Canadian hyperloop company TransPod has signed an agreement with the Alberta government that will see the province support the firm's early efforts to advance development of an ultra-high-speed transportation line between Calgary and Edmonton.
Though the concept may still sound like science fiction, the company's ultimate goal is to have Albertans shuttling between Calgary and Edmonton in train-like pods — at speeds up to 1,000 kilometres an hour — through magnetic tubes by 2030.
On Tuesday, Toronto-based TransPod took a step forward by announcing it's inked a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with the province that will support the company in further studying the feasibility of the technology in Alberta, share transportation data and identify suitable land for a test track.
Alberta Transportation will also take part in discussions with potential large institutional investors "where suitable," according to the company.
The government hasn't made any financial commitments or endorsements.
TransPod's chief executive said in an interview he sees the MOU as key. The announcement comes less than year after the company urged the UCP government to climb aboard the idea.
"It's actually the first, I would say, official support from the government of a province which belongs to a G7 country," said CEO Sebastien Gendron, "which is kind of a huge step to confirm the path to commercialization."
Transportation Minister Ric McIver said he's hopeful that TransPod's work will lead to the development of new technology that's put into practice in Alberta, creating new opportunities for job creation.
"I am excited about the possibilities," McIver said in an interview. "TransPod [wants] a chance to prove what they can do and I think Alberta is the place where we should let them prove it."
McIver said there's no commitment to provide government money, but he added that if TransPod proves the technology, they will "certainly help them tell their story."
"We're going to try to be facilitators for them," he said.
If privately held TransPod realizes its vision, its hyperloop system could move passengers or cargo between Calgary and Edmonton in about half an hour. The cost of a one-way ticket would range between $40 to $60, Gendron said.
To build the full line, however, would cost between $6 billion and $10 billion, he said. The company's goal is to attract private investment by showing that it's economically viable, Gendron added.
TransPod aims to demonstrate to large institutional investors that there's enough ridership for passengers, as well as goods.
"The second aspect is to do a really detailed cost analysis of the infrastructure," Gendron said.
"That will confirm the amount of investment we need to build the full line, which includes not only the infrastructure, but also the stations and the land acquisition."
Should things progress, TransPod would like to begin construction of a $500-million test track in Alberta in 2022. The final step would be to start construction of the full line, currently targeted to begin in 2025.
The former NDP government had allocated 10 kilometres of land between Calgary and Edmonton to TransPod to build a test track. Gendron said they're looking at using the same area but would need to confirm once the feasibility study is complete.
Gendron said the company is also in the design and development phase for a testing facility in France.
Unlike trains, hyperloop systems don't use rails. Instead, they propel vehicles through a vacuum in sealed tubes at high speeds made possible by the extremely low friction inside the tube.
Tesla founder Elon Musk first outlined his vision for the hyperloop concept in 2013. Since then, it's also attracted the attention of billionaire Richard Branson, founding chairman of Virgin Hyperloop One.
Virgin Hyperloop's goal is to launch commercial routes by 2029.
Transpod and Spain's Zeleros are also competing to upend traditional passenger and freight networks with technology they say will slash travel times and congestion.
The discussion around hyperloop technology has been received with both excitement and skepticism over the years.
A Boeing executive last year rejected the suggestion hyperloop travel could threaten aviation within his lifetime. The cost, complexity, regulation and safety of hyperloop systems have also been identified as challenges.