Fort Wayne included in study of hyperloop running between Chicago and Pittsburgh

March 21st, 2018

By Doug LeDuc for Greater Fort Wayne Business Weekly | Indiana Economic Digest

A feasibility study is underway for a project that could get Fort Wayne travelers or cargo to Chicago or Columbus, Ohio in half the time required for a flight.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is including Fort Wayne in its feasibility study for its hyperloop as well as conventional passenger-rail routes, which would run along the same corridor from Chicago to Columbus to Pittsburgh.

Hyperloop is a new transportation mode, which uses electric propulsion to move pods through a low-pressure tube. Ultra-low aerodynamic drag allows the pods to glide along at very high speeds as they float above the track using magnetic levitation.

With a focus on traditional passenger-rail service, “we have been working very closely with the City of Fort Wayne and the Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association, coordinating with both of those entities for about five years,” said Nathaniel Kaelin, the commission’s competitive advantage program manager.

“More recently we have, through the Rapid Speed Transportation Initiative, announced just last week that we started to introduce hyperloop into that effort,” he said early this month.

Hyperloop travel time would be substantially shorter than that of conventional passenger rail. Between Fort Wayne and Chicago, or Fort Wayne and Columbus, “I probably would say it would be less than 15 minutes either way,” he said. “I believe the last estimate was 24 minutes between Columbus and Chicago.”

The website puts the time of the flight between Fort Wayne and Chicago at about half an hour in the air and 45 minutes from gate to gate.

In addition to Fort Wayne, Chicago, Columbus and Pittsburgh, the hyperloop route also would include at a minimum the Ohio cities of Lima and Marysville.

In terms of route design, “the system operates less like a train but more like an interstate where there would be on and off ramps,” Kaelin said. “You would still be traveling in the same tube regardless of destination.”

Virgin Hyperloop One calls the pod it has developed for its version of a hyperloop system the XP-1. After building sensors and instruments into the XP-1 and integrating it into a levitating chassis, Virgin Hyperloop tested it in the desert to validate computer simulations it had run.

“Right now we’re working with Virgin Hyperloop One as a winner of its global challenge, but at this point we haven’t developed the structure of how the technology would be built and operated,” Kaelin said. “They’re the only company in the world that has a full-scale prototype, and a coalition from central Ohio went and visited the hyperloop test track in Nevada and met some of the engineers and scientists working on it.”

The Indiana portion of the route that could be used by the hyperloop has been part of a Northern Indiana Passenger Rail Association feasibility and business case study for returning passenger-rail service to Fort Wayne.

HTBN Corp. was hired to conduct an Alternatives Analysis and Public Involvement Process required for the project by the Federal Railroad Administration.

The $350,000 analysis will involve an HNTB examination of preliminary engineering, technical analysis, service planning and environmental impacts along a portion of a proposed Chicago-Fort Wayne-Columbus route.

The work would relate to a section of the route between Gary and Lima, Ohio. The analysis for a section connecting Gary to Chicago was conducted by the company for a Michigan passenger-rail route, and that state’s department of transportation has agreed to share the information.

City staff in Fort Wayne have been helping with some of the public-involvement-process implementation and research, and the city has provided $200,000 in county economic-development income-tax funding for the analysis.

The Fort Wayne City Council approved the funding in 2014 after City Councilman Geoff Paddock sought the allocation. Allen County also contributed $50,000 to the analysis.

From a Federal Railroad Administration perspective, “I think a passenger rail route between Columbus, Fort Wayne and Chicago is going to be a priority for the Midwest,” said Pam Holocher, deputy director for planning within Fort Wayne Community Development.

If a hyperloop system eventually became feasible along the route, “it would be a really great thing for freight and passenger rail,” she said. “And we’re very excited about Ohio putting dollars into that because it would advance the planning for and development of proven, modern, high-performance passenger rail.”

The FRA was expecting the study for the project restoring passenger rail service from Columbus to Chicago at speeds of up to 110 miles per hour to be completed this spring, and Holocher said she is expecting it to be done at least by midyear.