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MORPC Releases Hyperloop Feasibility Study

Brent Warren Brent Warren MORPC Releases Hyperloop Feasibility StudyRendering via MORPC.
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The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission has released a new report on the feasibility of connecting Chicago, Columbus and Pittsburgh via hyperloop.

“We have continued to advance the work along this corridor ever since winning the Virgin Hyperloop One Global Challenge for the Midwest Connect route, and conducting this feasibility study was one of our first, major action steps,” MORPC Transportation & Infrastructure Development Director Thea Ewing said, in a statement. “The main takeaway is that hyperloop technology is, indeed, feasible along this route at its optimal speeds of more than 500 mph.”

The report (available for download here) identifies Lima, Marysville, Dublin and Columbus as potential Ohio stops, and provides an accounting of the potential economic and environmental benefits of bringing the new technology to the region.

It also lays out the overall case for the need for new transportation options along the corridor, particularly given the amount of growth projected for the cities along the route – Columbus and Chicago are expected to grow in population by more than 20 percent, while Fort Wayne and Pittsburgh are projected to see an increase of at least 10 percent. All four metro areas are also expected to see significant job growth.

One thing the report doesn’t do is give an estimate for how much it would cost to actually build out a hyperloop system.

Missouri study conducted last year pegged that cost at between $30 and $40 million per mile, which would make it roughly ten times more expensive than a passenger rail connection (a 2013 study of a proposed high speed rail link from Columbus to Chicago put the total estimated cost at $1.285 billion).

The new report does not go into details about how such a massive project could be turned into reality, although it does list several “next steps,” like creating an advisory panel to build on the analysis in the report, working with state and federal transportation officials to build a regulatory framework for hyperloop technology, and building a certification center in Central Ohio – a section of track that would be used to prove that the technology actually works at scale and is safe.

Last spring, a representative of Virgin Hyperloop One told Columbus Underground that such a facility could cost around $500 million to build. 

A fourth item included in the “next steps” list is a proposal to build a smaller hyperloop connection between Dublin, Downtown Columbus and John Glenn Columbus International Airport. MORPC is currently waiting to hear back from the Federal Railroad Administration on a proposal to study the idea that was submitted to the agency last fall.

Planners at MORPC have stressed from the beginning that passenger rail service along the corridor is still a possibility, even though the hyperloop – which uses technology that is still unproven in real-world conditions – continues to receive the lion share of media attention.

“With this final report,” said MORPC Strategic Projects Manager Dina López, “we can continue moving forward with the Rapid Speed Transportation Initiative’s main objective of providing affordable, faster intercity connections with both hyperloop and passenger rail technologies.”

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