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Hyperloop or high-speed rail: Which will whoosh through Texas first?

Hyperloop One promises travel in a tube at jet speeds. So how do they do it?

Instead of airline flights or long road trips, Hyperloop One believes it can give us a 600-mph ride in a low-pressure tube. Imagine traveling across Texas at subsonic speeds for the price of a bus ticket.
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Instead of airline flights or long road trips, Hyperloop One believes it can give us a 600-mph ride in a low-pressure tube. Imagine traveling across Texas at subsonic speeds for the price of a bus ticket.

North Texas planners are getting serious about deploying a technology known as Hyperloop that promises to whisk riders from Dallas to Fort Worth in only six minutes — traveling in a giant tube in a futuristic system that, if successful, could redefine intercity transportation.

But those same Metroplex planners also are pursuing plans for building high-speed rail plans (similar to systems used in Europe and Asia) in the same corridors connecting Fort Worth, Arlington and Dallas.

As a result, a competitive race of sorts has formed between supporters of each of the two transport systems, leaving it unclear whether either the Virgin Hyperloop One tube system or the Texas Central Railway high-speed trains will win out.

Or perhaps both will be built.

“As our region grows from 7.2 million people now up to 11.2 million by 2045, we are planning a transportation system that offers choices to our residents. Adding an option like hyperloop to the existing system of roadways, rail transit, bicycle/pedestrian facilities and high-speed rail to Houston would expand the system in an exciting way,” Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, said an in email put out by Hyperloop supporters. “Connecting other regions in Texas through Hyperloop would open up economic opportunities throughout the state.”

Hyperloop would be propelled using magnetic levitation. A small amount of electricity would be used to power the pods, which would glide above their monorail track in a low-pressure sealed tube.

Members of the Regional Transportation Council recently toured a Hyperloop test track in Nevada and the company's California Innovation Campus, where they met with engineers to discuss the technology. Even some RTC members who are skeptical of high-speed rail were impressed.

“The RTC is all about bringing innovation to the transportation system in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, and Hyperloop would be an exciting technology to add,” said Tarrant County Commissioner Gary Fickes, who also is RTC chair. “I think the future’s very bright for Hyperloop and its use in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.”

Not to be outdone, the proposed Texas Central Railway high-speed train system has recently shown interest in expanding its system beyond the original route, to include not only Houston and Dallas but also Arlington and Fort Worth.

Texas Central Partners, the company planning the high-speed railway, has contacted the RTC to possibly re-open its interlocal agreement with the region to evaluate extending the railway from Dallas to Fort Worth, Morris told the RTC last month.

Texas Central Partners also recently entered into an agreement to link its bullet trains with the nation's Amtrak coast-to-coast passenger rail network.

Hyperloop Texas Aerial - AECOM (1).jpg
This artist rendering depicts an aerial view of the proposed Hyperloop, which in theory could whisk riders from Dallas to Fort Worth in only six minutes and redefine intercity transportation. AECOM

As for Hyperloop, the RTC has set aside funding for a feasibility study of high-speed technology — including Hyperloop and high-speed rail — to connect Fort Worth, Waco, Temple-Killeen, Austin, San Antonio and Laredo. The corridor could soon move to the next level of federal environmental study required for eventual construction.

Hyperloop allows pod-like vehicles to travel at very high speeds with minimal aerodynamic resistance by operating in a low-pressure environment. The system uses magnetic levitation technology.

“The Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Transportation Council has proven itself as a forward-thinking agency that wants to give its region a competitive edge by leveraging next-generation technology,” Rob Lloyd, Virgin Hyperloop One chief executive officer, said in an email. “Virgin Hyperloop One is excited to pursue these projects, which would transform what are now separate metropolitan areas into one economic mega-region connected by high speed transport.”

Gordon Dickson: 817-390-7796; @gdickson
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