A company working to pioneer a technology its executives say will one day transport passengers at the speed of sound has chosen the Front Range as a possible site for one of its first lines.
Colorado transportation officials will team up with Hyperloop One to determine the feasibility of a 360-mile, high-speed transportation system capable of zipping passengers from Colorado Springs to Denver in nine minutes.
Scientists are still perfecting the technology, which would use electric propulsion and magnetic levitation to send a pod loaded with passengers and cargo whizzing through a low-pressure tube at speeds of more than 700 miles per hour.
The Front Range route, one of 10 worldwide the company selected from dozens of applicants, would stretch from Cheyenne, Wyo., to Pueblo with a westward excursion to Vail and other destinations along the Interstate 70 corridor.
The company hopes to have three operational systems by 2021, although countless regulatory and financial barriers stand in its way.
The Colorado Department of Transportation, with help from AECOM engineering company, has offered to cooperate with Hyperloop One on an analysis that will examine if, and how soon, its futuristic vision might become a reality.
"Government backing is absolutely essential to get these kinds of innovative projects going," said Dan Katz, Hyperloop One's head of public policy and North American projects. "The (Colorado) state government is really setting the bar for the country on innovation, not just on bringing technology in, but also on project finance and finding ways to creatively use public-private partnerships."
Transportation officials hope to complete the study, expected to cost between $500,000 and $1 million, within about a year, said CDOT spokeswoman Amy Ford. The review will take into consideration factors such as demand for such a system, route possibilities, potential economic and environmental impacts, cost and all the logistical hurdles associated with bringing to life "a brand new kind of infrastructure," Ford said.
"It fits into a broader landscape that we have of, 'How do we address transportation as we move into the future?'" she added. "We're excited to include it in our discussion and analysis to see if we can make it happen, because it could be transformative."
According to Hyperloop One, other estimated transit times on the proposed line include Denver to Greeley in six minutes, Denver to Fort Collins in nine minutes, Denver to Vail in nine minutes and Colorado Springs to Pueblo in six minutes.
The announcement comes as a reformed state commission brainstorms ways to establish a Front Range passenger rail service, which proponents call a sustainable form of transportation that will lead to fewer cars on Colorado's clogged highways. As officials search for the hundreds of millions of dollars needed to widen Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock, forward-thinkers are looking for a transit solution that can keep up with the exploding population of the Front Range, expected to exceed 6 million by 2040, according to CDOT.
Jill Gaebler, a member of the state commission and president pro tem of the Colorado Springs City Council, said in an email that hyperloop technology is likely "a long way off" from becoming a viable form of transportation.
"I don't think we should stall our plans to fund a high-speed rail line along the Front Range, as it, in contrast with road infrastructure, is sustainable, and cheaper in the long run for Colorado residents," she said.
The hyperloop concept first appeared in a paper by Tesla co-founder Elon Musk in 2013. An industry devoted to testing and developing the technology has since emerged.
Fort Collins-based Loop Global Inc. is considering Colorado Springs as one of several possible sites for a test track for another brand of high-speed tube transport that uses magnetic levitation. The company plans to spend about $25 million in private funds to build a 3-mile track, which would employ Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies, or ET3, said CEO D Worthington. Unlike hyperloop companies, Loop Global envisions a network that would transport pods in a highway-like network, not a train that takes passengers from Point A to Point B, he said.
Hyperloop One completed its second test run in July, managing to propel a pod at speeds up to roughly 190 mph over a distance of 437 meters. According to a post on its website, the pod could have reached more than 700 mph had it traveled a longer track with more stator devices to help propel it.
Other potential sites for hyperloop lines selected by the company include the Midwest Connect, which would hook up Pittsburgh, Chicago and Columbus, Ohio; the "Texas Triangle," which would link Dallas, Laredo and Houston; and a Florida line from Miami to Orlando. Colorado was a part of other proposed lines that didn't make the final cut, such as the 1,152-mile route from Cheyenne, Wyo., to Houston proposed by the Rocky Mountain Hyperloop Consortium.
Dave Clute, co-founder of the consortium, said he was not surprised by the winning route proposal. The stretch can be seen as a larger portion of what could eventually be a nationwide system of hyperloop lines linking metropolitan centers, said Clute, who is also vice president of intelligent building practices for Chicago-based Environmental Systems Design, Inc.
"The amount of traffic that we're going to see north south in the Front Range corridor is a huge impetus to be able to move people and cargo much more efficiently and faster and safer," Clute said.
The Associated Press contributed to the reporting of this article.
Contact Rachel Riley: 636-0108
EDITOR’S NOTE: A previous version of this article contained inaccurate information about the test track that’s been proposed for Colorado Springs. The Hyperloop Advanced Research Partnership is a research organization, not the test track project’s developer. The track would not use Hyperloop technology, but another type of high-speed tube transport known as Evacuated Tube Transport Technologies, or ET3.