By Delft Hyperloop, February 2019
The key features of a hyperloop transportation system are low energy use, high-speed travel and the ease of a turn-up and go system. This unique combination causes the hyperloop system to be considered as the fifth mode of transportation. To optimally exploit the use of these features, distances traveled with a hyperloop will need to be over 100 km. For distances up to 100 km, the train remains an efficient option. The (high-speed) rail network within Europe is already well established and there is no need for a hyperloop to compete with trains on smaller distances. Both airlines as airports are already indicating that they cannot handle the expected growth in aviation in the upcoming decades. It is safe to assume that a hyperloop system will be a direct competitor of short-haul (up to three hours) airline flights. A properly designed hyperloop network is, therefore, able to take over a significant amount of the short-haul flights within Europe. Within transportation research, the design and optimization of a new network is defined as a Network Design Problem (NDP).
To start the analysis of any possible European Hyperloop Network, data from Eurostat was imported. The total air passenger numbers for the year 2017 between any two commercial airports within Europe were used to precisely determine the demand for short-haul travel. The passenger numbers were converted from airports to cities to allow for a new network design. For the few cities in Europe that contain multiple airports, the sum of all the airports in that city is taken. In this way, a database was created containing the demand between over 3000 origin-destination pairs (OD-pairs) within Europe. Air travel has grown significantly over the past decades and this growth is expected to continue and even accelerate in the upcoming decades. Since it is expected that it takes about 15 to 20 years before a complete hyperloop system will be installed, the network should be designed for the expected demand in the future. Eurostat presented several growth scenarios between 2017 and 2040 for air travel, with an average increase of 140% for European flights as the most realistic scenario. These growth factors are estimated per country as well by Eurostat and were used to estimate the increase in demand for every OD-pair within our database.
Next to the demand, the costs of constructing the network need to be analyzed. The costs of the tubes (including the track) are by far the most expensive part of a hyperloop system ranging from 38 million euro above-ground to 61 million euro underground. It is assumed that about 50% of a hyperloop network needs to be installed underground for reasons including space restrictions and horizon pollution. This brings the average cost of one-kilometer tube to about 50 million euro. The shortest distance between any two points on the globe is defined by the great circle distance. However, it is never possible to travel completely straight because of the restrictions provided by existing infrastructure and urban areas. The distance cars travel between two cities is roughly 1.3 times the great circle distance. This turns out to be a good estimation for all cross-border car travel distances in Europe. A hyperloop system will be largely installed next to existing infrastructure (to reduce costs of land ownership) and partly underground (where straight connections are more feasible). The total distance of a hyperloop link between two cities is thus assumed to be 1.2 times the great circle distance.
With the demand between every OD-pair and the costs of installing a link known, the only thing left to determine is the actual passenger numbers expected to travel by hyperloop over a network based on its design. A penalty function was included to determine the ratio of actual passengers using a hyperloop to the total demand between a specific OD-pair. For this penalty function, a shortest-path algorithm was implemented to find the most efficient path of links in the network between two cities. The ratio of passengers using this path to get from their origin to destination was set equal to the ratio of the distance of this path to the great circle distance of this OD-pair.
It should be noted that the future is always uncertain and this analysis is based on real data of 2017 with a realistic growth scenario determined by Eurocontrol. By connecting cities and allowing for cheap and easy high-speed connections, new demand will most definitely be created. It is currently not a reasonable option to go out for dinner in Paris while living in Amsterdam. Likewise, living in Frankfurt and working in Berlin is unfeasible nowadays. A hyperloop could and will change human behavior in terms of transportation which is very difficult to predict and therefore not taken into account in this analysis.
Using the model described above, the network was heuristically optimized for maximum passenger throughput with minimum cost per passenger kilometer to break-even. This was done iteratively by manually changing links, adding and removing links. During this process, the performance of the network and of every individual link was determined at every iteration. While changing the network structure, it was made sure that the OD-pairs with the most demand was included in an efficient manner. Finally, socio-economical, demographical and political issues were taken into account. This resulted in the network presented at the beginning of this article containing 48 stations with 51 links. A total of 308 million passengers per year are expected to use this network in over 600 OD-pairs. This is about two-thirds of the passenger traffic between the included cities and one-third of all the European passenger traffic in 2040. The network consists of 20.000 km tube requiring a total investment of about 1 trillion euro. The network will be constructed starting by the most profitable links.