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Hyperloop shoots through UTC meeting

Thursday, January 11, 2018 by Caleb Pritchard

The Urban Transportation Commission went down the tubes Tuesday evening.

At its first meeting of 2018, the commission took in a presentation from engineering firm AECOM on efforts to prepare for a future hyperloop system in Texas.

“This is not something that’s coming in the next decade, or the next decade. This is something that’s coming in this decade,” AECOM’s Steven Duong said of the futuristic system of tubes through which magnets and vacuums would fling people and goods at speeds topping 700 miles per hour.

Dallas-based Duong is AECOM’s project lead on its Hyperloop Texas project, an initiative intended to get all the necessary technical, political and regulatory ducks in a row by the time the technology is investor-ready.

“That’s what we’re kind of navigating right now,” Duong elaborated. “What are the checks and balances, what are the levers we have to pull to make sure that when the investment comes to Texas, that Texas is ready, that conversation has been had, and it’s not catching everyone flat-footed.”

AECOM itself stands to benefit from hyperloop through lucrative construction contracts, an option it has already pounced upon even though the technology is still in the development phase.

His presentation to the UTC consisted of several flashy CGI videos, renderings and photographs of hyperloop prototypes currently in use by firms such as Hyperloop One, the outfit that issued the Global Challenge competition to identify workable plans for a hyperloop system.

Hyperloop Texas emerged as one of the challenge’s victorious proposals. The plan features two lines starting in Dallas and Houston, converging near San Antonio, and terminating in Laredo. The Dallas leg would pass through the Austin area, though because this is all speculative reverie at this point, no specific routing has been proposed.

The system could move people, freight and cars in pods roughly the size of a shipping container, according to Duong. From the point of entry, a pod would somehow be shot straight to its destination with no stops in between. Borrowing a phrase from the IT industry, Duong referred to this as “packetized transportation.”

“When you view it through that lens, transportation actually operates more like internet data networks more than it does traditional transportation networks,” he explained.

While zipping across the Texas countryside like so many bytes of streaming content might sound like fun, the idea is almost certain to face opposition similar to that which has hampered a proposal involving actual technology that exists in the real world.

As Commissioner Kelly Davis noted, landowners between Houston and Dallas vigorously resisted Texas Central’s plans to bridge the two cities with a high-speed rail line.

“At this point, (when it comes to) building infrastructure in the U.S., running into those challenges is the status quo,” Duong said. “I don’t think there’s anyone out there who would say that hyperloop would have an easier time navigating the private land issue than anyone else would have.”

In any case, even if the technology is proven by the end of this decade, the super-fast conveyance pipes won’t be coming to Texas anytime soon anyway, Duong said. He explained that Dubai and India have already inked deals with Hyperloop One to have a system built.

“You will see a hyperloop working in the world most likely sometime in the next decade for sure, probably in one of those countries. And there’s a high chance that the concept will be proven there so that it will be more comfortable for adoption here in the U.S.,” said Duong.

Photo from an AECOM presentation courtesy of the city of Austin.

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