Part of a series highlighting proposed European routes from the Hyperloop One Global Challenge. Posts featured routes in Germany, the Baltics, Corsica-Sardinia, and Spain, Netherlands and Poland. Update: UK: Edinburgh-London and UK: Glasgow-Liverpool routes were named two of ten winners, and the UK: Glasgow-Cardiff route was selected a finalist of the Challenge in September 2017.
“Time is Money,” read the rail map produced by the London Underground’s famed District line in 1892. For centuries the UK has followed this mantra, producing one of the oldest and most expansive public transportation networks in the world. The UK investment in transportation ushered in the global industrial revolution, marking a string of the most transformative early projects including the Bridgewater Canal in 1761, the steam railway between Manchester and Liverpool in 1829, and the opening of the London Underground in 1863.
Today, the UK’s systems are operating beyond capacity. London is the most congested city in Europe with over one million people traveling into central London each working day, swelling its daytime population sixfold. Heathrow is operating at 98% capacity. Expansion to a third runway is on the table but more of a short-term fix and far from certain.
Demand for rail over the past 20 years has exceeded government and industrial projections, growing faster than any other mode in the UK. Projects near completion such as Crossrail seek to make up for past underinvestment, but are not catered to future demand. Three Hyperloop One Global Challenge finalist teams from the UK believe that Hyperloop could help address growing transportation needs in the UK and continue the country’s legacy as a transportation pioneer.
Transport can also address the UK’s growing economic inequality between the South and North. London now generates about one fifth of the UK’s GDP, with only 13% of the population. The rich of the Southeast are getting richer, and the people who live there can’t afford housing near their job or find a job near their housing.
An uncertain post-Brexit environment could appear challenging for a major infrastructure investment given the high volatility in sterling, rising prices of raw material imports, and higher costs of governmental borrowing. Many companies are moving their operations elsewhere due to Brexit and it still remains uncertain whether Scotland will hold another referendum to leave the UK but remain in the EU.
Others argue that innovative infrastructure investments are essential to supporting UK growth in a post-Brexit environment, allowing for inward investment that regenerates areas currently isolated from existing economic centers as well as growth in human capital and employment opportunities. Greater connectivity between England and Scotland could integrate the two and create new successful financial centers outside of London.
By connecting metro areas across northern UK, and redistributing economic activity in a more balanced way across the country, the proposed Scotland-Wales route and a North-South Connector would stimulate growth and bring much needed economic balance to the UK. The proposed Northern Arc route would create a new megaregion of over a million people competitive globally with the London metro area. The proposals are good examples of how Hyperloop can be a politically unifying factor, and one that will allow for greater connectivity throughout a wide region.
The Scotland-Wales Hyperloop proposed by a team from the global engineering firm AECOM will begin by connecting the capitals of England, Wales, and Scotland. Cardiff to London would become less than a half-hour journey and Cambridge to Edinburgh would be less than an hour’s journey, collapsing the barriers between the UK’s overheated economic center and secondary cities ripe for investment and economic regeneration. Scotland’s density is among the lowest in Europe.
Hyperloop can also relieve pressure on London’s congested airports by supporting smaller, regional airports with greater connectivity as well as creating hyper-fast connections with larger airports north of the Midlands.
Hyperloop One Global Challenge semifinalists, representing the UK Scotland-Wales route
The route plans to complement existing/in-progress networks and utilize logistical hubs that are already operational. “We have great public transport,” says Simon Richardson, a principal consultant in the development planning group at AECOM, “We’re just unfortunately not given the level of service on public transport networks in terms of its capacity…Hyperloop gives us an opportunity to link at high speed and provide capacity that we can’t deliver on the existing rail networks, especially in the Southeast.”
North East England has delivered innovations that have shaped intercity transport to this day. It is the birthplace of the railway, the steam turbine and home to the workshops where George Stephenson’s Rocket was designed and built. But this historical powerhouse has been lacking investment for some time. The Northern Arc route, supported by the architecture and engineering firms Ryder and Arup, seeks to turn this tide and deliver a blueprint for a competitive mega-region in the North.
“For us to compete, we need to bring the cities of the North and the central part of Scotland together. By bringing those six cities together, we have a population of well over one million — which means we can compete with the likes of London,” explains Nic Merridew, Director at Arup. The route will also intersect with Manchester Airport, which is within two hours travel time of a third of the UK’s population, and access the wider Newcastle City Region where there are opportunities to make valuable freight connections between Port of Tyne, Teesport and the Newcastle International Airport.
Enhanced connectivity would help cities such as Newcastle continue their economic recoveries. Newcastle is strategically placed, almost equidistant, between the economic hubs of the M62 corridor connecting Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, and the Central Belt of Scotland between Edinburgh and Glasgow. There are great programs underway such as “Re-Newcastle,” which includes new housing for the growing population, a plan to make the city center easier to access and get around on foot and by bike, and a business-friendly climate with special districts and fast broadband connections.
But Newcastle is stymied by being out of commuting distance to the nearest cities of Edinburgh and Leeds, which are approximately 1.5 hours by train or more than two hours by car. With Hyperloop, they’d both be less than fifteen minutes away.
Hyperloop One Global Challenge semifinalists, representing the UK Northern Arc route
A Northern powerhouse could emerge as an international gateway to a super region of interconnected cities.
Some people complain, others act. Pictured below are only several of the more than 50 University students from across engineering, science, arts and humanities departments at the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University who wrote a Global Challenge semifinalist proposal to connect the historic capitals of London and Edinburgh. “It’s really exciting that so many of our team members are from different countries, different schools...and that they can all be excited about the same problem, about the same goal of creating a Hyperloop,” said Fergus Davidson, a physics student at University of Edinburgh.
The North-South Connector is built to support the transportation ‘spine’ of the UK. It includes Hyperloop stations located near the airports for each of the cities in order to off-load domestic air travel, especially between London and Edinburgh. “It makes sense to connect the two. We decided not only could we make the journey shorter and more pleasant and environmentally friendly but also with less strain on airports around London,” explains team President Adam Anyszewski, who studies mechanical and electrical engineering at the University of Edinburgh.
Mirroring the Northern Arc, the North-South Connector outlines how a Hyperloop system could help enable a more balanced economic landscape across the UK. “The UK is currently very London centered, and that has not spread in the same way across the rest of the UK.” says Hannah Ritchie, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh in climate change mitigation. The route highlights how the virtual density made possible by Hyperloop speeds would allow for higher labor mobility and a greater interchange of skills between places such as Glasgow, which is historically strong in manufacturing, and Edinburgh, which is stronger in financial services.
Through fast and seamless connections, a Hyperloop system would distribute the massive economic pull of London more equally and more productively. As the proposal astutely notes, “what the Tube did for London, the Hyperloop will do for the United Kingdom.”
Hyperloop One Global Challenge semifinalists, representing the UK North-South Connector route
The UK has a long history in coming up with innovative ways to use its transportation corridors. Canals that once delivered coal now deliver electricity, mobile signals and high-speed internet through 650km of fibre-optic cable buried under the towpaths that the Canal & River Trust looks after. The money earned from data transmission helps pay for the upkeep of the waterways.
It’s this spirit of innovation and push for economic mobility that make the UK so attractive for a Hyperloop route. “In the UK, we’re operating in a complex system,” says Victoria Crozet, coordinator for the Scotland-Wales route team and a transportation consultant at AECOM. “Maybe this complexity is actually bringing more benefits than issues…it’s a country that has travel demand, that has a strong economy and I think people will support this idea…they’re ready.”