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Great Lakes Hyperloop project proposal includes stop in Toledo

$25 billion privately-funded route would connect Chicago, Cleveland and Pittsburgh
Updated: May. 12, 2021 at 7:33 PM EDT
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - “Imagine a capsule that can carry people, placed inside a depressurized tube to eliminate resistance...”

So begins the proposal for the Great Lakes Hyperloop system: lightweight capsules zooming near the speed of sound between Chicago, Cleveland and Pittsburgh, with Toledo as a potential stop along the route.

HyperloopTT concluded their feasibility study in October 2020, and the California-based company determined that these major Midwestern hubs are primed for what they’re billing as the next era in human mobility. “Imagine a system that costs less to construct, less to operate and less to maintain because of its tube structure and very few moving parts,” says North American public affairs head Shelby Phillips. “As our study showed, it’s also possible to operate it without government subsidies.”

The phrase “privately funded” will likely be music to taxpayers’ ears -- especially considering the $25.4 billion in capital cost estimates -- though with a projected benefit/cost ratio of 2.2, the company thinks it won’t be a tough sell even with that price tag. More than 30 regional consulting partners are already on board, including University of Toledo, along with more than a dozen regional stakeholders.

HyperloopTT says the cheaper cost of freight transport through the tubes would help subsidize passenger fares, making rider cost comparable to current levels. “The Hyperloop system is adaptable for light time-sensitive freight -- pharmaceuticals, seafood and the like to be mailed the next day or within hours,” explains Chuck Michael, who helped lead the feasibility study. “A lot of that is carried in air cargo right now, which costs a little over $4.60 per ton mile, or trucks with $0.37 per ton mile... and Hyperloop would only be about 10 cents. We really needed to make this affordable for everyone -- we didn’t want to design an elitist transportation system.”

Each capsule is covered with a carbon-fiber composite they’re calling “vibranium” -- a familiar term for certain comic book fans -- which “monitors speed, capsule integrity and atmospheric condition in real time” They would carry 30-40 passengers along depressurized tube sections (each 6 miles long), with full consideration for easement with landowners either aboveground or underground. Michael says that, while it’s more expensive to tunnel, the Chicago-Cleveland-Pittsburgh line would be about 75% underground. “The risk of delay is significant when you’re trying to lay out a surface corridor between any two points, especially a downtown area. With tunnels, we can paint on a blank canvas, a straight line underground between urban centers.”

The end result would mean no train crossings, no weather delays... and thanks to magnets, no emissions or friction. As Michael puts it, “It takes no energy at all to levitate about 20 tons, and we can levitate [the capsule] at walking speeds with no energy input. Magnetic drag actually works where you have less resistance and drag the faster you go, enabling us to reach speeds up to 760 mph.” For reference, that’s only 7 mph below the speed of sound at standard temperature.

A speedy operation like this calls for plenty of safety protocols. Magnetic braking is one such feature, automatically slowing the train upon a power failure. Each 6-mile section can then be inspected/repaired individually as necessary, instead of taking the whole 477-mile system offline.

The feasibility study also estimates about 64,000 jobs and $3 billion would be pumped into the northwest Ohio economy through 2050: “[This project] really increases the access of people and businesses to other people and businesses.”

It’s unclear how or if this Hyperloop system would coexist with the Detroit-Toledo “T” high-speed rail system proposed two years ago. That project would see trains depart from the current Toledo Amtrak station for destinations north, though for HyperloopTT’s part, “The exact location of our station, with all the amenities and surroundings, would really be up to the city -- whether it be at Toledo Express Airport, downtown, or somewhere else.”

The project is already further along than you might think. A prototype vehicle has been built in Toulouse, France, with full-scale testing scheduled within the next few months (delayed from 2020) -- and a target date to begin construction stateside by 2024.

For more information on the Great Lakes Hyperloop project, head to Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency’s (NOACA’s) website. For more tech specs, click through to HyperloopTT.

Estimated travel times (peak 3600 passengers/hr):

  • Toledo to Cleveland: <20 minutes
  • Toledo to South Bend: <20 minutes
  • Toledo to Youngstown: 28 minutes
  • Toledo to Chicago: 32 minutes
  • Toledo to Pittsburgh: 36 minutes

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