperloop system, and connections to the future European network are currently being developed in parallel.
Hardt is already hard at work on the concept of a corridor linking Amsterdam and cities in Germany such as Bremen, Hamburg and Hanover. This hyperloop corridor would link up the prospective first route (from Rotterdam) to other parts of the Netherlands, and further into Europe. This international route can then be expanded quickly towards Poland, providing connection with the new central airport (Solidarity Transport Hub) and some of the most attractive logistics locations in Europe. A third corridor, Rotterdam — Breda — Venlo, would complete the backbone of the network through the Netherlands.
The European Hyperloop Network
These are just the first steps of building a full European hyperloop network, connecting major population centers and logistics locations on the continent. At the network level, hyperloop is set to not only combat the problems of current transport congestion and pollution but also bring new economic growth at national and continental level.
“Starting from where the need is most prominent, hyperloop holds the promise of increasing the capacity of transport per day by four times as much on rail, on average, and even more on road. Our model should that by building the global hyperloop network, we can reduce the capacity cost of standard passenger transport from approximately 0.26 cents per passenger/per kilometer to around 0.06 cents.”
This is in part because the hyperloop network will apply the Physical Internet principles and become an open, interconnected and interoperable network integrated with existing transport modes. It will connect European population and cargo centers directly, resulting in ‘on-demand’ connections; from Groningen to Brussels with no interchange needed, for example. It is easy to see the benefits and the appeal of this new kind of transport networking to future users.
What’s more, a European Hyperloop Network will reduce expenditure on, and space for ‘point architecture’. With on-demand hyperloop services and lean infrastructure, smaller transport hubs will be needed and the passenger/cargo throughput will be optimized, increasing efficiency. Hyperloop’s speed means that new logistics facilities can be further away from population centers which will simultaneously free up space for housing and greenbelt in city centers and suburbs.
In this way Hardt’s roadmap makes clear how thinking of hyperloop from the bird’s eye view of its networked capabilities increases the ways in which it can improve quality of life, and be the driver for increased economic growth.
As Dabrowska put it, “historically large infrastructure projects have resulted in GDP growth. We need to change the way we develop transport within the limits we currently have. If you can’t continue with the old, you have to use the new.”