High-speed rail, the white whale of North Texas transportation planners, has some competition, the Dallas-Fort Worth Regional Transportation Council plans to announce Wednesday. In addition to rail, the RTC will consider Virgin's Hyperloop One technology in an upcoming environmental impact study of a high-speed connector for Dallas, Arlington and Fort Worth.
“The RTC is all about bringing innovation to the transportation system in the Dallas-Fort Worth region, and hyperloop would be an exciting technology to add,” said Gary Fickes, Tarrant County commissioner and chairman of the Regional Transportation Council. “I think the future’s very bright for hyperloop and its use in the Dallas-Fort Worth region.”
Right now, hyperloop technology — a giant tube that propels pods at about 700 mph through a low-pressure environment that creates extremely low drag — is basically all future. Virgin has a full-scale test track in the Nevada desert but has yet to involve transporting passengers. That's what makes the RTC signing up to at least consider the technology such a big deal, says Dan Katz, director of North American projects for Virgin Hyperloop One.
"We're really excited about that because a government agency is embracing the possibility of this revolutionary technology," Katz says. "This is a big deal for us. It's an exciting prospect for us. We've been interested in Texas for a long time. The Dallas-Fort Worth corridor is of particular interest to us because there is such a demand for some type of service there."
While Virgin isn't quite ready to begin installing passenger hyperloops, Katz says the company's developmental path lines up nicely with the potential approval process to build in North Texas, which could take years. If the RTC signs off on the project, Katz says, North Texas residents should anticipate a service capable of traveling between Dallas and Fort Worth in six minutes. Trips to Arlington to see the Rangers or the Cowboys could take about three minutes, he says.
"The way you'd travel in our system is unique from train service. All of our vehicles are pods, and all of the trips on our system would be on-demand and direct," Katz says.
Hyperloop riders would punch in a destination in an app or on a station kiosk and hop in their pod for a nonstop ride. Despite the seemingly futuristic nature of hyperloop travel, Katz says Virgin wants to keep costs down so that quick trips across North Texas are an option for everyone, not just the super-rich.
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"Our goal is to make this a service that is accessible to everyone," Katz says. "If it's not, it's not worth doing. It doesn't make any financial sense. We want to build this not as an elite limo service, but something that's accessible to everyday people for practical use."
The RTC will issue a request for proposals to complete the environmental impact study — a step required by the federal government before it signs off on a project — later this year.
“As our region grows from 7.2 million people now up to 11.2 million by 2045, we are planning a transportation system that offers choices to our residents. Adding an option like hyperloop to the existing system of roadways, rail transit, bicycle/pedestrian facilities and high-speed rail to Houston would expand the system in an exciting way,” says Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments.