Understanding Hyperloop Network Operations

By: Ruth Zachariah

03 Oct 2020

Roadways and railways have long been constructed to transport people and goods. This transport infrastructure clearly defined routes for which multiple locations (nodes) could be accessed within a network. As traffic in a transport network increases, users’ preference for direct connections increases, giving more reason for Hyperloop to thrive. Travelling straight from origin to destination, as a point to point network, minimizes chances for disruptions and delays for Hyperloop [1]. This post sheds light on the processes for setting up Hyperloop network operations.

How do we prepare a transport network study before construction? The California Department of Transportation proposed the DMADV (Define, Measure, Analyze, Design, Verify) approach to better understand Hyperloop network operations [2]. The DMADV approach focuses on framing the transit problem, data collection, and development of simulation models based on criteria such as speed, capacity, and safety. Test results generated from transit modelling is fundamental to reaching the ultimate goal i.e. large scale Hyperloop implementation.

Data was collected on commuter populations using subway and airline systems in the study released by the California Department of Transportation in 2018. Based on these transport systems, traffic analysis was carried out using selective parameters such as arrival and departure times including buffer times for designing Hyperloop operations. The model referred to commutes between San Francisco and Los Angeles. To design for the maximum use of public transit, transit data was collected from the summer months. Transit use was higher on LA-SF bound (481, 079 passengers) compared to SF-LA bound (410,617 passengers) per week, “adding to the complexity to meet the vastly changing demand travelling each direction” [2]. The maximum and minimum demand was found to occur on Tuesdays and weekends across all times of the day. Tuesday afternoons were found to have 1.5 times higher demand than other days. This goes to show that timing of network operations for Hyperloop will have to be properly planned for, as well as to offset peak traffic intervals.

Along with referencing existing transport systems to produce transport planning studies, it is equally important to use this information to differentiate Hyperloop network operations. One difference between subways, airlines and Hyperloop is the track design; railways and airways make it possible for parallel travel. However, Hyperloop is designed to travel in series i.e. one pod going back and forth, within a fixed distance [1]. Another difference between existing transit systems and Hyperloop is their frequency of operation. For example, subways have several stops between the start and end of the route. However, Hyperloop would operate without any stops, similar to that of a direct flight.

Pods arriving and departing from a Hyperloop Terminal.

The efficiency of Hyperloop network operations greatly depends on travelling at extreme speeds, and cutting transport costs. However, the travelling speed on Hyperloop may impact the number and type of passengers who choose to ride this form of public transit. As the pod is expected to travel through a vacuum tube, maintaining a specific air pressure is paramount, while travelling at a speed of 760 mph! To comply with this design requirement, competing companies can accommodate a maximum of 28 passengers in the Hyperloop pod per ride. In contrast, a typical Boeing 737 flight can accommodate 162 passengers [2]. This means that Hyperloop may have capacity limitations, especially for areas that have high travel demand. In terms of safety, health risks may discourage dependent populations like the elderly or children under 15 from using Hyperloop. This suggests that the economic interactions between locations and the demographic affect the longevity of the transport system.

In the future, passengers boarding Hyperloop may have to adhere to additional precautions given our post-Covid era.

As we adapt to the new normal, passengers' preference for more socially distant travel may increase. In the short term, it can be argued that Hyperloop may be able to satisfy this travel demand. We can expect protocols like 6 feet apart and face coverings to be implemented in Hyperloop, along with infrastructure changes such as increasing Hyperloop capacity and/or installing more pods. With these design considerations in mind, we look forward to the implementation of Hyperloop in the near future.

References:

[1] D. Rodrigue and D. Ducruet, "The Geography of Transportation Networks", The Geography of Transport Systems, 2020. [Online]. Available: https://transportgeography.org/?page_id=623. [Accessed: 20- Sep- 2020].

[2]S. Rajendran and A. Harper, "Transportation Research Interdisciplinary Perspectives", vol. 4, 2020. Available: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2590198220300038#bi0005. [Accessed 20 September 2020].

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