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Construction On Hyperloop Could Begin In Next Decade, Cost Unknown

A recovery vehicle moves a sled down a track after a test of a Hyperloop One propulsion system, Wednesday, May 11, 2016, in North Las Vegas, Nev.
John Locher
Associated Press

A proposed Hyperloop line connecting Central Ohio to Chicago and Pittsburgh could be shovel-ready within the next decade, but the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission says it does not have estimates on how much the project would cost.

Hyperloop evangelists believe the technology, which sends pods hurtling through a depressurized tube, can drastically cut travel times and offer cheap regional transit. According to the latest report from MORPC, it would be possible to build a line allowing the vehicles to reach an average speed of 500 miles per hour.

Dublin is one of a few Central Ohio cities pursuing the project, and Thea Walsh from MORPC gave city council members an update Monday night.

“Should all the funding fall into place you could see the starts of a project like this in the 2020s," Walsh said. "To build out to Chicago or Pittsburgh, you’re looking more 2040s, 2050s.”

Dina Lopez, MORPC’s project manager leading the organization’s Hyperloop effort, told council they’re predicting fares could fall in the range of 20 cents per mile.

“So I’ll give you an example of, at this time, if we had a Hyperloop, a trip from Chicago to Columbus would be roughly $60,” Lopez said.

The study’s initial findings also suggest the project could create $300 billion in economic benefit over 30 years.

But Lopez acknowledged there are still many unknowns. When one council member asked whether a $60 fare would cover the system’s upkeep, Lopez was left without a firm answer.

“The technology is still being developed, right?” she explained, “So what kind of operating cost it would entail, those all depend on a lot things that we’re still at this time exploring.”

While the Hyperloop gets most of the project’s attention, Walsh and Lopez were quick to point out the feasibility study is considering both Hyperloop and more traditional rail service.

Six years ago, a study predicted it would cost north of $1 billion to build rail service just between Chicago and Columbus, rather than the Chicago, Columbus, Pittsburgh line currently on MORPC’s radar.

Nick Evans was a reporter at WOSU's 89.7 NPR News. He spent four years in Tallahassee, Florida covering state government before joining the team at WOSU.