It sounds like science fiction: a transportation system in which pressurized passenger and cargo vehicles travel in a low-pressure tube environment at speeds exceeding 1,000 kilometres an hour.
But turning sci-fi into fact requires the Alberta government to agree to the proposed system between Edmonton and Calgary, according to TransPod.
Toronto-based AutoTech startup TransPod is set to receive $550 million USD ($688.2 million CAD) to accelerate development of its proposed ultra-high-speed transportation system, which it calls the TransPod Line.
Broughton Capital Group, a United Kingdom-based financial provider, has agreed in principle to provide the funds and a master engineering, procurement, and construction arrangement (EPC).
“If the province, at the end of the day, doesn’t want to move forward, we’ll relocate the funding to another region in the world.”
The funding is being done in cooperation with the China-East Resources Import & Export Co. (CERIECO). The latter is a wholly-owned state company that imports and exports industrial equipment.
Sebastien Gendron, co-founder and CEO of TransPod, told BetaKit that TransPod needs an agreement from the Alberta government in order for the startup to secure the funds.
“The offer is on the table, and now the money will become available if the Government of Alberta confirms their part of the deal,” he said.
According to Gendron, when TransPod signed the Memorandum of Understanding with the province in 2020 the deal was “crystal clear.” He said the understanding was that if TransPod brought in the money, the province would help execute the project.
“Now the money is on the table; it’s their turn to honour their part of the deal,” he said.
However, the response from the Alberta government indicated that they’re not committing to anything just yet. Rob Williams, the press secretary for the Alberta minister of transportation, said: “Alberta’s government is supportive of innovative, private sector-led infrastructure projects that can grow our economy and create jobs. We continue to work with TransPod on the feasibility of a potential project.”
A feasibility study claimed the project will create up to 140,000 jobs and add $19.2 billion to the region’s GDP throughout construction, and the master EPC arrangement is expected to involve significant contributions from Canadian contractors.
A Hyperloop is a proposed mode of transportation that involves a sealed tube with low air pressure through which a pod can travel free of air resistance or friction. Tesla CEO Elon Musk first publicly discussed Hyperloop in 2012, sharing an early concept involving reduced-pressure tubes in which pressurized capsules ride on air bearings driven by a system of motors and compressors.
While Hyperloop systems have been criticized as absurdly expensive, that hasn’t prevented companies from working on developing them. Virgin Hyperloop announced that in November, 2020 the first passengers travelled safely on a Hyperloop that it’s developing.
However, TransPod differentiates its system from a Hyperloop system. The startup says its system contains aerodynamic and propulsion systems to reduce friction compared to trains, automobiles, and jets, and to carry passengers at a faster speed.
TransPod also claims its technology is designed to be compatible with renewable energies including solar generation, supplemented by regional electrical grid connection link-ups.
“Unlike Hyperloop, our research develops a system to use moving electromagnetic fields to propel the vehicles with stable levitation of the bottom surface, rather than compressed air,” TransPod said.
Up until now, TransPod had previously referred to their system as a Hyperloop.
Gendron said that ever since Musk coined the term Hyperloop, the public has largely identified the technology as Musk’s. However, the CEO noted that TransPod’s technology is their own intellectual property.
“We’re trying to move away from that word [Hyperloop] just to really differentiate ourselves from what the public thinks. This is not Elon Musk’s technology; it’s a transportation technology,” Gendron said.
With the funding, TransPod plans to carry out research and development, get the necessary construction permit, carry out an environmental assessment, and acquire land between now and 2024.
The medium-term phase from 2023 to 2027 would include test track construction, high-speed tests, and certification. The startup anticipates that the full line would be completed between 2030 and 2035.
TransPod hopes to begin construction of a full intercity line between Edmonton and Calgary in 2027.
The feasibility study describes what travelling on the TransPod Line might be like. “At TransPod stations, platforms will allow passengers to walk on board the vehicles, each of which have rows of seats similar to a jet or train,” reads the study.
“Now the money is on the table; it’s their turn to honour their part of the deal.”
“With the passengers sitting comfortably, the vehicle accelerates, coasts, and slows down, arriving at the destination in a matter of minutes,” the study continues. “Vehicles depart approximately every two minutes, allowing the customers to arrive and board the next pod whenever they want rather than needing to pre-book tickets and arrive in advance – similar to how a subway operates, but at a long-distance city-city scale.”
TransPod estimates a trip between Edmonton and Calgary would take 45 minutes compared to three hours of driving, and a ticket for the Hyperloop would cost roughly $90 CAD compared to airfare of $162.
The startup claims that a Hyperloop would also achieve a reduction in the province’s carbon footprint. Over the course of a year, the expected ridership between Calgary and Edmonton will reduce CO2 emissions by 636,000 tonnes per year, or the equivalent of planting a forest four times bigger than Calgary.
To support regional job development and provide employee training for the TransPod Line in Alberta, TransPod has partnered with Building Trades of Alberta to leverage its regional expertise and partner network.
“TransPod is an exciting, game-changing leader for the future of green infrastructure and transportation in Canada and beyond,” said Terry Parker, executive director, Building Trades of Alberta. “The Building Trades of Alberta — and its more than 60,000 members — is ready and excited to be part of this project.”
Founded in 2015, TransPod raised a $20 million CAD seed round in 2016, and opened offices in Canada and France. The startup announced plans in 2019 to build a three-kilometre track in France to research and test its technology. Gendron called the project in France more of a test facility rather than just a track. He noted that construction began last September, but the project experienced delays because of COVID-19.
Whether or not Alberta decides to move forward with the project, Gendron said the financing confirms that there is a market for the technology. Added Gendron: “If the province, at the end of the day, doesn’t want to move forward, we’ll relocate the funding to another region in the world.”