Could infrastructure spending and investment be the answer we need as we emerge from the most disruptive pandemic of modern times? Millions of jobs have been lost and it will take time to get them back, and the recovery is expected to take some time. In the past, the world has looked to infrastructure investment to help lift the country out of severe economic hardship. In the 1930s, for example, aspects of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal saw the United States putting Americans back to work by building roads, bridges, dams, buildings, murals, and more. In Europe, the president of the European Commission is already calling for a post World War 2 Marshall Plan style of investment in infrastructure to recover from the virus that includes “innovative research, for digital infrastructure, for clean energy, for a smart circular economy, for transport systems of the future.”
As of mid-May 2020, the coronavirus has cost hundreds of thousands of lives and eliminated tens of millions of jobs, the fastest rate of job loss ever recorded.
Infrastructure projects like the high-speed Great Lakes Hyperloop currently undergoing a multiyear study to connect Chicago, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh could be an effective answer to at least part of the economic problems facing the US as a result of this crisis.
Great Lakes Feasibility Study
In December 2019, the Great Lakes Feasibility Study was published. It was the most comprehensive, independent look at a Hyperloop system yet and included over 80 public and private stakeholders from throughout the region. Through a public procurement process, Dr. Alexander Metcalf and Transportation Economics and Management Systems (TEMS) were selected by the regional public planning agency to lead the study in conjunction with HyperloopTT and local and regional stakeholders. Previously, TEMS had been commissioned by governments throughout North America to study the validity of rail corridors; it was the work of Dr. Metcalf and his team that determined the economic justification for the widening of the Panama Canal from 2007 to 2016. The results of the Great Lakes Hyperloop feasibility study determined that, not only was a Hyperloop system feasible for connecting Chicago, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh but that because of the inherent efficiencies of the HyperloopTT system, this would be the first time that a high-speed transportation system made economic sense. Ever. Beyond the clear economic benefits of the system, Hyperloop is also attractive for reasons of sustainability. The system has the ability to create more energy than it uses and also releases zero carbon emissions.
Naysayers like to point out that there isn’t a working passenger hyperloop system out there, yet the technology has been built and all of the components have been tested either at scale or full scale. Multiple organizations have taken deep dives into the technology and concluded Hyperloop to be feasible, viable, and in some cases, even preferred over existing forms of transportation. These organizations include NASA and leading global organizations like premier certification agency TÜV SÜD and the reinsurance organization Munich Re. The first safety guidelines for hyperloop systems were published by TUV SUD in 2019 declaring the HyperloopTT system to be the safest form of transportation ever created. Separately, Munich Re has declared the system to be insurable and the organization has started creating the first insurance products for commercial hyperloop systems.
The coronavirus crisis has revealed a number of issues in our modern supply chain. From vital medical supplies to toilet paper, getting supplies from manufacturing facilities to the hospitals and grocery stores in our communities has been put to the test. Hyperloop can ease some of this strain by moving goods from city to city faster and cheaper than its closest competitor, air freight. Current costs for moving goods via air freight run about $4.63 per ton/mile, compare that to the $0.10 per ton/mile for Hyperloop.
Keeping passengers and workers safe
Because HyperloopTT is not a legacy organization, it is easier for us to harness modern solutions. For the past five years, HyperloopTT has been working on reinventing the passenger experience from the ground up to provide for a smoother, more enjoyable, and ultimately safer travel experience. This has included integrating modern technologies such as:
- Digital Identity for ticketing to limit human interactions
- Passive health monitoring for passengers indicating fever during boarding
- HyperloopTT Mobility OS smart features that provide passengers with immediate access to telemedicine
- Customizable seating in passenger capsules to support social distancing
- Advanced anti-viral materials within capsules
- New air filtration systems within capsules that purify the air and eliminate viruses.
The case for Hyperloop has been made and verified, it is faster, cheaper, safer, cleaner, and quite simply better than any high-speed transportation system created by humankind. The results of Hyperloop studies have shown that the system can serve as an economic engine for the Great Lakes Megaregion creating jobs both in the system’s construction and operation and in the ancillary businesses that spring up around the system itself.