TransPod hopes to bring hyperloop technology to several locations across the globe, including a Calgary-Edmonton route and a Toronto-Ottawa-Montreal route in Canada. Courtesy TransPod

High hopes for high-speed hyperloop

They might not see eye-to-eye on much, but Calgary and Edmonton are united by their interest in the latest effort to bring high-speed transportation to Alberta. The hyperloop concept consists of pressurized aluminum pods travelling in tubes. Using magnetic propulsion and levitation, the system can exceed speeds of 1,000 km/h. Calgary to Edmonton in less than half an hour, anyone?

“This project would go a long way to diversifying Alberta’s economy,” said Sebastien Gendron, the co-founder and CEO of TransPod, a Toronto-based startup that’s developing hyperloop technology. “The province has an engaged community and if we can convince key people to develop the line, it will create jobs, help retain talent and create a worldwide centre of excellence where we could showcase the expertise of the province and grow the high-tech industry in Alberta.”

With an estimated cost of $25 million/km, the TransPod hyperloop would need both private and public funding to become a reality. It’s a steeper price tag than that of high-speed rail, but Gendron said the extra funds would be money well spent.

“It would offer the speed of an aircraft with the frequency of a subway.” – Sebastien Gendron, TransPod founder and CEO

“In Europe, they are having trouble with high-speed rail, as the system and snow don’t work well together, and Canada would obviously have the same issue,” he said. “Being sheltered in a tube is an excellent solution that is also faster and more flexible. It would offer the speed of an aircraft with the frequency of a subway.”

Most of the money would come from the private sector. TransPod is working with a Canadian pension fund, which is entrusted with building similar infrastructure projects in Canada and worldwide, and pushing the provincial and federal governments to support the project.

Given the stakes, testing the technology is a must before moving ahead.

“We have split the test activity into two parts,” said Gendron. “The first is a half-scale track already validated in France, and the second is a full-size test track in the Edmonton-Calgary transportation corridor to pinpoint the specifications of the overall system.”

Last September, the City of Calgary passed a motion supporting the test facility. From the City’s perspective, the ideal would be seeing the project come to life without spending taxpayer dollars.

“The test track is the first step in an important direction,” said Andrew Sedor, a senior executive advisor with the City of Calgary’s transportation department. “From an economic development lens, we would like TransPod to develop the technology and sell it to other cities, creating a hub similar to the aerospace industry that would be situated in Calgary. As a city, we support innovation and development, and are certainly open for business.”

Since the land for the track is owned by the Alberta government, TransPod is working to secure their support, which would pave the way for approval from Ottawa for a feasibility study between Calgary and Edmonton to start in April. The company also hopes to arrange federal funding for the project.