April 18, 2024

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A new Dutch Hyperloop test center aims to revolutionize transportation in Europe

A new Dutch Hyperloop test center aims to revolutionize transportation in Europe

This article was originally published on English

While critics claim it is an example of policymakers “chasing something prestigious,” supporters believe Hyperloop could become a mainstay of future travel.

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A 420-metre-long white steel tube running along a railway line in the windy north of the Netherlands could herald a new era of passenger and freight transport.

The tube is the centerpiece of the new European Hyperloop hub, which opened on Tuesday, and will serve as a testing ground for cutting-edge technology in the coming years.

The Hyperloop system, promoted by tech mogul Elon Musk, involves capsules floating through low-pressure tubes in magnetic fields at speeds of up to 700 kilometers per hour.

Its proponents describe it as far more efficient than short flights, high-speed trains and trucks.

But since Musk unveiled the concept that would allow passengers to travel the roughly 400 miles (645 kilometers) between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 30 minutes, progress from the drawing board to the real world has been much slower than hoped.

“I expect that by 2030 there will be the first hyperloop route, perhaps 5 kilometers long, that will actually carry passengers,” said Sascha Lamy, the center's director.

“In fact, there are already preparations for such methods, for example in Italy or India.”

Not everyone is optimistic about the future of Hyperloop.

Chasing a prestigious object?

“This is just another example of policymakers seeking special status when critical infrastructure investments are necessary,” Robert Noland, a professor at Rutgers University's Bluestein School of Planning and Public Policy, said in an emailed comment to The Associated Press.

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“It costs a lot to build something like this,” he added.

Director Lamy said skeptics should come and see for themselves.

“We have built a European Hyperloop hub and we know we can compete in the high-speed rail space,” he said.

“And we haven’t even taken into account all the cost improvements we can make over the next 10 years to reduce costs even further.”

The test center tube consists of 34 individual sections, typically 2.5 meters in diameter. A vacuum pump in a steel container next to the pipe sucks in air to reduce internal pressure. This reduces air resistance and allows the capsules to fly at high speeds.

A test capsule designed by leading Dutch hyperloop company Hardt Hyperloop will participate in the first tests next month at the centre, which is financed through private investments as well as contributions from the North Holland provincial government, the Dutch government and the European Commission.

Pipe highway

What's special about the Veendam tube is that it has a switch where it splits into two separate tubes – a piece of infrastructure that will be crucial for real-world applications.

“Route change is very important for Hyperloop because it allows vehicles to travel from any starting point to any destination,” said Marinus van der Meijs, Head of Technology and Engineering at Hardt.

“So it creates a network effect where you have a kind of highway made of tubes, and vehicles can go on-ramp, off-ramp or change lanes to get to another part of Europe or another destination.”

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As testing continues at Veendam, Hyperloop developers hope there are more destinations on the horizon for their technology.

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“The biggest challenge is, on the one hand, to obtain government commitments to build the roads, and on the other hand, to find new funding to implement the necessary testing facilities and technology demonstrations required for implementation,” Lamy said.