HIGH-SPEED RAIL

Hyperloop: The future of travel or pure science fiction?

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by Ryan Ghee, Future Travel Experience

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk this week released details of his Hyperloop transport concept, which he says could provide a viable alternative to short-haul air travel, high-speed rail and travelling by car. According to the paper, Hyperloop would reduce the journey time between Los Angeles and San Francisco to just 30 minutes. This compares to 75 minutes by plane and around five-and-a-half hours by car. Musk says it would be viable on routes up to 1,500km or 900 miles long.

Subsonic travel machine
In case you’re not fully aware of what Hyperloop actually is, the concept is based on having pods travel through a low-pressure tube that would be suspended above the ground. Each pod would have a compressor on the front to pass the air to the rear and some of the air would be used to create a cushion underneath the pod on which it could ride. Electric induction motors at the beginning, middle and end points of the tube would be used to accelerate and decelerate the pods. Musk says the whole system could run on solar power and tickets would cost as little as USD20. Hyperloop could transport as many as 7.4 million people annually each way between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

From a passenger perspective, it sounds great – drastically reduced journey times, cheaper ticket prices and a transport system that is self-powering and entirely weather- and delay-proof. What’s not to like?

Well, the fact that Musk hasn’t taken into account any external factors is something of a problem. Now, I’m not saying this is impossible. If that were the case, engineers and scientists the world over would already have dismissed the concept. The issue, however, is that much of the technology that is needed for Hyperloop to become a reality doesn’t yet exist and there are bound to be economic issues that could potentially derail Hyperloop before the concept moves any further.

Technological and economical challenges
Although Musk talks of USD6 billion development costs (that’s ten-times less than the cost of the high-speed rail link between San Francisco and LA that Musk is strongly opposed to) and USD20 tickets, he does nothing to address the fact that tens of billions more would have to be spent on developing and testing new technologies. If he can prove that the system is a truly viable alternative mode of transport to the plane, train and car, the investment could surely be justified. However, outside investment and support would be integral, and this is where a major problem lies.
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New low-cost, high-speed rail service launches in France

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By Raymond Kollau, airlinetrends.com

In an effort to boost ridership on its high-speed rail system, French national rail operator SNCF has launched the world’s first low cost high speed rail travel. Called Ouigo (as in “We Go”),  the new cheap, no-frills train service for France will offer ticket prices from just EUR 10, significantly cheaper than tickets for the normal TGV train.

Ouigo is an independently run subsidiary of SNCF and will operate its own trains, modified double-decker TGV Duplex trains, the same trains as SNCF’s regular TGV service. The new service will start running between the outskirts of Paris and the south of France (Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier) in April this year. Three or four return journeys will operate every day.

Low-cost carriers
To allow for such cheap fares, Ouigo shares similarities to no-frills carriers such as Ryanair and easyJet. Trains depart from Marne-la-Vallée (where Euro Disney is located) to the east of the French capital – almost 20 miles away from central Paris, a scenario reminiscent of the budget airlines’ strategy to use airports away from city centres. Ouigo trains will have no premium section, no food or drink service and less free leg space in order to accommodate 1,200 passengers, 20 percent more than a normal TGV service. Tickets can only be bought on-line, not from ticket machines or ticket counters.

It also means adding fees. Passengers can bring only one small bag (about the size of an airplane carry-on) and a purse or backpack. If a traveler waits until boarding time to pay for an extra bag, there’s a EUR40 charge. If done ahead of time, the cost is only EUR5. Seating in a car with outlets costs an extra EUR2; getting information about a reservation via the phone requires another EUR1. Reservations can be changed for EUR10 (EUR20 if done on the phone), but not fully reimbursed.

Each year 400,000 seats will go on sale at just EUR10 with a further one million costing just EUR25. Prices will rise depending on demand until they reach a maximum price of EUR85.

According to calculations published in French newspaper Le Figaro, the average price for a Friday journey from Paris to Marseille booked three months in advance costs EUR72 on the TGV, EUR50 on Air France, EUR34 on Ryanair, and EUR25 on Ouigo.
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Latest high-speed trains in Asia offer airline-like business class cabins

The advantages of high-speed rail have been well documented. Compared with flying, travelling by fast train offers city-center to city-center connections, no need for checked baggage, or repeated queuing for security and boarding. Also, trains are not prone to delays caused by bad weather, slow baggage handling, crowded runways and air traffic. Research has shown that business travellers are willing to travel to destinations by rail for up to 4 hours, while leisure travellers are even prepared to use trains for journeys of up to 6 hours. 

In an effort to make rail travel even more attractive for business travellers, high-speed rail operators in China and Japan have recently introduced airline-like business class cabins on their latest fast trains. 

BeijingShanghai ‘Harmony Express’
China is in the process of building the world’s largest high-speed network in record time, with rapid passenger lines already criss-crossing much of the country. The recently opened Beijing to Shanghai high-speed railway is the latest portion of a network the government hopes will stretch 45,000 km (27,960 miles) by the end of 2015. Construction of the 1,318 kilometre (819 mile) high-speed rail connection between Beijing and Shanghai began in April 2008 and track laying was completed only 2,5 years later in November 2010. The USD33 billion rail line has been operating on a trial basis since mid-May and was officially opened at the end of June 2011. 

Onboard experience
Besides second and first class cars, the Beijing – Shanghai Harmony Express features a business class car with 24 lie-down seats with a nearly full recline. Each seat is equipped with a foldable LCD TV, a tray table, socket and reading lamp. Travellers are waited on by uniformed stewardesses and even the galley area and restroom have been upgraded. 
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Hong Kong Airport opens new SkyPier ferry transfer terminal

Air-to-rail links have been gaining ground across Europe in the past decades. Airlines such as Lufthansa, SwissAir France, and KLM have agreements with train operators to provide ‘intermodal’ journeys, which combine a flight and train travel, often in one ticket. In this way, the train effectively works as a feeder service for the airline to feed passenger to its hub airport.

On a similar note, Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) has just opened the SkyPier, a new cross-boundary ferry terminal that provides high-speed ferry services for transit passengers to and from the Pearl River Delta, home to around 60 million people. The SkyPier ferry service is for transit passengers only. Currently, high-speed ferries make an average of 85 trips everyday, shuttling around 5,000 passengers between HKIA and eight ports in the Pearl River Delta and Macao, including Zhongshan, Zhuhai Jiuzhou, Dongguan Humen, Guangzhou Nansha, Shenzhen Shekou and Shenzhen Fuyong as well as Macao’s Taipa and Maritime Ferry Terminal. A temporary SkyPier opened in 2003 and served almost 10 million passengers. The new 16,500-sqm permanent SkyPier is eight times the size of the temporary facility, and designed with a maximum capacity for 8 million annual passengers. 
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