French cities put faith in hyperloop - Taipei Times
Sun, May 06, 2018 - Page 15 News List

French cities put faith in hyperloop

Having given up hope that Paris would fund national high-speed rail projects, French cities are trying to attract hyperloop developers with land, tax breaks and subsidies

By Ania Nussbaum and Marie Mawad  /  Bloomberg

After French President Emmanuel Macron scrapped plans for a high-speed rail connection to Limoges, a city in central France, local entrepreneur Fabien Thibaut picked up his telephone to call Tesla Inc chief executive officer Elon Musk and talk about the hyperloop — Musk’s idea for superfast trains zooming in tubes.

“This kind of project is essential for a city like ours,” said Thibaut, one of many in France who wants to bring home a piece of Musk’s idea. “We have nothing here — this would bring companies, jobs, tourism.”

In the country that invented high-speed TGV trains and the supersonic Concorde plane, Thibaut had no trouble drumming up support from others, including the deputy mayor.

However, with the French government keen on cutting public spending, officials in cities, such as Limoges, Orleans and Toulouse, are seeking cheaper approaches to futuristic transport, pitching themselves as hotbeds for testing.

While they cannot put fat checks on the table, French cities are relying on handouts of real estate, tax cuts for engineering talent and some limited subsidies to attract hyperloop-inspired projects.

“Any hyperloop project will need government support whatever happens,” said Serhiy Yarusevych, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada. “There are no breakthroughs required on the technology side. What will matter is the funding for land, infrastructure and R&D [research and development].”

Musk’s idea is not new — French novelist Jules Verne imagined pneumatic pods crossing oceans in tunnels at 1,496km per hour a century and a half ago — but since he laid out the concept of the hyperloop in 2013, a flurry of initiatives has emerged.

Musk’s space company, SpaceX, has organized student competitions to build prototypes, while British tycoon Richard Branson is backing the troubled Virgin Hyperloop One, which is itself working with German automaker BMW AG in Dubai.

Two other Los Angeles start-ups, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) and Arrivo Corp, also are developing similar concepts.

So, while Musk never returned Thibaut’s call, a Canadian start-up called TransPod Inc did.

TransPod’s technology is based on magnetic propulsion and electrified tracks, moving pods through a vacuum tunnel designed to reduce friction. As with most hyperloop projects, the bulk of the estimated costs are for deploying infrastructure.

TransPod co-founder Sebastien Gendron estimated that his company needs 20 million euros (US$24.2 million) in financing to complete the Limoges project at the current stage, and said that he is planning to raise half of that from private investors.

In Limoges, discussions have zoomed in on the prospect of building a 3km test track and a 15-person research center as TransPod seeks subsidies from government-backed structures in the region as well as from the EU.

Limoges Mayor Emile Roger Lombertie said in an interview that TransPod must first find venture capital investors before the city jumps in to help with financing.

It is now providing administrative support.

TransPod got a green light from another local authority to use retired rail tracks free of cost.

The fate of the project is hanging on a decision by authorities about whether an environmental study is needed, chief executive officer Gendron said.

About 240km north, another city, Orleans, also took to the hyperloop after years of unsuccessful lobbying to get a high-speed link to the French capital.

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