Fast Track: State Studying Viability Of Hyperloop Travel
Imagine boarding an ultrahigh-speed train-like pod in Northeast Pennsylvania and traveling in an underground hyperloop tunnel to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh in minutes instead of hours.
The state last week commissioned a feasibility study to see if it’s possible and to determine how to make it happen.
Supporters say a cross-state hyperloop — which would reach speeds near 700 mph — could transport people and cargo between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh within 30 minutes, revolutionizing travel and the shipment of goods while alleviating congestion on Pennsylvania interstate highways.
The study, proposed by state Rep. Aaron Kaufer, R-120, of Kingston, also seeks to examine the possibility of adding a stop in Harrisburg along with a northeast extension of the hyperloop between Harrisburg and somewhere in the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area.
“This isn’t future technology. These are being built right now,” Kaufer said. “This will be here in our lifetime.”
Kaufer proposed the feasibility study in September in a House resolution that passed with bipartisan support, 171 to 16.
The resolution directed the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to start the study process.
Last week, the turnpike commission awarded a $2 million feasibility study contract to Aecom Technical Services Inc., the company which built billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk’s mile-long hyperloop test track back in 2016.
“This will position us as a state to be ready for the next big thing in transportation technology,” Kaufer said.
The hyperloop between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh is seen as key because of existing hyperloop plans being considered on the east and west of the state. One hyperloop seeks to connect Philadelphia with New York City, Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. The other seeks to connect Pittsburgh with Columbus and Cleveland in Ohio and Chicago.
Turnpike officials are interested in the project because the turnpike, which runs between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, already has “large stretches of land that could be used for something like this,” Kaufer said.
Kaufer acknowledges he’s heard from critics and doubters of the proposal.
“Some people were saying, ‘You watch too much Star Wars or Star Trek,’ but the reality is the technology is here now,” Kaufer said.
The electric-powered hyperloop operates by magnetic levitation, hurtling hovering pods through a network of pressure-reduced tubes at super-fast speeds without the use of wheels.
The emerging transportation technology has likely put the final dagger in plans to build a high-speed rail line between Scranton and New York City, Kaufer said.
“Forever in our area, we’ve always heard about the train between Scranton and New York City. I heard about that talk all my life and we’re not one iota closer,” Kaufer said.
The idea likely is now “outdated,” he said.
Kaufer envisions a public-private partnership to help build and run hyperloop systems. Companies that rely on fast travel to deliver goods, such as Amazon, FedEx, UPS and Walmart could be potential partners, he said.
The area would get a big boost from being part of the project, Kaufer said.
“I wanted to make sure Scranton and Wilkes-Barre were on the map to be part of this,” Kaufer said.
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