From Paris to Amsterdam in 30 minutes: the team hoping to bring the hyperloop to Europe

A render of the Delft Hyperloop pod in action. Image: Delft Hyperloop.

What would it mean if people could travel between Europe’s major cities in less than an hour, without ever leaving the ground?

This is the vision of the team of Dutch engineering students working on the Delft Hyperloop – a project that could fundamentally change the way Europeans travel. For the past eight months, the Netherlands-based team has been developing passenger pod designs for the hyperloop, an innovative new mode of transportation.

They’re just one of over 500 such teams, in locations as far apart as Pakistan and South Africa, working to produce designs for this new mode of transport. Their work has been inspired and kickstarted by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, who first released a white paper on the concept back in 2013.

If you’re not familiar with the Musk’s hyperloop, here’s how the technology works. It uses metal pods, which levitate on cushions of air, to move through elevated tubes. The lack of friction means that the pods can reach up to 800 mph – roughly the speed of sound, and faster than a Boeing 747 airplane.


Despite its super speed, hyperloop is expected to produce zero net carbon emissions, thanks to its reliance on renewable energy sources like wind and solar. Other benefits include lower construction costs than rail or air infrastructure, and resistance to bad weather conditions including earthquakes.

Oh, and did I mention that a hop across borders using hyperloop will set you back just $20 per journey?

Kian van der Enden is a member of the Delft-based engineering team that’s working on designs to move passengers between Amsterdam and Paris in just 30 minutes using this technology.

“Right now there are people commuting from Rotterdam to London because the flight takes an hour. But imagine travelling to any large city within 1,000km in less than an hour,” he says. “With those travel times, you come close to a normal work-home commute, which would mean being able to work in one country and live in another.”

The team doesn’t have a particular route in mind for their European hyperloop track yet, but Enden suggests that the barriers to progress are likely to be legislative rather than technical. “The largest hurdles for implementing the hyperloop in Europe will be obtaining the land to build it and the government actually allowing it to be built. Plus, connecting countries is a task on its own, since you need to comply with two or more sets of rules,” he explains.

A close up of the mechanism beneath the pod. Image: Delft Hyperloop.

Since his 2013 paper, Musk has continued his involvement with hyperloop by sponsoring competitions and showcases, such as last month’s pod design contest at Texas A&M University, at which Delft Hyperloop received the “Pod Innovation” prize. This summer, at least 22 of the teams who travelled to Texas will be invited to test their designs on Musk’s own hyperloop track in California, which is currently under construction.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, a research company of over 100 engineers working collaboratively to make hyperloop a reality, has already filed construction permits for the world’s first passenger-ready hyperloop track in Quay Valley, California. It’s due for completion in 2018.

But the question of when exactly hyperloop might start operating in European cities is a difficult one for engineers to answer at this early stage. Much of the process depends on winning the cooperation of national and international authorities.

“Technologically speaking, it’s completely possible to build the hyperloop now, with around 2 to 4 years of careful engineering of both the tube and vehicle,” Enden says. “I’d like to see a working hyperloop track for passenger transport [in Europe] within 10 to 15 years.

“But a track connecting cities for the transport of goods can be realised sooner than that.”

 
 
 
 

Segregated playgrounds are just the start: inequality is built into the fabric of our cities

Yet more luxury flats. Image: Getty.

Developers in London have come under scrutiny for segregating people who live in social or affordable housing from residents who pay market rates. Prominent cases have included children from social housing being blocked from using a playground in a new development, and “poor doors” providing separate entrances for social housing residents.

Of course, segregation has long been a reality in cities around the world. For example, gated communities have been documented in the US cities since the 1970s, while racially segregated urban areas existed in South Africa under apartheid. Research by myself and other academics has shown that urban spaces which divide and exclude society’s poorer or more vulnerable citizens are still expanding rapidly, even replacing public provision of facilities and services – such as parks and playgrounds – in cities around the world.

Gated developments in Gurgaon, India, have created a patchwork of privatised services; elite developments in Hanoi, Vietnam, offer rich residents cleaner air; and luxury condos in Toronto, Canada, displace local residents in favour of foreign investors. An extreme example is the Eko Atlantic project in Nigeria – a private city being built in Lagos, where the majority of other residents face extreme levels of deprivation and poverty.

A commodity, or a right?

Although these developments come with their own unique context and characteristics, they all have one thing in common: they effectively segregate city dwellers. By providing the sorts of facilities and services which would normally be run by public authorities, but reserving them exclusively for certain residents, such developments threaten the wider public’s access to green spaces, decent housing, playgrounds and even safe sewage systems.

Access to basic services, which was once considered to be the right of all citizens, is at risk of becoming a commodity. Privatisation may start with minor services such as the landscaping or upkeep of neighbourhoods: for example, the maintenance of some new-build estates in the UK are being left to developers in return for a service charge. This might seem insignificant, but it introduces an unregulated cost for the residents.

Privatising the provision of municipal services may be seen by some as a way for wealthier residents to enjoy a better standard of living – as in Hanoi. But in the worst cases, it puts in a paywall in front of fundamental services such as sewage disposal – as happened in Gurgaon. In other words, privatisation may start with insignificant services and expand to more fundamental ones, creating greater segregation and inequality in cities.


A divided city

My own research on branded housing projects in Turkey has highlighted the drastic consequences of the gradual expansion of exclusive services and facilities through segregated developments. These private housing developments – known for their extensive use of branding – have sprung up in Istanbul and other Turkish cities over the past two decades, since the government began to favour a more neoliberal approach.

By 2014, there were more than 800 branded housing projects in Istanbul alone. They vary in scale from a single high-rise building to developments aiming to accommodate more than 20,000 residents. Today, this development type can be seen in every city in Turkey, from small towns to the largest metropolitan areas.

The branded housing projects are segregated by design, often featuring a single tower or an enclosing cluster of buildings, as well as walls and fences. They provide an extensive array of services and facilities exclusively for their residents, including parks, playgrounds, sports pitches, health clinics and landscaping.

Making the same services and facilities available within each project effectively prevents interaction between residents and people living outside of their development. What’s more, these projects often exist in neighbourhoods which lack publicly accessible open spaces such as parks and playgrounds.

This is a city-wide problem in Istanbul since the amount of publicly accessible green spaces in Istanbul is as low as 2.2 per cent of the total urban area. In London, 33 per cent of the city’s area is made up of parks and gardens open to the public – which shows the severity of the problem in Istanbul.

These branded housing projects do not feature any affordable units or social housing, so there are no opportunities for less privileged city-dwellers to enjoy vital facilities such as green spaces. This has knock-on effects on excluded residents’ mental and physical health, contributing to greater inequality in these respects, too.

Emerging alternatives

To prevent increasing inequality, exclusion and segregation in cities, fundamental urban services must be maintained or improved and kept in public ownership and made accessible for every city-dweller. There are emerging alternatives that show ways to do this and challenge privatisation policies.

For example, in some cities, local governments have “remunicipalised” key services, bringing them back into public ownership. A report by Dutch think-tank the Transnational Institute identified 235 cases where water supplies were remunicipalised across 37 countries between 2000 and 2015. The water remunicipalisation tracker keeps track of successful examples of remunicipalisation cases around the world, as well as ongoing campaigns.

It is vitally important to keep urban services public and reverse subtle forms or privatisation by focusing on delivering a decent standard of living for all residents. Local authorities need to be committed to this goal – but they must also receive adequate funds from local taxes and central governments. Only then, will quality services be available to all people living in cities.

The Conversation

Bilge Serin, Research Associate, University of Glasgow.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.