The American Midwest, often evoked as the ‘land of opportunity,’ may have a high-speed hyperloop train coming its way, connecting Cleveland, Ohio with Chicago, Illinois. Late last month, transportation agencies in Cleveland and Illinois announced plans to co-sponsor a $1.2 million study on a train by Hyperloop Transport Technologies. Despite the prospects of the plan, the project has come under heavy criticism since the announcement.
Crucially, the North Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency (NOACA) and the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) have signed an agreement with Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), the company working to develop the hyperloop train itself between the two cities, to contribute to studying the feasibility of the idea.
Travel time between the Midwest American cities of Cleveland in Ohio and Chicago in Illinois currently stands at five hours and eight minutes by car, at a distance of 350 miles (563 kilometers). With the proposed hyperloop, travel time will be reduced by 10 times to just half an hour.
Hyperloop technology, which has garnered popularity in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere, has given birth to a number of organizations, including HTT. HTT first appeared on the scene in the U.S. during the craze surrounding hyperloop travel that came with Elon Musk’s 57-paged white paper on the concept about five years ago.
The agreement between Hyperloop Transport Technologies and regional transit agencies in Ohio and Illinois presents itself as the first cross-state hyperloop in the United States. But the governor of Ohio, John Kasich, who praised the project, also canceled a $400 million grant to develop high-speed transport in Ohio during former U.S. president Obama’s time in office. In early January, representatives of the Rust Belt cities wrote to American president Donald Trump, asking for federal government to contribute $20 million despite the fact that the Obama-era grant was dedicated to the same effort with a larger sum of money.
HTT released a promotional video late last month, showcasing the advances the company has made as it inches closer to developing the high-speed train. Contrary to its claims, HTT does not yet even have a prototype, suggesting the dream seems as far-fetched as critics say it is.
Andrea La Mendola, HTT’s chief global operations manager, described to Slate that, although they do not have a prototype, the train they are developing in Toulouse, France could double as one; especially if they “add a curve at the end,” said La Mendola.
Although HTT is working diligently to develop a novel commercial mode of transport, professor Terri Griffith at Santa Clara University told Slate that the company’s history of patents is evidence that HTT is working without a prototype, which could undermine the project’s success.
HTT prides itself in its unique model that is based on volunteerism, since the company has about 900 volunteers dedicating their time and energy to developing the hyperloop. Harvard Business Review, however, called this ‘conventional’ aspect of HTT’s project a ‘substantial disadvantage.’ La Mendola’s commentary on the project, albeit constructive, points to the failure of Hyperloop Transport Technologies to develop a a full-type prototype for the train. La Mendola himself, who comes from a filmmaking background, appears not to be well-versed in how transportation is developed.
The company faced technical difficulties at the hyperloop’s unveiling in May 2016 near Las Vegas, which went unnoticed by those present. The company’s chairman, Gresta, said to Wired at the time that, despite the showcase’s technical glitches, the company had fixed any other potential difficulties relating to the hyperloop. But two years on, HTT still has nothing to show, although it promises to move forward with international projects elsewhere in Abu Dhabi, Indonesia, and India. The company even promised to build a hyperloop in California, but the project fell through last year.
HTT’s Ohio project, albeit far-fetched, is not flawed in essence. The project, on paper, presents a multitude of benefits for American cities and could potentially transform interstate travel as we know it today.
Last year, Hyperloop One, HTT’s rival company, announced plans to build a high-speed train between Pittsburgh and Chicago, and just last month, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission announced plans to conduct a feasibility study for the project. Although both Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transport Technologies are currently working on developing trains, it will likely be a while before high-speed train travel across the U.S. is available to the public.