Part of a series highlighting proposed European routes from the Hyperloop One Global Challenge. Posts featured routes in Germany, the UK, the Baltics, Corsica-Sardinia. Update: Spain/Morocco: Madrid-Tangier and Netherlands: Amsterdam-Lelystad route were named finalists in the Challenge.
The Hyperloop One Global Challenge unleashed a remarkable variety of uses for fast, clean and direct Hyperloop technology. This post focuses on proposals from three EU nations that want to leapfrog existing transportation modes and bring new productivity and growth to their economies. This is European innovation on a regional scale.
Transportation engineers have always dreamed of spanning the nine-mile wide Strait of Gibraltar with a fixed link. Some have proposed floating bridges, like the kind Xerxes lashed together with boats in 480 B.C. to cross the Hellespont to invade Greece. Others have suggested more conventional approaches such as tunneling under the sea bed. A third option is the most daring, as it has never been tried before, which is to suspend a floating Hyperloop tube 25-50 meters underwater. The tube would be anchored by cables to the sea floor or to sturdy buoys on the surface. Within a few minutes, passengers or cargo could leap this ancient trade gap between Africa and Europe.
A floating Gibraltar tunnel may sound like a radical idea, but it’s part of an otherwise pragmatic Hyperloop One Global Challenge proposal from the Hyperloop Spain-Morocco team. Their idea, showcased in early June at our Vision for Europe event in Amsterdam, earned its way into the semifinalist round in the Global Challenge with a high-speed route from Madrid to Morocco, crossing under the Strait of Gibraltar. A truck-plus-ferry takes 6.5 hours. A flight takes five hours. With a Hyperloop, the journey would be only 50 minutes.
Building a 21st century link across El Estrecho would leave a lasting impact on global commerce. “We are not talking about two cities, we are talking about two continents — that’s global,” says Carmen Palomino Pérez, Team Advisor and Director of Talent at the Fundación Universidad-Empresa. One-third of the 100,000 ships that pass through the Strait run north-south between Spain and Morocco, and the cargo terminals on either side are booming. Good for the economy, at the expense of congestion, emissions and road accidents. The Spanish port of Algeciras has been one of Europe’s fastest-growing ports for decades, and is now a member of Europe’s 100-million metric-ton club. The Moroccan port of Tangier-Med, Africa’s second largest by volume, is expanding to accommodate another 5-million twenty foot equivalent units (TEU) a year, doubling its capacity by 2019. Renault’s automobile factory in northern Morocco is a major exporter from Tangier-Med, producing 229,000 cars a year with capacity to produce 50% more vehicles if needed. A Hyperloop could offer clean and continuous capacity for all that growth.Spain has experience building big transit and infrastructure. It’s a competitive advantage among EU countries. Twenty-five years ago people in Spain embarked on an ambitious high-speed rail investment program. This could be one of the sectors where they can continue to lead over the next 25 years.
Hyperloop Spain would link three of Southern Europe’s most strategic cargo nodes into a multimodal super-corridor. The five to six million passengers crossing on ferries every year (and roughly two million air travelers) would cut their journey times by up to 80%. There will be heavy demand to shift from ferries to Hyperloop if it gets built. The Eurostar within 3 years had captured 70% of the passenger traffic between Paris and London.
The bigger picture is in freight. A container offloaded in Morocco’s sprawling port of Tangier-Med could be at an air cargo center outside Madrid In less than one hour. Today, it takes four to six days to move a container by train and ferry from Tangier to Madrid.
The biggest question mark in the proposal is the tunnel under the Strait. A conventional subsea tunnel excavated by giant boring machines is a known quantity, but could take a decade to complete. A submerged floating tube, also called an Archimedes Bridge, could be deployed far more quickly if approved, and it would be straighter and faster for Hyperloop transport. We’ve written about them before. They’re slightly flexible, well-sealed tubes stabilized with surface pontoons or cable stays to the sea floor. Their depth takes advantage of the hydrostatic effect between 25 and 60 meters with the least turbulence, and it’s down far enough to allow shipping and wildlife to pass. On land, acquisition of the rights-of-way can get complex but Spain and Morocco have similar policies regarding expropriation and the negotiation process is nearly automatic once it’s decided that the state will buy the land from the existing owners.
Even without the Gibraltar crossing, the domestic portion of the Hyperloop Spain-Morocco route would yield serious economic and environmental benefits. The Mediterranean port of Algeciras, Spain’s largest by volume, lacks a robust and reliable domestic freight link north to Madrid and greater Europe beyond. Everything goes north by truck, adding to congestion, pollution, and accidents. A Hyperloop link could transform Algeciras from a port focused almost entirely on transshipment today. More than 90% of arriving containers go right back onto another ship. A high-speed, emission-free and continuously operating Hyperloop running north to Madrid could convert Algeciras into an import hub, increasing productivity in Spain’s economy and adding a deep-water import hub to the smaller ports of Barcelona and Valencia.
The European Commission has identified the Europe-Africa corridor as one of strategic interest. Trade through the Strait of Gibraltar impacts the lives of 2 billion people. This proposal, which received the endorsement of both governments and private sector players such as Acciona and Fundacion Universidad-Empresa, deserves watching.
Hyperloop One Global Challenge semifinalists representing the Spain-Morocco route.
The Netherlands prides itself as the world’s most “connected” economy, and made an excellent host for the Hyperloop One Global Challenge showcase in early June.
“The Netherlands wants to lead the world in innovative and sustainable mobility,” said Dutch Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment Melanie Schultz van Haegen at the event. The proposal by the home team of Hyperloop Netherlands was in many ways characteristically Dutch: socially conscious, pragmatic and creative in its approach. If built out to its final phase, a “Randstad” loop that would connect all the major cities and airports of the Low Countries in a metro-like system. Imagine Amsterdam to Rotterdam in 10 minutes. The Hyperloop Netherlands network would turbocharge its domestic economy while keeping its logistics capabilities high atop the global rankings for good.
The first phase of the project would be constructing a shorter (15-50 km/10-30 mile) proof of operations facility to test, optimize, validate and certify the safety of Hyperloop technology. Minister Schultz van Haegen has already begun a study for the feasibility of a Hyperloop facility near Lelystad Airport and has asked for the proposal to build a proof of operations facility be included in the coalition agreement of the recently elected national government. "A new era of mobility has begun and in the next 20 years we will see more changes than in the last 100 years,” she said. “We need new concepts that are smarter than laying new asphalt. With no emissions and powered by solar panels, Hyperloop promises to be the only net-positive energy transport system.”
Acknowledging that people need to get comfortable with Hyperloop technology, the Netherlands Hyperloop team also proposes creating an Experience Center at Schiphol Airport that would feature a virtual reality simulator. The Experience Center would generate excitement and interest, and perhaps some cash to fund more feasibility studies. A later stage proposed by Dutch high school students would be an Organ Loop connecting leading medical centers in Amsterdam and Rotterdam for shuttling living tissue to where it’s needed with minutes, eliminating the delays and shortages that hamper transplants in any country. It would also prove the technology’s value and feasibility before it has to be tested on living people.
The ensuing stages of the Dutch proposal would continue to lengthen the track for the proof of operations facility to create the first leg of an Airport Loop that would unite the country’s three airports: Schiphol, Rotterdam and Eindhoven. The idea would be to shift primary cargo operations to the latter two hubs and free up more capacity for passenger traffic at an already overstretched Schiphol. From there, the final phases would complete a circuit around the country to make the Randstad loop, using existing highways where possible as the rights of way.
Hyperloop One Global Challenge semifinalists TNO executive Nico Zornig and his daughter Elisa, and siblings Roan and Jonne van der Voort, representing the Netherlands route.
Poland is one of biggest countries in the European Union, and at the crossroads of several major EU transport corridors, yet it is also the biggest EU nation without high-speed transportation. The engineers, architects, and designers behind the Hyperloop Poland proposal seek to change that with a plan to connect the capital city of Warsaw with the manufacturing and tech center of Wroclaw in 40 minutes, compared to 3.5 hours by rail or three to four hours by car or truck. The route’s first phase would connect Warsaw to Lodz, a logistics hub in the heart of the country and midway along the route. A Hyperloop terminal could catalyze economic development in Lodz, which is already one of the European terminals of China’s New Silk Road logistics network from Asia. It would also reduce daily commute congestion along the Lodz-Warsaw corridor, where seven out of ten passenger trips are done by vehicle.
The Hyperloop Poland team adapted its route from a 2012 feasibility study for an $8 billion high-speed rail project that was suspended by the federal government in 2014. That bullet train’s speed-to-cost ratio was deemed “dissatisfying,” but Hyperloop offers speeds 2-3 times faster than high-speed rail and can be built for two-thirds of the cost while fitting into narrower rights of way that trains cannot. The Hyperloop Poland team believes the new federal government coalition formed in 2015 would be more receptive to backing a Hyperloop project over the rail plan. Hyperloop Poland won the support of the Polish Development Fund and the Ministry of Economic Development. Poland’s special tax on the increase in property values caused by infrastructure development could be a major source of funds for the project.
The proposed east-west route is geographically attractive as it’s flat and follows existing rights of way along rail and road. The Hyperloop Poland team considered a southern route from Warsaw to Krakow, Poland’s second-biggest city, but saw greater benefits in aiming the first leg of this network west toward the European heartland. Krakow and Warsaw already have good rail connections whereas Wroclaw-to-Warsaw does not. The team’s business case assumes connections to city center train stations as well as airports and expects that, if successful, would be certified and operated by the Polish Rail Administration.
Hyperloop One Global Challenge semifinalists, Team Leader Krzysztof Tabiszewski and Architectural Project Coordinator Kasia Foljanty, Chief Brand Officer, representing the Poland route.
The Polish group, as with all Hyperloop One Global Challenge proposals, still has a lot work to do to firm up their business case, secure a path to financing, and sort out an approach to gaining regulatory approvals. The Global Challenge has unearthed creative ideas and enthusiasm around the world. Now the real effort begins.