France approves 1,225kmph inter-city hyperloop

French state rail operator SNCF puts $91m in backing behind the development of a hyperloop

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SNCF, the French state-owned railway operator and creator of the high-speed train concept, has decided to invest $91m into the development of a “hyperloop” transit system – a concept first proposed by Tesla's Elon Musk.

Hyperloop technology involves shoot capsules or linked trains of capsules, containing passengers and cars, through low pressure tube at speeds of up to up to 1,225kmph – three times faster than a conventional high speed train and double the speed of most commercial air-liners.

The idea, first proposed in 2013 by the South African-born inventor Elon Musk, has been gaining credibility and financial backing in recent months, and a pilot scheme is due to be built in Nevada later this year.

However, the SNCF, which itself pioneered the TGV (train à grande vitesse) high-speed train from 1981, is the first large European railway company to take the idea seriously and front capital.

The tubes could be placed underground in cities but would be erected on stilts in open country, possibly using the central reservation of existing motorways to save costs.

Two competing US start-up companies which are developing the idea say that it would be much faster, cheaper-to-build and less energy consuming than conventional steel-on-steel trains.

They hope to have the first system working – possibly linking Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes – within 15 years. This is roughly the same timescale for the opening of the first section of Britain’s second high speed line, the HS2, which will link London and Birmingham by 2026.

However, the 560km Nevada hyperloop from LA to San Francisco is expected to cost only £5bn to build, compared to an estimated £43bn for HS2, which is much shorter and will ultimately be slower.

Dirk Ahlborn, CEO of Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, noted: “We’re trying to make travel suck less. We’re trying to fix public transport. Speed is one of the advantages, but building something that has economic sense, that has a good business model behind it, for me, is even more important.”

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