We are positioning ourselves as developers of this technology rather than as a manufacturer and line operator. TransPod today has no vocation to be a builder or an operator, as companies already exist and excel in this area. TransPod will be the supplier of the rolling stock, and will bring its expertise in the construction and the development of the line.
A consortium will be in charge of studying the design of the route, identifying the suppliers for the construction, securing the budget, and then building and operating the line. This is not new, we are inspired by traditional models of public-private partnerships (PPP), such as those implemented for the recent LGV Paris-Bordeaux in France, or for private parking lots, which are proven to work.
On the other hand, and in order to assist our future customers, we also do the first part of the work ourselves by conducting feasibility studies, and building business models, infrastructure designs and engaging in industrial partnerships. Depending on the market's willingness to operate TransPod lines, we may still consider the possibility to create a subsidiary operating the lines, only to “get the ball rolling” and then transfer the ownership to a dedicated operator.
As this topic relates to user safety, TransPod will remain involved with the maintenance services of any future line operator. We design systems for safety, preventive maintenance, control and high maintainability. We entrust these systems to the line operator, but TransPod will remain a supplier of spare parts and exchange services. Subsystems remanufacturing will also be done in TransPod's workshops.
Finally, once the operators are fully functional, several types of contracts are to be considered: parts supply and provision of maintenance technicians, training of the customer's technicians, full maintenance and repair contracts (parts, preventive maintenance, remanufacturing, general maintenance). The model is similar to that of rolling stock manufacturers who design and build vehicles then entrust maintenance to operator consortia or specialized companies.
The TransPod system competes with short and medium-haul aircraft. For example, it takes 5 hours to go from Toronto to Montreal by plane, and 5:30 by train (door to door). Traveling on the ground at the speed of the plane, for a price similar to that of a high-speed train, makes sense. On the other hand, long-haul flights will always be necessary to cover the great distances and cross the oceans. Similarly, we intend to compete with the diesel train as the benefits are demonstrated through transportation time, environmental sustainability, and to free the tracks for the transport of goods.
The case is different in France and in Europe where the rail network is very developed, efficient, and to be restored rather than abandoned. We do not see the point of competing with a Paris - Lyon high-speed line, but we see an interest in completing, or extending the current network by thinking about links for which the TGV is no longer relevant: the famous “POLT”, and also transversal links like Bordeaux - Toulouse - Montpellier - Marseille - Cannes - Nice, Lyon - Clermont, and extensions to Spain (Madrid, Barcelona, Seville / Malaga), Italy (Milano - Torino - Roma), Belgium then the Netherlands, Germany. Some very long-term scenarios (50 years and more) even forsee a line to go to Moscow. All this is just a preview and needs to be confirmed by feasibility studies, but it does give an idea of how a TransPod network could eventually decongest airports by replacing short and medium-haul flights, while integrating existing transport networks.
The TransPod system is closer to public transport than a TGV or an airplane. Our initial data is 27 to 40 passengers per pod (depending on the interior configuration), departures every 1 to 2 minutes. The model is not like mass transit system with departures at fixed times and carrying hundreds of travelers from point A to point B, but a more agile transport, carrying small groups of travelers within a network.
In addition, the overall capacity of the line is flexible and adjustable to cargo transportation. Freight and passenger pods will follow each other in the tubes, with freight traveling in off-peak hours for example, which makes it possible to optimize the use of the infrastructure and to avoid the circulation of empty pods, that is a source of unnecessary costs. Finally, since the departure frequency is determined by the maximum distance between pods (itself dependent on the speed, the braking capacity and the safety distance between pods), the length of a pod does not matter (except its influence on its weight and therefore the braking distance) and we can imagine "XL" pods, longer and carrying more people, or "double" pods, like coupled French TGVs.
In conclusion, each corridor has its own constraints and its demand, and it is useless today to design a universal system. We prefer to work on a basic version, and to envisage variants which will be implemented according to characteristics of the corridor, themselves revealed by the feasibility studies.
The calculation of a transport time depends on many variables (geography, turns, elevation). If we consider an acceleration similar to that of a train (0,1g), that is soft and comfortable for the passenger, we reach the average cruising speed (1000km / h) after 5 minutes, and we have already traveled about 40km. Here is an estimated travel time table, based on these assumptions. This allows to present orders of magnitude, which are still far from reality, as the actual acceleration will also depend on the power that we transmit to the linear engines. Then, do not consider individual journeys, but consider the line as a network and imagine travelers going up and down at each station, with a wide variety of routes. Just as traveling from one bus stop to the next brings no benefit, but a bus route must have multiple stops to be useful to the entire population served.
|Distance (km)||Duration* (minutes)||Average speed* (km/h)|
* Estimated values given for illustrative purposes only, and to be calculated precisely for a given route.
Just as it is possible to talk about line capacity overall, but not on a case-by-case basis, setting the ticket price is a utopian idea at this level. Too many variables come into play to determine how much will cost a trip between Paris and Toulouse, or between Toronto and Montreal. On the other hand, we can say that we are working in such a way as to obtain a ticket price similar to that of the high-speed train.
The initial cost study published in July 2017 (link) indicates a construction cost per kilometer similar to that of the high-speed train. We expect that maintenance costs will be lower than those of the high-speed trains because of the reduction in the number of moving parts, and the protection of the track by the tube (while HSR is subject to weather conditions). We are aiming for a ticket price below $100 CAD for a Toronto Montreal trip for example. Developing a transport system "for the rich" (as we sometimes hear), or reproducing the Maglev's mistakes make no sense to us.
Once the construction phase is over, we aim to hire between 10 and 20 full-time positions - the activity may vary according to the test phases. Candidates include PhDs at the University of Limoges, researchers and operators. Administrative staff will be quite minimal and will focus on support functions and security.
Jobs will be created at the test track site. Our desire is to hire locally, and people will come from surrounding communities. Depending on the profiles and skills sought, we will broaden the search area if necessary.
Different parts will be visible: the maintenance building at the south end and the turnaround building at the north end of the line. Both should fit into the landscape to limit visual pollution.
In between, a 2m diameter steel tube will be placed on concrete pads and positioned on the side of the decommissioned rail track, and a service lane will be located on the other side for service vehicles.
For security reasons, the site will be fenced, and access to the public will be regulated. We are planning space from where people can see the tube, the workshops and the control room. Unless some tests are happening, it will be possible to walk along the tube provided that people are accompanied by TransPod personnel. To avoid unnecessary costs and facilitate maintenance, the tube will be placed on the ground. From further away, hardly anything will be visible.
The technological elements allowing levitation, propulsion, braking and power transmission, security systems, sensors and radio systems will be built into the test vehicle and implemented towards our final pod design. The prototype will not contain a pressurized cabin for the transport of goods or passengers. We foresee a variant that would contain a pressurized module filled with sensors, and allow to observe the behavior of the structure during a very high speed test.
It is too early to talk about building a line and we still have a lot of work before we get to have the regulation, finance, construction and operation teams around the same table. However, we must prepare the groundwork for this phase.
Today, France is concentrating on the rehabilitation of secondary regional lines and the examination or abandonment of TGV projects. Vacuum train technology is a great complement to the current network.
The 3km test track site is not long enough to reach the full speed planned for operations. Since prototypes are not designed for passengers or cargo, we are free to set acceleration beyond the comfort zone we expect for a commercial line. However, increasing acceleration means increasing the power delivered to the pod, and the power transmission systems we have engineered has a limit. We chose a 1/2 scale prototype for this site which allows to use less power than to propel a prototype scale 1 at the same speed. Even so, we will only be able to reach about 600km/h on this 3km test line. This is why we plan to either extend the test line in a second phase, or use a longer scale test line 1, to reach the maximum speed of our specifications (1200km/h).
No, we are developing a switching system that serves intermediate cities on secondary tracks, on a similar operation to the New York subway, or "pit stops" on motor racing. The line features two parallel tubes (one for each direction) allowing any type of pod to circulate: passenger pods, cargo pods, etc. “Upstream” of a station, two switches provide access to two other tubes that will serve the station, then “downstream”, two switches will allow to reach the main line again. There, around each station, there will be 4 tubes (main line and access to the station), and all along the line, only 2 tubes, the pods can either take the switch and stop, or continue on their route if they are scheduled for an express direct route.
At the stations, the type of trip (direct, with multiple stops, etc.) will be indicated for travelers to board the pod that serves their destination.
Like a new metro or a new tramway, the TransPod system requires its own infrastructure, running in a tube and on no existing infrastructure (rail or road). However, we are thinking about integrating these infrastructures in an efficient and intelligent way: a TransPod station does not make sense if it is located 30 minutes or more from a downtown area, like our current airports. It goes without saying that the stations will have to be installed near the urban centers, or close to a public transport "hub" allowing the passengers to fully benefit from the time saved by the system. The time is not for competition, but for integration. Thus, the stations will have to be multimodal.
Technical buildings (storage and maintenance building for pods, operations center, line maintenance structures) may be located outside cities. Ideally close to urban centers to benefit partners, suppliers and industrial customers, usually also located in these industrial areas on the outskirts of cities.