AUSTIN - There's a team of engineers, architects and scientists in Texas that just became semi-finalists in a contest that would change transportation forever, and this team believes they have a good chance of becoming a winner.
Hyperloop One is a privately-held company that is working to reinvent how people travel from one city to another. They are currently researching and building devices known as Hyperloops that would allow you to travel on a vehicle -- or pod -- that could travel at 700 miles per hour. Passengers or cargo would gradually accelerate in a low-pressure tube. It would give off the feeling that you are flying on a plane while looking like a futuristic train.
The company's mission is to have three systems in service by 2021. The business plans to use a competition, known as the"Hyperloop One Challenge", to find the locations for the system. So far, they've received submissions from 2,600 teams around the world and just recently narrowed it down to 35 semi-finalists. Of those teams, 11 came from the United States.
One of those teams is Hyperloop Texas, which created the Texas Triangle. This Hyperloop route would connect Dallas, Austin, San Antonio and Houston, with a Hyperloop freight route to Laredo.
Steven Duong has been working for the Fortune 500 engineering firm AECOM in Dallas for the past two years. He is currently a senior urban designer and now the team lead of Hyperloop Texas.
"Something is about to change fundamentally in the way we move in this country," Duong said. "We're on the verge of something big in transportation and mobility."
Duong said when Hyperloop was first trying to envision if this type of transportation would even be possible, the company actually reached out to AECOM as a global business to help brainstorm.
"They actually hired us as one of their initial partners to help think through this concept," Duong said. "I've been waiting for this chance my whole life."
As someone who trained as an urban planner and landscape architecture, Duong said this topic is right up his alley.
"Hyperloop is kind of a mixture between large city urban thinking and a new form of transportation," Duong said.
WATCH THE EXTENDED, RAW INTERVIEW WITH THE MIND BEHIND HYPERLOOP TEXAS:
So with Hyperloop Texas, Duong said his team couldn't be more diverse. His team is made up of urban planners, engineers, architects, economists, general urbanists, scientists, sustainability experts and high-speed rental experts.
"This is all still in the early stages," Duong said. "So as a team, we are trying to answer questions in the context of Texas. We are trying to show that Hyperloop could work in Texas."
One of the key reasons Duong believes Hyperloop could work in Texas is because the Texas Triangle would include five of the top eight fastest growing cities in the United States, according to Hyperloop Texas. It would allow you to go from Austin to Dallas in just under 20 minutes. You would be traveling an entire mile every six seconds.
"So we ask ourselves what would happen when you allow five of the top eight growing cities in the U.S. to operate as one," Duong said. "It would truly be a mega-city."
Duong also brought up three points for Hyperloop working in Texas: population increase, a strain on infrastructure and the distance between these five cities.
As Texas continues to grow, and many companies believing the rise will only get steeper with time, there is a need for people to get around the state. And simply from a logical standpoint, the state will eventually run out of room on highways, if there isn't a correction to the congestion; That's Duong's second point.
The state is congested in many big cities -- especially Austin, Houston and Dallas. This Hyperloop would cut down on the number of drivers on the road, which would also help with air quality issues in Dallas and Houston.
Duong's last point revolves around the distance between these five cities. Relatively, it's too short for a flight but still too long for a convenient car drive.
"You're kind of in this sweet spot in the middle," Duong said.
In terms of physically building this long stretch of magnetic tracks, Duong said the topography in Texas is helpful as well.
"You don't have any major mountains or rivers or lakes that you have to go through," Duong said. "This would help drive down construction costs."
Hyperloop Texas also has already brought in eight partners that would back the plan if The Texas Triangle is chosen as one of the three routes. These partners include the University of Texas at Arlington, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), the City of Dallas, Austin's Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Cap Metro), and the U.S. Mexico Chamber of Commerce, Houston-Galveston Area Council, Port of Houston Authority and Public Werks, Inc.
"They have essentially offered if this proposal comes through the door. We are willing to sit at the table right away to work with this entire group," Duong said.
Duong also said not only could this change the game for transportation of people, the freight industry could be shifted off highways and onto Hyperloop, especially since Laredo is one of the busiest inland freight ports in North America.
"We think this will help increase safety in the region by taking some of these trucks on the road and put the content in a dedicated freight mover on Hyperloop," Duong said.
While Duong does acknowledge the fact that there will be skepticism - as these type of technological leaps are sometimes difficult to imagine coming to fruition - he said not only does he believe his team has a good chance to win this contest, but also that this innovation is going to become a reality.
"The model that we've been relying on since World War II -- this auto-centric American culture -- is really at its end point," Duong said. "I think 10 years down the road, we're going to be like, 'Man, these guys thought this was a crazy idea, but everyone is riding on Hyperloop these days."
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