Regulating the Hyperloop

Hyperloop is a new mode of transport and regulations do not yet exist. Regulations are crucial to the hyperloop as they can speed up the implementation and ensure a safe and reliable system. However, starting regulations too soon can slow innovation. Examining already existing modes of transportation, such as trains and aircraft, could help to create this legislation and find the optimal timing for its implementation. 

Regulations include several processes in which the government is involved, for example standardisation, legislation and certification. In this article these three topics will be discussed. 

The hyperloop concept is still early in the development stage. This means that several of the technologies used in the system are currently being researched, developed and tested. Various parties are innovating different mechanisms and technologies. There is no consensus on which technologies to use as a standard. When the innovation phase is finished, standardisation is crucial in order to ensure a constant final product on which all parties can agree. Standardisation would entail that system parameters such as tube diameter, propulsion method and pod size are the same for each link in the hyperloop system. This would significantly improve operability of the network. One only needs to look at railway travel to understand the importance of standardisation. To this day a different track width is used by several countries, increasing the costs and complexity of trains.    

Besides standardisation, legislation is also crucial. An operational hyperloop system will need appropriate legislation just as any other mode of transportation. At present, legislation is difficult because of the many uncertainties in the hyperloop concept. Nevertheless, similarities to existing modes of transport can be used as a foundation to derive the required legislation. The pressure vessel of a pod is for example comparable to the fuselage of an airplane. Moreover, the propulsion method used in Maglev trains is similar to that envisioned for the hyperloop. Using this overlap, the creation of proper legislation can be sped up by using already existing policies. 

Lastly, certification is a prerequisite of a safe and reliable transportation system. It is advised to start with certification as early as possible. Include the necessary stakeholders in the early stages of the design process to speed up the procedure. A high-speed testing facility is also of importance. This facility would be able to prove the safety of a hyperloop travelling over 1000 km/h and in turn accelerate the progress of obtaining the correct certification. 

Railway and airway travel currently use different methods of certification. The certification of trains differs per country and multiple organizations are authorised to issue these certificates. This method results in many kinds of certificates and thus different safety standards. While the European Union Agency for Railways (ERA) is working on harmonising the certification through the 4th Railway Package, no standard certification is currently on the market. Aviation recognized the problems and created a different method. In Europe a single organization, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), is responsible for certification. However, the EASA can authorise third-party companies to take over certain aspects of the certification procedure. The hyperloop is an international mode of transport. It would benefit from a more centralised certification system, such as the one found in aviation.  

How are all these regulations going be set up? Standardisation and legislation should not be pushed too soon as this can hinder innovation. When most of the innovation is finished, the process of standardisation can start. Converging on a standardised hyperloop would require a collaboration between the EU, hyperloop companies and research institutes. The standardised concept gives way to the creation of legislation. For subsystems similar to other transport modes, national governments and the EU could look at existing European legislation. For subsystems unique to the hyperloop, such as the airlocks and the vacuum tube, new European legislation needs to be written. Using the expertise of certain outside parties could be beneficial to the quality and acceptance of the legislation. Setting up the certification process should be done as early as possible. Certification can even be started during the design phase. The European Union should create a new organisation solely focussed on safety certifications. The correct safety certifications should be created by a collaboration of private and public parties. 

Leave a Reply