The drive between Chicago and Cleveland can take about five hours. Taking the train is a little longer—six to seven hours, depending on how many stops the train makes. It's easy to see why people would be interested in bringing a faster type of transportation to the corridor.
Enter Hyperloop, of course. The brainchild of Elon Musk, a Hyperloop is a system of transportation envisioned to carry cargo or passengers at speeds above 700 mph through low-pressure tubes. The train pods would hover above the track, using either magnetic levitation or air-bearings. Stretch a tube across the 344 miles between Chicago and Cleveland and simple math suggests you could cover the distance in half an hour, give or take.
At least, theoretically. No Hyperloop system has (publicly) broken a rail-speed barrier yet, and Hyperloop startups have generally focused on announcing new investments or miles-per-hour achievements rather than describing how safety would work in such a system if a pod were to break down and passengers needed to escape a vacuum-sealed tube.
But city planners and state transportation officials, staring down a likely future of population growth coupled with mandates to curb traffic emissions, are ready to try new things. For the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA), "new things" include opening a Request for Proposals (RFP) in partnership with startup Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, known as HyperloopTT, to study the feasibility of a Hyperloop line between Cleveland and Chicago. The RFP closes tomorrow, and NOACA has specified that, after it chooses a contractor, the study should take no more than 36 weeks to complete.
The Los Angeles-based HyperloopTT is the lesser-known of the world's two major Hyperloop startups, although the company is large: it has assembled 800 "engineers, creatives, and technologists" around the world to collaborate on the mechanics of such a system. HyperloopTT doesn't have a test track yet, although tubing for a track was delivered to the company's lab in Toulouse, France, this month. In addition, HyperloopTT signed an agreement to build a 10km test track between Dubai and Abu Dhabi last week.
Virgin Hyperloop One is the other major Hyperloop startup. It just recently announced a feasibility study that will take place in India, focusing on a route between Mumbai and Pune. Virgin Hyperloop One has also initiated feasibility studies in the United Arab Emirates and in Colorado.
Ironically, although Elon Musk popularized the idea of the Hyperloop, he seems to have set his sights on a more practical "loop" for the short-term. The Boring Company, a tunneling endeavor that's been the Tesla and SpaceX CEO's side project for two years or so, intends to build non-pressurized tunnels filled with electric skates that could "ferry" a car point-to-point under a city. The company is in talks with local officials on a route in Chicago between O'Hare International Airport and downtown, as well as tunnel systems in Los Angeles and between New York and Washington, DC.
For a full-scale Hyperloop project, the feasibility study that HyperloopTT and NOACA are requesting (PDF) is quite preliminary in nature. It calls for the winner of the RFP to conduct the study in four phases: first, detailing the project objectives, then conducting a preliminary route analysis. The next three months will be dedicated to an analysis of the "technical and financial feasibility" of such a project. Lastly, the feasibility study will produce a final report on "project development cost, schedule, and implementation strategies."
According to The Chicago Tribune, NOACA and HyperloopTT are putting up $1.2 million to finance the four phases of the study. But lots of obstacles stand between a feasibility study and the completion of a massive infrastructure project. How local authorities proceed after that will make all the difference.