Making Hyperloop the safest mode of transportation

In this day and age, customers have high expectations of transportation. They want to travel fast, yet affordably whilst keeping potential environmental impact in mind. But most importantly, customers expect a safe journey. Existing modes of transportation have a long history of accidents and increased regulations, resulting in the current high level of safety of aviation and railways. A new transportation system, such as the Hyperloop, can learn from the progress made in conventional systems. By using safety as one of the design criteria early in the development, the Hyperloop can offer high-speed travel at an unprecedented level of safety. This article will assess how to create a safe mode of transportation. Moreover, it will introduce the Hyperloop safety framework. This is part of a report created by Delft Hyperloop, which reviews Hyperloop safety from various perspectives and gives suggestions on improving the safety of the Hyperloop system.

The Hyperloop is a new mode of transportation where vehicles (pods) travel through a near-vacuum tubes using magnetic levitation allowing for high-speed travel with minimal energy consumption. These characteristics make the Hyperloop a sustainable alternative to short to medium-haul flights. A level of safety similar to that of aviation needs to be pursued for the Hyperloop to become a viable and accepted alternative means of travel. Therefore, the framework has set the following safety target:

The European Hyperloop system shall have at least the level of safety of European commercial airlines in terms of passenger fatalities per passenger travelled kilometer.

This target will be achieved by applying the safety circle (See figure 1), a proven method for safety management in aviation and railway. Following this method will ensure the safety of passengers during operational emergencies.

Figure 1: Safety circle

The Hyperloop is still in the development phase therefore safety can be taken into account during the design of the system. By doing so and analyzing the system, hazards can be identified. Incorporating control measures into the design will reduce risks. Assessing the risks surrounding the Hyperloop system is therefore essential for improving safety. The framework uses several in-depth analyses to get an extensive overview of the Hyperloop risks and hazards:

  • Semi-quantitative risk assessment: An assessment identifying the hazards in the Hyperloop system. The likelihood and impact of each hazard will be defined resulting in a semi-quantitative risk rating highlighting the biggest safety issues in the system. This gives an indication as to the safety measures that are required to suppress certain risks.
  • Emergency scenario analysis: An analysis which simulates emergency scenarios in the Hyperloop system to get a better understanding of accidents. Reviewing the scenarios from the run-up until the return to normal operations gives insight into the weaknesses and flaws of the safety system.
  • RAM analysis: The Reliability, Availability and Maintainability (RAM) analysis looks into failure modes that prevent the system from operating normally. This detailed analysis will identify the underlying causes of failure mechanisms and can provide solutions to maximize the operational performance of the Hyperloop.
  • Stakeholder analysis: Various parties will be responsible for creating the Hyperloop regulations and safety guidelines. An overview of these stakeholders is important for approaching the appropriate parties during each stage of the Hyperloop development.

The results from the performed analyses can be used to improve the safety system of the Hyperloop. The framework discusses the following aspects using the obtained information:

  • Communication system: The Hyperloop network contains autonomous vehicles travelling at high speeds and stretches over thousands of kilometers. A fast and reliable communication method forms the backbone of any safety system.
  • Safety measures: Current modes of transportation use a variety of control measures to reduce the risk imposed on passengers. The Hyperloop will have to use these existing control measures as well as new measures to prevent and mitigate passenger risk.
  • Emergency evacuation: The Hyperloop uses a controlled environment to offer high-speed travel with low energy consumption. However, the controlled environment also limits the entrance and exit points of the system. A detailed evacuation plan is therefore crucial in achieving a safe Hyperloop concept.
  • Autonomous pod control: The Hyperloop pods operate autonomously which allows the headway and reaction time of the system to be decreased. A clear division of responsibilities between autonomous systems and human operators is important to ensure optimal safety, also during emergency situations.
  • Hyperloop security: The speed of the Hyperloop makes it suitable for international travel. Appropriate security measures such as baggage screening and checks of identity documents have to be implemented to comply with European regulations.

In the coming months, several of the aforementioned topics will be discussed more in-depth. The full report that forms the foundation for the Hyperloop safety system will be published in the summer. Stay tuned!

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