Despite the fact that the latest pandemic taught us that we can actually survive without having to physically travel to see each other, there is no doubt that as restrictions lift, the thirst for travel is returning.
As you look back over the history of travel, technology has been at the forefront of advances. In ancient times, I would call advances such as foot coverings or shoes to make walking through snow technological advances. As wheels and machines entered the picture, humans could travel further and with larger loads. Trade could be conducted further afield and increasingly, people could live further from where they needed to hunt and gather or work and play.
Despite all the advances we have seen in road, rail and air, we are still trying to find better ways to move people and freight from A to B.
There is no doubt that air taxis and personal drones will be part of the solution we will use in the future for short trips, in particular in heavily congested cities where motorways resemble carparks.
But what about longer trips? Take Sydney to Melbourne. Our two most populated cities in Australia and, before the pandemic, it was the second most travelled air route in the world with over ten million passengers annually on almost sixty thousand flights. This is a 700km route by air or 850km by road.
We know about some of the advantages of taking to the air. For a start, there is the obvious reduction in distance. A straight line is always going to be shorter than a route that has to travel over and around various terrain. There is also the other important factor. Speed. Commercial aircraft typically cruise around 900km/h. Significantly faster than cars at 110km/h. There is a price to pay – both in terms of dollars and energy. To fly at those speeds, planes typically cruise at the upper edge of the troposphere – just below 11km. At that height, the air density is reduced by more than seventy per cent so there is less resistance to movement. But getting an aircraft, that can weigh over 500 tons, to that height consumes a lot of energy.
We are aware of trains that can travel fast. China has the fastest with a Maglev at 460km/h and there are many countries with fast trains over 300km/h running on wheels. Bu they all battle air resistance and friction with their running gear.
The solution? Build a tube between two sites, remove most of the air and then levitate a train to send it down the line. The concept has been demonstrated by several companies. Virgin Hyperloop has a short test site in Las Vegas. The Boring Company has a test site in Los Angeles County. The latest announcement, though, might see some serious action. The Canadian-French company, Transpod, promises their FluxJet will travel at over 1,000km/h in a low-pressure tube. It will run at normal air pressure and use wheels at low-speeds in cities. Before it launches between cities, it will enter an air dock and then retract the wheels to use magnetic levitation and propulsion with plasma connectivity for power to reach its top speed. The first route is the 300km between Edmonton and Calgary. With low running costs and the ability to use renewable electricity, in a decade this may well be our transport solution along major routes. This first route will cost an estimated $18 billion but there is always a price to pay to be a pioneer. Melbourne to Sydney in a train under an hour? I like the sound of that!