Hyperloop pod designed for use at HTT's test track in Toulouse, France. Photo courtesy of HTT.

The scientists at Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) have begun constructing a full-scale test track in the French city of Toulouse. And soon, they’ll be doing the same in Abu Dhabi.

Once those hyperloop systems are built, HTT’s Founder and Chairman Dirk Ahlborn told the audience at Cleveland’s Great Lakes Science Center this morning, his company is looking to bring this hyper-fast mode of travel to Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Ahlborn appeared alongside representatives from the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) to unveil the results of an 18-month feasibility study exploring the creation of a hyperloop connecting Pittsburgh to Chicago by way of Cleveland.

This “fifth mode of transportation” actually can become a reality, said the Science Center’s President and CEO, Kirsten Ellenbogen, as she introduced the research, which involved the collaboration of more than 80 public and private organizations.

The big news? Despite its multi-billion dollar price tag, a hyperloop system built here wouldn’t just be faster and safer than air or road travel between cities in the region. It would also be profitable.

“This is the first step toward bringing this transformative technology and transportation to Cleveland, northeast Ohio and to the Great Lakes Region,” said HTT CEO Andres de Leon. “The study reveals and shows that hyperloop is profitable and also brings massive economic benefit to the region.”

HTT’s test track complex in Toulouse. Photo courtesy of HTT.
HTT’s test track complex in Toulouse. Photo courtesy of HTT.

The study found that the trip between Cleveland and Pittsburgh could safely be done at an average speed of 339 mph, with the hyperloop capsule reaching a top speed of 525 mph during the trip. Even in the winter months, freight and people could move at that speed without any worry about icy, snowy roads, said Chuck Michael, head of U.S. feasibility studies for HTT.

And the system could “accommodate commuter and freight expansion projected in the region for the next 25 years, changing the face of transportation,” Ellenbogen said.

This would mean vast access to potential jobs for people throughout the region and could foster unprecedented levels of collaboration between companies that are now hours apart by road.

“Our mega-region,” said Rep. Tim Ryan (D-OH 13th District), isn’t just competing against other American cities. We’re competing against Mumbai and Beijing, and this hyperloop technology “can put this region on the map.”

HTT’s hyperloop track in Toulouse is expected to be completed sometime in 2020.
HTT’s hyperloop track in Toulouse is expected to be completed sometime in 2020.

And none of this progress, according to the study, would need to burden taxpayers: “The results demonstrate that the hyperloop can be funded privately,” said NOACA’s Executive Director Grace Gallucci. “This is really the first time in ground transportation that that is the case. It will be available to all and does not need a tax subsidy.”

Gallucci pointed out that this hyperloop system wouldn’t need to be “charging fares that are what some might consider elite fares” in order to be profitable. Instead, she said, “this is expected to have fares that are affordable and accessible to all people.”

The expectation, based on this study, is that workers and companies could access this lightning-fast transportation at costs similar to a conventional commuter rail ticket, she said.

Last month, Gallucci’s organization co-hosted an informational meeting here in Pittsburgh, along with the Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission, a member of the Great Lakes Consortium, to discuss the potential local impact of the Great Lakes Hyperloop plan. It’s a priority, Gallucci said today, to ensure that the hyperloop “is for everybody.”

While the group sounded quite optimistic, no full-scale working hyperloop system has been built anywhere in the world just yet.

What’s next? Alhborn didn’t offer a specific timeline, but he told the audience that HTT is “finalizing the integration” of their first full-scale hyperloop system in Toulouse. As soon as that system is constructed and tested, the same building process will happen in Abu Dhabi.

They are, Alhborn said, “expecting to finalize overall integration next year.”

Stay tuned for more coverage as those projects progress. (The HTT/NOACA project is separate from the work being done on the Virgin Hyperloop One initiative.)

Melissa Rayworth

Kidsburgh Editor Melissa Rayworth specializes in stories about culture, gender, design and parenting. She has written for a variety of outlets in the U.S. and Asia, and is a frequent contributor to The Associated Press. Find a selection of her work at melissarayworth.pressfolios.com.