Science

Swiss hyperloop system could get from Geneva to Zurich in 17 minutes

A Swiss startup has revealed plans for a hyperloop system that could transport passengers at speeds of up to 745 miles per hour beneath the Alps.

Monthey-based firm Swisspod is promising a hyperloop system capable of transporting passengers and cargo from Geneva to Zurich in only 17 minutes or New York City to Washington, DC in just 30 minutes. 

This is about one ninth the duration of the equivalent train journey in Switzerland and one seventh the duration of the US journey, all at a fraction of the carbon footprint of plane travel. 

Swisspod plans to bring its hyperloop to the market in four to five years, according to Denis Tudor, its CEO and co-founder, and will ‘know within nine months from now’ how to implement the technology based on its work at a mini test site. 

Tudor previously said his company’s vessels will travel somewhere between 620-745 miles per hour (1,000-1,200 kilometres per hour), if it can successfully build the propulsion system required. 

The firm hasn’t revealed costs for the ambitious project, but if rolled out, the passenger vessels will be able to automatically decelerate during tunnel curvatures ‘for a ride that’s as smooth as silk’, according to the firm.    

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Swisspod is a Hyperloop startup founded in 2019. Its passenger pods, pictured here in an artist’s impression, will be capable of transporting passengers at high speeds

The vessels will travel somewhere between 1,000-1,200 kilometres per hour, or 620-745 miles per hour, if the firm can successfully build the propulsion system required

The vessels will travel somewhere between 1,000-1,200 kilometres per hour, or 620-745 miles per hour, if the firm can successfully build the propulsion system required 

Swisspod plans to bring its hyperloop to the market in four to five years, according to Denis Tudor, its CEO and co-founder. The firm was only founded two years ago and is based in Monthey, Switzerland

Swisspod plans to bring its hyperloop to the market in four to five years, according to Denis Tudor, its CEO and co-founder. The firm was only founded two years ago and is based in Monthey, Switzerland 

With Swisspod's transport system, passengers will be able to go from Geneva to Zurich in only 17 minutes - down from about 2 hours and 40 minutes on current trains

A trip from New York to Washington DC, meanwhile, will take 30 minutes - down from approximately 3 hours and 30 minutes

Swisspod is promising a hyperloop system capable of transporting passengers and cargo from Geneva to Zurich in only 17 minutes or New York City to Washington, DC in just 30 minutes. This is about one ninth the duration of the equivalent train journey in Switzerland and one seventh the duration of the US journey, all at a fraction of the carbon footprint of plane travel.

HOW DOES IT WORK? 

One of the big challenges of a Hyperloop is its propulsion system. 

To keep costs down, the energy required for propulsion in the EPFL design will not come from the track – as it does for Maglev trains – but will be carried by the pods themselves.

They will be equipped with linear induction motors, although further development work is needed to reduce the pods’ power consumption. 

Linear induction motors produce motion in a straight line, as opposed to the rotational motion of a wheel. 

The target is to reach a power consumption of 10–50 Wh/km per passenger (depending on how long the trip is), compared with 97–100 Wh/km for electric cars and 515–600 Wh/km for planes. 

Hyperloop is a proposed method of travel being worked on by several companies that would transport people at top speeds between distant locations. 

The concept – first proposed in 1910 by US engineer Robert Goddard – received renewed interest in 2013 due to a white paper by billionaire entrepreneur and SpaceX founder Elon Musk. 

But the Swisspod project is unique in that it relies on linear induction motor within its high-speed autonomous vessels.

Linear induction motors directly produce motion in a straight line, as opposed to the rotational motion of a wheel.

Other hyperloop projects make use of the ‘Maglev’ system, which involves two sets of magnets – one set to repel and push the train up off the track, and another set to move the elevated train ahead, taking advantage of the lack of friction. 

‘To keep costs down, the energy required for propulsion in the EPFL design will not come from the track – as it does for Maglev trains – but will be carried by the pods themselves,’ EPFL says in a statement. 

‘They will be equipped with linear induction motors, although further development work is needed to reduce the pods’ power consumption.’  

Swisspod and EPFL have just finished construction of its miniature prototype track for the project, funded by a Swiss government grant. 

Hyperloop is a proposed method of travel being worked on by several companies that would transport people at top speeds between distant locations

Hyperloop is a proposed method of travel being worked on by several companies that would transport people at top speeds between distant locations

The interior and exterior of the moving vessels, as well as the huge underground tubes, will feature a minimalist red and white design in a nod to Switzerland's national flag

The interior and exterior of the moving vessels, as well as the huge underground tubes, will feature a minimalist red and white design in a nod to Switzerland’s national flag

Artist's impression of the interior where passengers would be sat, in plush red seats. One disadvantage of travelling underground is the lack of view

Artist’s impression of the interior where passengers would be sat, in plush red seats. One disadvantage of travelling underground is the lack of view

Hyperloops stand to revolutionize long-distance travel. The concept, first proposed back in 1910 by US engineer Robert Goddard - received renewed interest in 2013 thanks to a white paper by Elon Musk

Hyperloops stand to revolutionize long-distance travel. The concept, first proposed back in 1910 by US engineer Robert Goddard – received renewed interest in 2013 thanks to a white paper by Elon Musk

The small circular version of the final system, about 130 feet in diameter, is based at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL).

The large vacuum tube will allow experts to test the linear induction motor that will propel the real thing

‘With this reduced-scale test track, we will be able to study the fundamental aspects of our pod’s electromagnetic propulsion and levitation system,’ said Mario Paolone, head of the EPFL’s distributed electrical systems laboratory. 

Swisspod and EPFL have just finished construction of its miniature prototype track for the ambitious project, funded by a Swiss government grant

Swisspod and EPFL have just finished construction of its miniature prototype track for the ambitious project, funded by a Swiss government grant 

The miniature circular version of the final system, about 130 feet in diameter, is based at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL)

The miniature circular version of the final system, about 130 feet in diameter, is based at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL)

‘We’ll use the results to enhance the pod design and make the loop operate more efficiently.’       

Swisspod was founded in 2019 by Tudor and Cyril Dénéréaz, multiple-award winners of the SpaceX Hyperloop Competition run by Musk’s firm.  

Hyperloop projects are already under way the Port of Hamburg, Toulouse, the Near East, China and in the Nevada desert, courtesy of Sir Richard Branson’s company Virgin Hyperloop.

Last November, Virgin Hyperloop staff rode a pod along a portion of massive white tube, which is still being constructed in Nevada.      

Virgin Hyperloop co-founder Josh Giegel said the experience will feel like an aircraft at take-off and at speed for passengers.       

HYPERLOOP: THE BASICS 

Hyperloop is a proposed method of travel that would transport people at roughly 700mph between distant locations.

The concept — first proposed in 1910 — by US engineer Robert Goddard — received renewed interest in 2013 thanks to a white paper by Elon Musk, who at the time said such a system could take passengers the 380 miles (610km) from LA to San Francisco in 30 minutes, half the time it takes a plane to make the same journey.

The loop is essentially a long tube that has had the air removed to create a vacuum. For safety reasons, Hyperloop tunnels need escape hatches in case of fire. 

The tube is suspended off the ground to protect against weather and earthquakes. 

There are now a number of firms vying to bring the technology to life, including Elon Musk himself, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, and Virgin Hyperloop One.

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