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Independent study shows Great Lakes Hyperloop would be feasible and a good investment

Posted at 9:48 AM, Dec 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-16 17:43:49-05

CLEVELAND — On Monday, the founders of the Hyperloop, a project that could take passengers from Cleveland to neighboring cities like Chicago or Pittsburgh in minutes, revealed the results of the feasibility study to the public for the first time.

The Hyperloop will carry 30 to 40 people inside a vacuum tube at speeds over 700 mph, allowing Clevelanders to travel to Chicago in 28 minutes or Pittsburgh in nine.

Earlier this year, a feasibility study was conducted to determine if the Hyperloop project would be beneficial to Northeast Ohio.

When the team carrying out the $1.3 million study saw the initial results, they admit they were taken back.

"It's certainly beyond our expectations," said Alex Metcalf whose company Transportation Economics and Managment Systems Inc (TEMS) has carried out over 100 case studies in North America for different high speed ground transportation systems. "We have been really surprised by the results, in fact we didn't check them twice, we checked them three times."

The study found while building a hyperloop system connecting Cleveland to Chicago and Pittsburgh would be expensive, averaging around $50 million a mile, it would also be able to eventually pay for itself, said Dirk Ahlborn, HyperloopTT Founder & Chairman.

"This is the largest study that has ever been done on the hyperloop system and it confirms what we have been saying for a long time, it's an independent study that says that the system does not need any government subsidies and that's a game changer when it comes to transportation," Ahlborn said.

The study looked at three possible routes between Cleveland and Chicago and two to Pittsburgh. All the routes would involve both above and below ground sections.

"So let's say we're in an urban area like downtown Cleveland — it would be very difficult for us to get to the center of the city in an elevated sense because we would have to go around buildings and so forth," said HyperloopTT's Head of U.S. Feasibility Studies Chuck Michael. "So we approach in downtown Cleveland through a deep tunnel. Our tunnels are very cost effective, so in that sense it's going to be less expensive to build a tunnel then it is to weave an elevated system through a downtown urban area."

Michael also said it was the benefit-cost breakdown numbers that jumped out to him. "You add up all the benefits and you add up all of the costs and you relate those to each other and you can come up with a ratio," he said. "From a federal perspective, you have to have your benefit cost ratio to 1.0 which means they're equal. A really good project would have a benefit cost ratio of 1.2 or 1.3. A superstar project, maybe 1.5, and here we come in at a very conservative level of 2.2. That tells the federal government this is a good investment, that tells the private sector this is a good investment."

That is a number that conceivably could get better, he added.

"We relied on the private sector to help us with the cost estimates, and when we got all of those estimates in, we added another 30 percent contingency just because we don't know," Michael said. "On top of the 30 percent we put another 28 percent for additional costs like engineering, legal, administrative, things like that."

Clearing regulatory hurdles will be the next challenge, said HTT Founder Dirk Ahlborn. "In the next step it's about creating those laws and legislation that are necessary when you're building a new mode of transportation."

HTT has a full scale test track built in France where the first tests will be conducted with humans next year, and Ahlborn will be first in line. "Well, I'm the founder, right? So when we're moving the first person I think that should be me."

To read more about the Hyperloop project, click here.

RELATED: If you thought traveling by Hyperloop to Chicago in 28 minutes was fast, how about Pittsburgh in 9?