Many questions swirl around the Hyperloop: how much will it cost? Where will it be built? How fast will it travel? Really, that fast? Who will be the first to ride it? Will their bodies turn into paste or goo? What’s the difference?
Now, Hyperloop One, one of the LA-based startups seeking to realize Elon Musk’s vision of 760 mph, tube-based travel, has answers to some of those questions. (Sadly, not the last one.) In a new study released today, the company says a hyperloop connecting Stockholm, Sweden, and Helsinki, Finland, could transform a 300-mile trip — normally a 3.5 hour trip (including getting to-and-from the airport) or overnight ferry ride — into a breezy 28-minute ride. And they would only need 19 billion euros, or $21 billion, to build it.
That price tag includes 3 billion euros (or $3.3 billion) for one of the world’s longest marine tunnels through the Åland archipelago, a chain of islands in the Baltic Sea. But Hyperloop One says the total cost would be offset by the rise in property values and productivity as facilitated by the new, super-fast transit system. Homes built near the Hyperloop would be worth more, freight shipments would arrive sooner, and workers traveling between the two cities would spend less time commuting and more time working.
The study claims the Nordic Hyperloop would begin generating a surplus after 10 years thanks to these economic benefits. Still, who is going to pay for this thing? Hyperloop One envisions a combination of public funds and private investment, with the study authors recommending capturing some of the value from increased property values, a method used by other governments to fund transit projects across the globe.
Not only that, but the Hyperloop is expected to generate somewhere between 875 million euros ($969 million) and 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in ticket sales annually, assuming 42.7 million passengers ride the system.
The price may seem steep, but Hyperloop One contends its much cheaper than your typical high-speed rail. "We’ve said that, generally speaking, a Hyperloop system can be built at 50 [percent] to 60 [percent] of the cost of high-speed rail because Hyperloop technology requires less intensive civil engineering, its levitated vehicles produce fewer maintenance issues and its electric propulsion occupies far less of the track than high-speed rail," the company says. "With Hyperloop, passengers glide most of the way above the track in a near-vacuum tube with little air resistance."
A hyperloop between Sweden and Finland would take up to 12 years to complete, and would include both tubes traveling on raised pylons and under the Baltic Sea.
The study was produced by FS Links Ab, a company based in the Åland Islands. That firm will now begin a full scoping study to present to stakeholders, which is required to secure funding and begin construction of a test section. Hyperloop One conducted its first public test in the Nevada desert outside Las Vegas earlier this year. And by the end of 2016, the company says it will conduct a full-system test, with a pod traveling through a tube at over 600 mph.
As for the question of where the Hyperloop will be built first, the answer increasingly is looking like anywhere but the US. In addition to the Baltic region, Hyperloop One is also looking at Moscow and Switzerland. And rival startup Hyperloop Transportation Technologies has an agreement with the government of Slovakia to build a system there.