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Development & Transportation

Pittsburgh, Prepare For (Almost) Warp Speed: Steel City Being Considered For Hyperloop Route

Mike Corder
AP Images
A hyperloop test facility is debuted in the Netherlands, a European transportation hub. U.S company Hyperloop One hopes to have three operating hyperloop routes by 2021.

A route linking Chicago, Columbus and Pittsburgh is a semi-finalist in the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, a competition to plan and build a new high-speed transit system to move people and goods. 

A hyperloop uses electric propulsion to move pods through low-pressure tubes, gradually accelerating before lifting above the tracks, using magnetic levitation to reach speeds of 670 miles per hour. In other words: Pittsburgh to Columbus in 18 minutes.

In case you were wondering how confident Hyperloop One is about its technology and the potential it holds for the future, look no further than the landing page of its website, which reads, “Be anywhere, move everything, connect everyone.”

It’s that sense of possibility that makes Thea Walsh’s job continually more exciting.

“For us to be able to speed up transportation along this corridor, what it could mean to us is beyond what we can possibly think about right now,” said Walsh, who is the transportation systems and funding director for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission in Columbus, Ohio. “People and markets make decisions based on time.”

The Chicago-Columbus-Pittsburgh route is one of 10 semifinalists from five countries, selected from more than 2,600 registrations.

As a contender, the midwest megaregion has a lot going for it: one of the world’s cargo-only airports, the country’s second largest inland port (Pittsburgh), and 55 percent of the U.S. population located within a day’s drive of the proposed route.

It also has a connection problem. Passenger rail doesn’t run from Pittsburgh to Columbus, the ride to Chicago is a halting 10 hours, and sometimes the airports don’t even offer direct flights.

To build a hyperloop route presents an unprecedented opportunity to overcome those existing transit barriers, and boost the midwest market, said Walsh.

“We’re a place that gets things done, in the midwest,” she said. “We’re part of the way America gets their goods. Hopefully through this competition, folks understand that we’re a contender for opportunities like this.”

Now, officials from all three cities will work with Hyperloop One to study the commercial viability of the route, and further refine their plans. The company wants to have three operating hyperloop routes by 2021.