Hyperloop high-speed travel exists only at test sites, but it represents the best option for moving people and freight between Fort Worth and Laredo, with a stop in Waco, a consultant told the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization Policy Board during a meeting Thursday.
The local MPO has joined five others along the Interstate 35 corridor in weighing high-speed options as the interstate becomes more congested and Texas’ population continues to expand. AECOM, a consulting firm hired by the North Central Texas Council of Governments, has reached conclusions it is sharing with MPO boards, including Waco’s, which soon will make the results available to the public, Waco MPO executive director Chris Evilia said.
AECOM urban planner Steven Duong told board members the firm envisions a Hyperloop pathway that includes stations in Waco, Temple-Killeen, Austin and San Antonio on a line from Fort Worth to Laredo. Duong said extending the service to Monterrey, Mexico, is an option. He said ridership demand between Monterrey and San Antonio would be significant.
A Hyperloop system would carry passengers at more than 600 miles per hour, more than twice as fast as high-speed rail or maglev trains. The obvious drawback, is that Hyperloop remains in the testing stage, Duong said. The U.S. Department of Transportation is weighing proposals from 29 urban areas, including the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, for creating a 6-mile test track. Conversely, high-speed and maglev systems have been widely accepted and have outstanding safety records, Duong said.
Hyperloop would allow the hauling of freight, a revenue generator the high-speed rail and maglev options would not include, he said.
Funding sources for such a system remain undetermined Evilia said. It is assumed the Hyperloop would prove more expensive than other options, but a conclusion must await more study, he said.
“This is incredibly exciting,” said Dillon Meek, a Waco City Councilman and a policy board member. “As technology developers, we have to keep our eye on examining the potential of high-speed rail, which could increase the state’s mobility. That, in turn, could improve the state economy. We will have to continue doing our homework, but we’re off to a great start.”
Mayor Kyle Deaver, also a policy board member, agreed.
“The way I understand it, what they’re saying is that Hyperloop is not yet a proven technology, but it is transitioning so rapidly that it can’t be ignored,” Deaver said. “It is so much faster, so much easier to have multiple stops, meaning Waco, Temple and Austin could be included in the route, that it is wise to open up that conversation. This is something that could be 10 to 20 years out, and it remains to be seen just how viable it will prove to be.”
Evilia said the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization “is chipping in its time” toward providing data to be used in future planning.
“Hyperloop is operational only at test tracks in Nevada and in Toulouse, France, which means something in the United States, in Texas, would be close to the cutting edge, though there are places in Asia and the Middle East that may beat us to the punch,” Evilia said. “Hyperloop is kind of like an aircraft coming in at 600 miles per hour before coming to a full stop on a runway. That’s the concept, and why they were talking about it being easier to make multiple stops. I’m not sure I follow that logic, but that’s not our area of expertise and why we hired a consultant to examine the issue.”
Elon Musk, founder of the SpaceX rocketry company, has been instrumental in developing and promoting Hyperloop. His “Hyperloop Alpha” white paper, which has appeared on his SpaceX website, claimed passengers would travel through depressurized tubes in pods reaching more than 700 miles per hour, according to reporting in gearbrain.com.
Evilia said the future of a high-speed link between Fort Worth and Laredo likely rests with the success of yet another high-speed project, one by Texas Central linking North Texas and Houston. Backers are pursuing private investors for the project that would link Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston in 90 minutes with a high-speed train traveling about 200 miles per hour, according to a company representative who recently spoke to the Waco Rotary Club.
The route would not go through Waco, or even McLennan County, though it would include a stop in the Brazos Valley near Bryan, backers have said.
It was announced the company predicts such a train would have a $36 billion economic impact on Texas over 25 years. It would create 10,000 jobs during the construction process and 1,500 permanent jobs upon completion.
“If Houston-to-Dallas is not successful, that would not bode well for our line, which is why cities participating in this project are watching developments with that one so closely and with great interest,” Evilia said.