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Interview: All Things Hyperloop and Passenger Rail with Thea Ewing

Brent Warren Brent Warren Interview: All Things Hyperloop and Passenger Rail with Thea EwingThe desert test site. Photo courtesy of Virgin Hyperloop.
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For a technology that is still under development and has not been proven to work in anything close to a full-scale setting, the Hyperloop continues to get a lot of attention, particularly in Columbus.

There has been a steady stream of news and announcements about the idea since early 2017, when a route including Chicago, Columbus and Pittsburgh was first named as one of 35 semifinalists – and then one of ten finalists – in a competition put on by the company Virgin Hyperloop.

Thea Ewing, Director of Transportation and Infrastructure Development for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), was one of the people responsible for submitting that corridor for consideration, and has been involved in moving the idea forward ever since.

We recently sat down with Ewing to talk about the origin and evolution of that original concept. We also drilled down into the details about the feasibility of the Hyperloop, how it has already had a positive impact on the planning process for passenger rail, and what might happen next.

One of the things we are likely to hear about, maybe even before the end of the year, Ewing said, is a plan to bring a Hyperloop certification center to Central Ohio. Also referred to as a certification track, the point of such a facility is to provide proof that the technology works and is safe.

Ewing also shared that her team at MORPC has submitted a proposal to the Federal Railroad Administration for funding to study a portion of the proposed Chicago-to-Columbus Hyperloop corridor – specifically, a route from Downtown to the airport – in a detailed way for the first time.

“I never thought I’d be working with a technology that wasn’t yet built,” said Ewing. “It’s new technology, but we’re in that role with not just Hyperloop, but all all kinds of transportation technology in Central Ohio, so, we’re in an exciting place.”

Although she stressed that a long time horizon is always the norm in transportation planning (as in 30 to 50 years), Ewing is optimistic that something will come out of all of this Hyperloop activity – whether that ends up being an actual Hyperloop being built in the region, something else like passenger rail being developed, or a test facility for the technology that would bring jobs to the area.

“I will go so far as to say…if this is a technology that is developed, that moves to the market, that this region will play a role in it,” Ewing said. “We’re very committed to transportation technological development here, we definitely have all of our cards on the table to be a part of developing this technology, and I fell like we are poised to help this one get off the ground.”

Listen to the whole conversation here.

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Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission

The Confluence Cast is sponsored by The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) featuring stories about local and regional partners that envision and embrace innovative directions in economic prosperity, transportation, sustainability and an inclusive Central Ohio. MORPC’s transformative programming, innovative services and public policy initiatives are designed to promote and support the vitality and growth in the region. For more information, visit morpc.org.

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