Read a couple of articles last week (TechCrunch, ArsTechnica & Denver Post) about Colorado becoming a winner in the Hyperloop One Global Challenge. The Colorado Department of Transportation (DoT) have joined with Hyperloop One to commission a study on Hyperloop transportation across the front range, from Cheyenne, WY to Pueblo, CO.
There’s been talk forever about adding a passenger train in Colorado from Fort Collins to Pueblo but every time they look at it they can’t make the economics work. How’s this different?
Transportation and the Queen city of the Prairie
Transportation has always been important to Denver. It was the Denver Pacific railroad from Denver to Cheyenne that first linked Denver to the rest of the nation. But even before that there was a stage coach line (Leavenworth & Pike’s Peak Express) that went through Denver to reduce travel time. Denver is currently the largest city within 500 miles and the second only to Phoenix as the most populus city in the mountain west.
Denver International Airport is a major hub and the world’s sixth busiest airport. Denver is a cross road for major north-south and east-west highways through the mountain west. Both the BNSF and Union Pacific railroads serve Denver and Denver is one of the major stops on the Amtrak passenger train from San Francisco to Chicago.
Hyperloop can provide much faster travel, even faster than airplanes. Hyperloop can go up to 760 mph (1200 km/h) and should average 600 mph (970 km/h) from point to point
Further, it could potentially require less security. Hyperloop can go above or below ground. But in either case a terrorist act shouldn’t be as harmful as one on a plane thats traveling at 20 to 30,000 feet in the air.
And because it can go above or below ground it could potentially make use current transportation right of way corridors for building its tubes. Although to go west, it’s going to need a new tunnel or two through the mountains.
Stops along the way
The proposed hyperloop track will bring it through Greeley and as far west as Vail. For a total of 360 miles. Cheyenne to Pueblo have about 10 urban centers between and west of them (Cheyenne, Fort Collins, Greely, Longmont-Boulder, Denver, Denver Tech Center [DTC], West [Denver] metro, Silverthorne/Dillon, Vail, Colorado Springs and Pueblo).
Cheyenne to Pueblo is is 213 miles apart and ~3.5 hr drive with Denver at about the 1/2 way point. With Hyperloop, Denver to either location should take ~10 minutes without stops and the total trip, Cheyenne to Pueblo should be ~21 minutes.
Yes but is there any demand
I would think the way to get a handle on any potential market is to examine airline traffic between these cities. Airplanes can travel at close to these speeds and the costs are public.
But today there’s not much airline traffic between Cheyenne, Denver and Pueblo. Flights to Vail are mostly seasonal. I could only find one flight from Denver to Cheyenne over a week, one flight between Cheyenne and Pueblo, and 16 flights between Denver and Pueblo. The airplanes used on these trips only holds 9 passengers, so maybe that would amount to a maximum of 162 air travelers a week.
The other approach to estimating potential passengers is to use highway traffic between these destinations. Yes the interstate (I25) from Cheyenne through Denver to Pueblo is constantly busy and needs another lane or two in each direction to handle peak travel. And travel to Vail is very busy during weekends. But how many of these people would be willing to forego a car and travel by Hyperloop?
I travel on tollroads to get to the Denver Airport and it’s a lot faster then traveling non-tollroad highways. But the cost for me is a business expense and it’s not that frequent. These days there’s not much traffic on my tollroad corridor and at rush hour, there’s very few times where one has to slow down. But there are plenty of people coming to the airport each day from the NorthWest and SouthEast Denver suburbs that could use these tollroads but don’t.
And what can you do in Pueblo, Cheyenne or Denver for that matter without a car. It depends on where you end up. The current stops in Denver include the Denver International Airport, DTC, or West Metro (Golden?). Denver, Golden, Boulder, Vail, Greeley and Fort Collins all have compact downtowns with decent transportation. But for the rest of the stops along the way, you will probably want access to a car to get anywhere. There’s always Uber and Left and worst case renting a car.
So maybe Hyperloop would compete for all air travel and some portion of the car travel between along the Cheyenne to Denver to Pueblo. It just may not be large enough.
Other alternative routes
Why stop at Cheyenne, what about Jackson WY or Billings MT? And why Pueblo what about Sante Fe and Albuquerque in NM. And you could conceivably go down to Brownsville, TX and extend up to Calgary and Edmonton in Alberta, Canada, if it made sense. I suppose it’s a question of how many people for what distance.
I would think that going east-west would be more profitable. Say Kansas City to Salt Lake City with Denver in between. With this corridor: 1) the distances are longer (Kansas to Salt Lake is 910 mi [~1465 km]); 2) the metropolitan areas are much larger; and 3) the air travel between them is more popular.
There are currently 10 winners for Hyperloop One’s Global Challenge Contest. The other routes in the USA include Texas (Dallas, Houston & San Antonio), Florida (Miami to Orlando), & the midwest (Chicago IL to Columbus OH to Pittsburgh PA). But there are others in Canada and Mexico in North America and more in Europe and India.
Hyperloop One will “commit meaningful business and engineering resources and work closely with each of the winning teams/routes to determine their commercial viability.” All this means that each of the winners will be examined professionally to see if it makes economic sense.
Of the 10 winners, Colorado’s route has the least population, almost by a factor of 2. Not sure why we are even in contention, but maybe it’s the ease of building the tubes that makes us a good candidate.
In any case, the public-private partnership has begun to work on the feasibility study.
Photo Credit(s): 7 hyperloop facts Elon Musk would love us to know, Detechter