Friday September 16, 2016

Toronto to Montreal in less than 30 minutes? How a Canadian company plans to make it happen

A concept image of what TransPod's Hyperloop line might look like in downtown Toronto.

A concept image of what TransPod's Hyperloop line might look like in downtown Toronto. (TransPod Inc.)

Listen 6:59

It sounds like the stuff of science fiction — an ultra high-speed transit line that can travel up to 1,200 km/h. But a Canadian company is among those vying to prove that Hyperloop can become a reality.

Sebastien Gendron is the Founder and CEO of TransPod, a Toronto-based company working to develop Hyperloop in Canada.

This week, he'll be in Berlin, presenting TransPod's Hyperloop plans at InnoTrans, the world's largest transportation trade show. Part of the purpose of the trip is to gain financial backers for the project, but as Gendron tells Day 6 host Brent Bambury, it's also about convincing the industry that Hyperloop is not only possible, it's a good idea.

"This is our mandate within transport — to prove that the technology is worth it and feasible." - Sebastien Gendron, CEO and founder of TransPod

"We've been living with cars, trains and airplanes and boats for quite a long time now. So let's move on and propose something new for the next century. And this one has the advantage to work on using renewable energies and being faster than current mode transportation. This is what we'd like to propose," explains Gendron.

What is Hyperloop?

Hyperloop was first a design competition established by Elon Musk in 2013. Gendron started developing Hyperloop plans with a team from the University of Toronto, but a year ago TransPod was formed as a way of taking Hyperloop beyond the competition level.

Hyperloop is a land-based high-speed system that uses transport pods the size of rail cars, which then travel through vacuum powered pipeline-like tubes.

Hyperloop Interior

(TransPod Inc.)

Gendron acknowledges that Hyperloop sounds like a revolutionary idea, but he says most of the technology needed already exists.

"Some have been developed for the aerospace industry, some for the rail industry. So it's really a matter of putting everything together and [building] it and [getting] it approved by agencies like Transport Canada and use it," says Gendron.

Travelling at ultra high-speed

Hyperloop is expected to have travel speeds ranging from 500 to 1200 km/h, which raises questions about what effect travelling at the speed might have on the human body.

"So it's like on an aircraft, you don't feel the acceleration at take off and actually, as we will learn using an electrical engine. You can monitor and regulate the acceleration. So if you want to have a roller coaster experience, definitely you can have a hard acceleration," explains Gendron.

TransPod Hyperloop

(Transpod Inc.)

TransPod's plan is to develop Hyperloop to travel between Toronto and Montreal, and the trip would take only 30 minutes. The distance between the two cities is approximately 500 km, which means the pod would need to travel at 1,000 km/h.

"We have the know how to make it comfortable and not shaking moment between Montreal and Toronto."

How soon could Hyperloop be in operation?

"We have a bit of [research and development] to do and this is our mandate within transport to prove that the technology is worth it and feasible, and we would like to develop that within the next three to five years, "says Gendron.

"If everything goes well, we'll have the mandate again to develop the technology by 2020, and then we need the approval and political willingness to say 'OK, that makes sense to build a line.' And then when the infrastructure line is built it [won't be] before 2025, at best."

Gendron explains that the first use of Hyperloop will be for cargo, which would allow for more time and testing to prove that it is also a safe mode of travel for passengers.

"You have an economical benefit here and then on top of that, you're going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions." - Sebastien Gendron

Moving cargo will provide both economic and environmental benefits, according to Gendron.

"Today, between Montreal and Toronto we have 10,000 trucks per day. It takes half a day minimum to a day to transport goods between the two cities. We can do the same in an hour, so you have an economical benefit here and then on top of that, you're going to reduce greenhouse gas emissions within that corridor using that system."

Convincing Canadians that they need Hyperloop

Gendron acknowledges that Canadians have a reputation for being reluctant to take risks when it comes to technology.

"Most of the time, Canadian people don't want to take any risk. But on the other hand, Canadians have been able to develop. We had Blackberry a few years back, Bombardier was also able to be built on innovation."

He says that one day, people could live in Montreal and commute to work in Toronto, and that day is not far off.

"It's kind of changing the game for how we live today."

The InnoTrans show runs from September 20-23. TransPod plans to release the details of their Hyperloop plan online once they've presented their ideas at InnoTrans.