1. The Origins of the Idea
  2. Hyperloop Worldwide: Unfulfilled Ambitions
  3. Hyperloop in Ukraine
  4. What's Next: Magnetic Hyperloop in China

In August 2013, Elon Musk introduced Hyperloop, a vacuum train project aiming to transport people and cargo over vast distances at high speeds. The concept garnered interest from several countries, including Ukraine. In June 2018, the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine and Hyperloop Transport Technologies (HTT) signed a cooperation agreement, with the head of the ministry, Volodymyr Omelyan, stating that the first Hyperloop line would be launched in Ukraine by 2023.

Fast forward to the present year. In an alternate reality, Ukrainians would already be traveling across the country with this cutting-edge transport, perhaps even transporting weaponry to the front lines. However, this vision did not materialize, and Omelyan now reveals that all work on the project has been halted.

On December 22, it was announced that Hyperloop One, the company behind the project, is shutting down. The company is selling its assets and equipment, as reported by Bloomberg. Liga.Tech revisits a material on Hyperloop published in May 2023.

The Origins of the Idea

The concept of a vacuum train dates back to the 19th century when engineers invented the pneumatic tube. In the United Kingdom and the USA, prototypes of such trains were created and put into operation, but they did not gain widespread use. In the 20th century, these ideas found expression in the Vactrain concept proposed by American scientist Robert Goddard in the 1910s, who is also considered a pioneer in rocketry.
Hyperloop for Ukrainians in 2023: What went wrong?
1974 vacuum train concept. Source: Flickr/x-ray delta one

The revival of the vacuum train concept occurred in the early 21st century due to the interest of governments and big businesses in high-speed railroads, often seen as a cheaper alternative to air transportation, albeit slower.

Hyperloop, to some extent, was Elon Musk's response to a state project for a high-speed railway connection between Los Angeles and San Francisco proposed in 2012. The project was supposed to be operational by 2029, but Musk criticized it as slow and expensive.

The Hyperloop concept envisioned transporting people or goods in special capsules moving through low-pressure tubes using magnetic levitation. Ideally, such a capsule could reach speeds of up to 1200 km per hour.

In addition to speed, Hyperloop touted cost-effectiveness, weather independence, environmental friendliness, safety, and lower energy consumption – the system was intended to be powered by solar panels.

Hyperloop Worldwide: Unfulfilled Ambitions

After the initial presentations, Hyperloop was met with skepticism. Firstly, most of its advantages were already present in time-tested modes of transportation. For example, the low cost of transportation – ships; independence from weather conditions – trains; the ability to quickly reach remote locations – helicopters and airplanes. Thus, Hyperloop's ground transportation lost in terms of flexibility and maneuverability.

Hyperloop for Ukrainians in 2023: What went wrong?
Photo: EPA

Thanks to the Open Source principle, several companies were able to develop the project. The spotlight turned to Hyperloop One, also known as Virgin Hyperloop One. By October 2016, they completed a 500-meter test track in Nevada, USA. A year later, the company unveiled a prototype capsule called XP-1, which reached a speed of 387 km/h during testing – a world record for this type of transportation.

In November 2020, the company unveiled the HR-2 capsule, which was tested with passengers for the first time, but its maximum speed reached only 172 km/h. In February 2022, Hyperloop One announced that it was abandoning the further development of this technology for passenger transportation, focusing solely on cargo transport. Around the same time, half of the company's workforce was reportedly laid off.

Another notable player in the "Hyperloop" field is Hyperloop Transport Technologies (HTT). The company currently boasts the world's only full-scale test track for capsules, measuring 320 meters in length and four meters in diameter.

HTT is currently working on a series of ambitious projects, including a tunnel between Abu Dhabi and Dubai, creating a route from Pittsburgh to Cleveland to Chicago, and establishing a terminal for Hyperloops in the port of Hamburg. Despite signed agreements and investments, these plans exist only on paper and in presentation videos.

Hyperloop in Ukraine

In addition to the memorandum signed with HTT, the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine established the transport innovation project HypeUA, responsible for implementing Hyperloop in Ukraine. The project was submitted to the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine, which confirmed its scientific viability in early 2019. Ukrainian scientists and technology companies also expressed interest in the project.

The next step in the plan was to build a short test track in Dnipro, scheduled for completion in the same year. However, a lack of necessary funding immediately posed a challenge. Ukrainian society reacted critically to the news about Hyperloop, generating numerous thematic jokes and memes online.

Hyperloop for Ukrainians in 2023: What went wrong?
Source: ATB Market

"We wanted to present Ukraine not only as a country of grain, iron, and talented people who mainly work abroad," commented former Minister of Infrastructure Volodymyr Omelyan to Liga.Tech. "We wanted to breathe new life into our scientific and high-tech segments."

The ministry conducted several negotiations before announcing the initiative with Ukrainian scientists and leading technology companies. In the field of space technology and scientific manufacturing, everyone expressed support for this idea.

The economic feasibility of building and launching Hyperloop in Ukraine raised questions. However, from the perspective of involving the country in high-tech and promising projects, this step undoubtedly had its advantages. Plans also included the production of Hyperloop components by domestic companies.

To secure funding, Omelyan's team approached the European Commission, receiving a promise of financing modern projects in Ukraine to make the country a testing ground for the technology. They also discussed the project with parties involved in implementing Hyperloop in other countries, including the ruler of Dubai, DP World (an Emirati multinational logistics company), Richard Branson (Virgin Hyperloop One), a branch of the Munich Technical University engaged in Elon Musk's Hyperloop development, and a company involved in the project both in the USA and Europe. "Based on this, we announced this initiative," says Omelyan.

Volodymyr Omelyan emphasized that the final work on the Ukrainian Hyperloop was discontinued after the 2019 presidential elections.

The Ministry for Communities, Territories and Infrastructure Development of Ukraine did not respond to the inquiry about the further development or discontinuation of the Hyperloop project. If a response is received, it will be published.

What's Next: Magnetic Hyperloop in China

Currently, there is information about the Hyperloop project in China, which is expected to launch between Shanghai and Hangzhou by 2035.

A 150-kilometer vacuum tunnel will allow trains on magnetic suspension to travel at speeds up to 1000 km/h. The Chinese Academy of Engineering and the National Railway Administration ordered a "comprehensive evaluation of candidates for construction sites for a demonstration line of the maglev train system," according to the South China Morning Post.

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