Alberta hyperloop isn't 'science fiction:' Company urges government to climb aboard

The chief executive of Canadian hyperloop company, TransPod, believes he can have Albertans shuttling between Calgary and Edmonton — at speeds up to 1,000 kilometres an hour — in magnetic tubes by 2030. 

That's provided the provincial government gets on board.

The Toronto-based company isn't asking for money. Instead, it wants the province to pen a letter of support that will commit Alberta to allowing the full line to be built between the two cities should tests over smaller distances prove successful. 

TransPod will submit an updated proposal to the new UCP government next week.

The first step would be to build a test line at a cost of up to $200 million. Alberta's previous, NDP government allocated 10 kilometres of land between Calgary and Edmonton to TransPod to build a test track.

Radio-Canada/TransPod Hyperloop

"If everything goes well within the next few weeks, the next two years will be quite busy," chief executive Sebastien Gendron told CBC News in an interview Wednesday in Calgary.

He says the company has identified investors who are ready to finance the first section, but they want to know the government will allow the rest of the project to proceed if everything works as hoped.

"It's completely new, but it's probably similar to the beginning of the railway industry," Gendron said.

He estimates the cost of building out the full project at $6 billion to $8 billion.

A statement from the office of Alberta Transportation Minister Ric McIver says officials are looking forward to reviewing the proposal once it arrives.

"Our government is always open to hearing new and innovative private sector proposals to increase transportation options for Albertans," the statement said.

Hyperloop tech is still at the prototype stage; there are no commercial hyperloop systems in operation anywhere.

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, its also attracted the attention of billionaire Richard Branson, founding chairman of Virgin Hyperloop One.

Tony Seskus/CBC

Despite the excitement, there are plenty of skeptics. Last week, a Boeing executive rejected the suggestion that hyperloop travel could threaten aviation within his lifetime.

Others say the money invested in hyperloop technology should go to proven transportation systems, like high-speed rail. The cost, complexity, regulation and safety of hyperloop systems have also been identified as key challenges.

But Gendron says hyperloop travel is not far away.

"It's not science fiction," said Gendron, an aerospace engineer who has worked for Bombardier, Safran S.A. and Airbus Group. "I can tell you that it's much more complicated to design an aircraft than a guided transportation system."

Gendron says the company is also looking at a route between Toronto and Montreal, but thinks a Calgary-Edmonton corridor is a good place to start as it's located within one province and has simpler geography.

The company says the construction of a full line in Alberta would generate nearly 15,000 direct jobs.