The new space race is heating up as private companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin increase their footprint in industries once dominated by governmental agencies. But in the race to build the world’s first hyperloop, the governments are striking back, and it looks like countries, not private companies, may be the first to make the futuristic mode of transportation a reality.
Russian Transport Minister Maxim Sokolov announced on Friday that his department has been looking at the hyperloop and is “ready” to make the necessary investments. Meanwhile, the Slovakian government also recently presented plans to link its capital Bratislava to Vienna, Austria and Budapest, Hungary, cutting the transit times to 10 and 15 minutes respectively.
“Probably, Russia is ready as no other country for the implementation of this project,” Sokolov said at the Russia-ASEAN summit in the Black Sea resort of Sochi, according to TASS, a Russian news agency.
The most significant stumbling block for the hyperloop in its early design stages has been securing commitments that the expensive and as yet unproven project will turn into development.
Elon Musk’s original plan to build a hyperloop to travel between San Francisco and Los Angeles in 35 minutes was projected to cost at least $6 billion, though analysts have suggested that it could end up much more expensive. Naturally, corporations may be hesitant to front that kind of money without serious guarantees of a payday, but luckily governments are sometimes more willing to plan long term.
“As for the Hyperloop project, similar works have been conducted for quite a long time. Do we expect any steps in this connection? In principle, yes, and our transport strategy through 2030 reflects the use of new developments accumulated in the sphere of transport, including new transport means,” said Sokolov.
And rather than gamble on the whims of traveling passengers, the Russian minister said he was hoping the hyperloop would dramatically improve freight shipping, a particular challenge in the sprawling Russian federation. There have been disputes over the economics of using the hyperloop to ship cargo, but Sokolov says he is already in talks with Hyperloop One, one of two leading companies working to produce the vacuum-based transport tubes, and has decided to go for it.
Hyperloop One does boast some Russian lineage as well, having received significant investment from Caspian VC Partners, a firm led by Russian businessman Ziyavudin Magomedov. The leading hyperloop developer is also in talks with Russian Railways, which recently released a statement confirming its interest in the new technology.
“We, as a large global company, are, of course, interested in the advanced innovative technologies. Our specialists are in a working group with Hyperloop One to study its technology. Russian Railways is, in particular, interested in the application of Hyperloop One in cargo transportation. However, it’s early to make any conclusions,” Russian Railways wrote in a statement.
The prospect of other nations building the U.S.A.-designed hyperloop might induce American lawmakers to rise in support of the L.A to S.F. line or even the more ambitious intercontinental route, but so far no one has come forward to champion the expensive project.
At least we have proved we can still manufacture ideas in the United States, because our progress on the hyperloop certainly leaves something to be desired.