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.”


Academics are mapping the legacy of slavery in Britain’s cities

A detail of the Legacies of British Slave-ownership map showing central Bristol. Image: LBS/UCL.

For 125 years, a statue of the 17th century slave-trader Edward Colston stood in the centre of Bristol, ostensibly to commemorate the philanthropy he’d used his blood money to fund. Then, on 7 June, Black Lives Matter protesters pulled it down and threw it into the harbour

The incident has served to shine a light on the benefits Bristol and other British cities reaped from the Atlantic slave trade. Grand houses and public buildings in London, Liverpool, Glasgow and beyond were also funded by the profits made from ferrying enslaved Africans across the ocean. But because the horrors of that trade happened elsewhere, the role it played in building modern Britain is not something we tend to discuss.

Now a team at University College London is trying to change that. The Legacies of British Slave-Ownership project is mapping every British address linked to a slave-owner. In all, its database contains 5,229 addresses, linked to 5,586 individuals (some addresses are linked to more than one slave owner; some slave owners had more than one home). 

The map is not exact. Streets have often been renumbered; for some individuals, only a city is known, not necessarily an address; and at time of writing, only around 60% of known addresses (3,294 out of 5,229) have been added to the map. But by showing how many addresses it has recorded in each area, it gives some sense of which bits of the UK benefited most from the slave trade; the blue pins, meanwhile, reflect individual addresses, which you can click for more details.

The map shows, for example, that although it’s Glasgow that’s been noisily grappling with this history of late, there were probably actually more slave owners in neighbouring Edinburgh, the centre of Scottish political and financial power.

Liverpool, as an Atlantic port, benefited far more from the trade than any other northern English city.

But the numbers were higher in Bristol and Bath; and much, much higher in and around London.


Other major UK cities – Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle – barely appear. Which is not to say they didn’t also benefit from the Triangular Trade (with its iron and weaponry industries, Professor David Dabydeen of Warwick University said in 2007, “Birmingham armed the slave trade”) – merely that they benefited in a less direct way.

The LBS map, researcher Rachel Lang explained via email, is “a never-ending task – we’re always adding new people to the database and finding out more about them”. Nonetheless, “The map shows broadly what we expected to find... We haven’t focused on specific areas of Britain so I think the addresses we’ve mapped so far are broadly representative.” 

The large number in London, she says, reflect its importance as a financial centre. Where more specific addresses are available, “you can see patterns that reflect the broader social geography”. The high numbers of slave-owners in Bloomsbury, for example, reflects merchants’ desire for property convenient to the City of London in the late 18th and early 19th centuries, when the district was being developed. Meanwhile, “there are widows and spinsters with slave property living in suburbs and outlying villages such as Chelsea and Hampstead. Country villas surround London.” 

“What we perhaps didn’t expect to see was that no areas are entirely without slave owners,” Lang adds. “They are everywhere from the Orkney Islands to Penzance. It also revealed clusters in unexpected places – around Inverness and Cromarty, for example, and the Isle of Wight.” No area of Britain was entirely free of links to the slave trade.

 You can explore the map here.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

All images courtesy of LBS/UCL