Air travel is under fire. Last month, environmental organisations demonstrated against aviation in various Dutch cities, and there’s a growing public call for flying to be made considerably more expensive by levying VAT or climate taxes on air tickets and charging excise duty on kerosene. In addition, there is an increasing demand for better and faster high-speed rail networks. Even KLM boss Pieter Elberts would like to see rail travel competing more effectively with air travel over short distances. And rightly so. The number of flight movements continues to increase, particularly over short distances, and emissions are rising correspondingly.
Up until now, the proposed alternatives for short-haul flights are not terribly convincing, with the major obstacles being that they are too slow and too expensive.
Few have noticed, however, that we in the Netherlands are actually at the forefront of the development of a means of transport that could render short-haul flights obsolete within ten years. Of course, air travel is of incalculable economic value for the Netherlands, and high-speed rail transport shows that enormous changes in traveller behaviour can be achieved by making it possible to travel fast and comfortably over land. After all, nobody would think for a moment of catching a plane from Amsterdam to Brussels.
This argument is therefore not an attack, but rather an outstretched hand. Together, we have the solution in our hands. Admittedly, we’re still heavily engaged in testing, and a fully fledged end product is not yet in sight. However, the millions of euros in investment gathered in less than a year, and the participation of large companies and organisations such as BAM, Tata Steel, NS and IHC prove that the concept of an ultra-fast and clean transport system is no longer science fiction.
Particularly now that both the European Union and the United Nations are pointing out the importance of establishing good and sustainable infrastructure, and billions are set to be invested in this in the coming years, it would be a shame to overlook the hyperloop.
To those critics and sceptics who are now saying that the plans for a hyperloop — which could get you to Berlin in an hour and a half — are unrealistic, I would like to say the following: the technology behind the hyperloop is not difficult at all. It’s nothing more than a smart combination of already proven technologies. Furthermore, the construction of the necessary infrastructure — a long steel tube on pillars — can be carried out faster and cheaper than a rail connection. Unevenness in the track or variations in the ground have less effect on the system’s operation.
But the most important thing is that the impact of the hyperloop on the climate is many times smaller than current transport options. The transport sector already accounts for 28% of all energy consumption, and that share is continuing to grow.
The hyperloop is a form of transport that operates completely on electricity, and can therefore, in principle, do so without fossil fuels. Research shows that the hyperloop uses 30 times less energy than an aircraft, and four times less than a train.
We’ve already proved that the Netherlands has some of the smartest people in the world, by winning Elon Musk’s hyperloop competition in 2017. And the millions in investments and the commitment of top companies shows that the business community believes as much in this new form of transport as we do. I invite everyone to join us. Together we can ensure that cities remain accessible and that in five to ten years, passengers can reach any destination they desire, extremely comfortably, cleanly and lightning-fast, without long queues.
Mars Geuze is co-founder and commercial director of Hardt Hyperloop, the Delft start-up that emerged from the student team that won Elon Musk’s Hyperloop Pod Competition in 2017.