Look up – a bus is overtaking you!


Unless you work at home or very close, you’re unlikely to enjoy your commute to work. Traffic, sink holes appearing on the track and other endless delays leave us frustrated and exhausted before we have even sat down at our desks.

But all that could be about to change with some innovative ideas to revolutionise the way we commute being developed across the world.

The beginning of August saw the trial of a two metre high Transit Elevated Bus (TEB) on a 300m-long controlled track in the north-eastern city of Qinhuangdao in China. The electric powered bus is designed to straddle cars driving on the road allowing them to pass under it – like driving through a moving tunnel. It will be able to carry up to 300 passengers in its 72ft long and 25ft wide body and reach speeds of up to 60km per hour, running on rails laid along ordinary roads.

“The biggest advantage is the bus will save lots of road space,” said Song Youzhou, the project’s chief engineer, in an interview with China news agency Xinhua earlier this year. Each bus would replace about 40 conventional buses, he claims, saving more than 800 tonnes of fuel. However there’s no start date for the TEB to rolled out across China.

If you prefer your commute more high flying, then a new aerial pod system could make your day start with a smile. The skyTran system is a network of computer-controlled, 2-person jet-like vehicles using Magnetic Levitation technology, to run along metal tracks some 20ft above the ground. It’s being developed by American based skyTran, and Israel Aerospace Industries and should be tested sometime this year in Tel Aviv in Israel.

Also travelling above existing traffic is the proposed Hyperloop. Originally developed by Elon Musk, the brains behind Tesla and PayPal, Hyperloop will transport passengers and freight in pods through low pressure tubes typically sitting on stilts above the ground. A number of companies are battling it out to bring a working version to market – with promises, for example, of reducing the time it takes to get from Helsinki to Stockholm, some 300 miles and currently a 17 hour ferry trip, down to just 28 minutes, with pods travelling over 1,000 km per hour.

For the more adventurous, the Martin Jetpack will be available from late 2017. Developed for both commercial and personal use, and there is even a Jetpack Golf Cart, you can commute for up to 30 minutes at a time in your own private jet pack, leaving the traffic below you. But this kind of style doesn’t come cheap with a price tag of $200,000 (£153,000) upwards!

The Hyperloop high-speed rail network


Forget the government’s proposed HS2, which could take commuters from Manchester to London in just over an hour, The Hyperloop would take just 30 minutes to go from Edinburgh to London – that’s over twice the distance in under half the time.

Musk’s machines

The American inventer-cum-entrepreneur has already introduced ground-breaking transport innovations to the market, like Tesla Motors and SpaceX.

The Hyperloop is the latest venture he’s become involved with: a subsonic rail system that has already reached the testing phase. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (or HTT), the branch of Musk’s empire responsible for assisting with the project, is building a 5-mile test loop track in California.

In the pipeline

Hyperloop is already in the pipeline, literally! Instead of rails, HTT are creating low-pressure tunnels for the Hyperloop capsules (what the trains will be called) to run through.

Air will be sucked out of the completed pipeline to mimic high altitude conditions, causing less air resistance.

However, air is being added elsewhere. In order to reduce friction HTT’s engineers have suggested using air bearings rather than wheels, so the capsules will essentially float. Magnets, similar to those already used by Japan’s 311 mph maglev trains, are another option.

Faster than a speeding bullet train

So, Japan’s bullet trains can hit around 311mph, but they normally travel at around the 275mph mark. The Hyperloop capsules could hit 800mph.

However, at that speed passengers would be subject to dangerous G forces during turns, so speed isn’t the ultimate goal.

Instead, the trains are being proposed as a more ecological alternative to short flights – ideal if you’re afraid of flying.

Still, usual speeds of over 700mph have been hinted at, which is still a lot faster than anything on rails. It’s also over 100mph faster than the cruising speed of a commercial aeroplane.

Will you be able to ride it?

So where will the first commercial Hyperloop be built? To decide that question, HTT are running the Hyperloop One Global Challenge.

Companies and governments in Russia (St Petersburg to Moscow), Scandinavia (Stockholm to Helsinki), Switzerland (Geneva to St. Gallen) and America (Los Angeles and the surrounding areas) have all entered with suggestions of commuter routes that could benefit from a Hyperloop network.

CEO of HTT Dirk Ahlborn visited Slovakia recently to talk to the Ministry of Economy, who many believe are frontrunners to have the first Hyperloop (or Hyperloop Alpha, as it is known). If built, it would connect Slovakia’s capital Bratislava with two other European capitals, Vienna and Budapest.

If Hyperloop comes to the UK, the price of a ticket could be relatively reasonable. HTT estimates that they will need $54,000,000 (£40,000,000) to construct a Hyperloop capsule, but a ticket for the journey between Los Angeles and San Francisco will cost around $30, or £22.

Hyperloop high-speed rail is still in its infancy, but if it proves a success don’t be surprised to see a station opening near your in years to come.

Image courtesy of Hyperloop