Canadian startup TransPod calls it a plane without wings that travels inside a vacuum tube
By Kiran N. Kumar
The speed of a train is not just doubling but tripling with the unveiling of the FluxJet, a hybrid between an aircraft and a train, with a speed at more than 621 mph (around 999 km/h), three times the record of a bullet train or a little quicker than a private jet. And it’s more environmentally-friendly without emissions.
The Canadian startup TransPod calls it a plane without wings based on the physics concept known as “veillance flux” that envisions “contactless power transmission” with aerodynamic and propulsion systems designed to reduce friction. It travels inside a vacuum tube using the magnetically levitated technology to travel faster than present day trains.
Read: Flying Cars: Road ahead not clear for Volkswagen’s Flying Tiger (August 15, 2022)
The FluxJet is designed to carry 54 passengers plus two wheelchairs, besides four luggage racks to carry up to 10 tons of cargo. The tube system known as the TransPod line has been proposed as the future train model to alleviate the current congested transportation model with high emissions.
However, the Transpod’s fluxjet is similar to Virgin’s Hyperloop project underway to roll out transportation underground trains with an envisaged speed of 760mph.
Owing to pandemic constraints, the company chose to lay off half of its workforce in February 2022 and wants to focus on a cargo version that would be viable when compared to the air cargo system.
The main challenge would be the safety levels for humans. “There are significant issues with putting a person into a capsule, inside a vacuum environment, and traveling at very high speeds, which affects the commercial viability of these systems,” says Gavin Bailey of the consultancy firm Eunomia.
Several experiments showed that nausea occurs if 0.2 g-forces (gs) is exceeded, while Elon Musk’s proposed hyperloop line between Los Angeles and San Francisco proposed a limit of no more than 0.5 gs.
Leaving aside future challenges of accidents, rescue system, risk factors, the proposed hyperloop model may still be inimical for transportation of cargo, says Bailey.
“In the context of freight, you have to consider there is still a limitation on how fast you can accelerate, decelerate and corner when carrying inanimate objects because their chemical composition might change if the forces are too high.”
Richard Geddes, professor and founding director of the Cornell Program in Infrastructure Policy for Cornell University is more optimistic. “There will inevitably be accidents. Of course, freight gets damaged but nobody gets injured,” he says.
Read: What’s the future of self-navigating ships without humans? (June 24, 2022)
“I think the way the hyperloop space has moved is to first get systems operational for freight, work on these engineering challenges, and make sure these systems are safe before you begin with the challenges of human transport.”
High-speed cargo challenges
Freight presents an easier challenge than passenger services, but not without inherent limitations.
The hyperloop cargo may not win many supporters in the governments either. The US Department of Energy has, in a report, concluded that the freight hyperloop system would be less energy-efficient per ton-mile than other modes of cargo transport, except air. The analysis estimates hyperloop would be at least 8x less energy efficient for heavier cargo than the current transport by rail.
No wonder, Elon Musk’s The Boring Company has abandoned plans for an LA tunnel over its potential environmental impact and similarly, the UK’s HS2 project has been delayed owing to challenges of going underground entirely.
“There are some issues, but I really have confidence that over time, those issues will be addressed,” says Geddes.
Despite all the challenges ahead, the Canadian project TransPod seeks to take off where others have relented, with funding already in the pipeline.
It plans to have stations connecting major cities, and estimates the train tickets to cost 44% less than a plane ticket, besides creating up to 140,000 jobs and adding $19.2 billion to Canada’s GDP.
Read: Canada’s all-electric train-plane hybrid travels faster than a jet (August 30, 2022)
“All the hard work over the past few years has led to this milestone moment where talk is becoming a reality,” TransPod’s CEO Sebastien Gendron said in a statement.
“The technology is proven, and we have the confidence of investors, governments and partners to continue pushing forward to redefine transportation effectively.”