A short article on Hyperloop from Wexford to Waterford
Open Letter to South East on Track
Date 11 February 2021
From John Atkinson
1500 words- 6-minute read
Thank you for your work on saving the Rosslare Wexford Waterford train line. It is quite interesting and contains plenty of food for thought. A substantial piece of work indeed.
It seems to have a few fundamental assumptions that may be faulty. Here is a link to your report to facilitate readers of this open letter.
Your Figure 13 (photo below) seems to assume that commuters and students will travel 365 days per year. I feel that there is a miscalculation here as most people work 5-day weeks and take holidays etc. Similarly, schools are closed for longish periods in normal circumstances. These figures are overstated by at least one third to one half in my humble opinion.
It assumes that there will be workers commuting in the future. The large success of remote working might indicate that this assumption must come with major warnings.
It also assumes that the ticket price is important. It fails to consider that the total cost of the journey is what passengers pay for. This will include transport to and from home at one end and to and from work at the other end. I am speaking of your work commuters here and your students. Your figures have these two groups of people making up the bulk of your journeys.
Hence the switch to public transport that is sought for sustainability reasons is not at all attractive to a car owner or user- as cars bring them point to point- work to home. Cars also allow for school or university drop off for family members and maybe pick up also.
Trains sadly must go to a station placed in a spot that was selected over 120 years ago. These are usually not where the customers are in today’s world.
Extracting as best I can from your figure 13 seems to show that the number of Irish citizens that will benefit is under 500. This appears to be 300 commuters and 200 students plus the occasional tourist. At an investment of say €50 million (your range is €29 to €72 million) for the work to restore the line, that is about €100,000 per citizen user. It would be as cheap to buy a €25,000 car every 5 years for the 300 adults and ask them to bring the 200 students to school as payment.
It seems a large price to pay to benefit so few Irish citizens. The financial returns seem to suggest it might cover its operating costs with no mention of paying back the capital investment.
I assume that you have done the figures to present the restoration in the best possible light so there may be bias built into them. I note your extensive disclaimer on the numbers in Figure 13.
I wonder why you did not consider an alternative. A hyperloop?
This would cost about €470 million but would provide so many more benefits and fully recover its outlay in 20 years.
The journey time from Wexford to Waterford would be about 6 minutes. The loop can be built to bring people into Waterford city centre and from Wexford town but not necessarily from the station- it could be from someplace near the ring road.
It has vast spare capacity of about 20 times what is needed to break even.
It could and should create a new industry in Wexford and Waterford in the building of the pods and other associated bits and pieces. This will lead to export opportunities.
As most trailers arriving or departing Rosslare are unaccompanied they are ideal to pop onto a pod and be whizzed up to Waterford or Rosslare for further transport.
The proposed development of the N11 and N25 could be framed for a faster and less costly upgrade if a hyperloop was supported.
Steel fabrication and a host of other skills in pumps etc can be developed in the two counties and in the wider hinterland.
As a project it will itself provide a huge attraction to the region in terms of tourism. Tourism is all about giving users awesome experiences.
As a commercial project it will be a Model for Europe and will generate enormous learning for scholars and business in the region.
It will not need citizens to fight and disagree on the relative merits of either greenway or railway. Hyperloop and greenway could happily and safely coexist in the same place.
There will be no need for road crossing or traffic delays as the loop pipe can be elevated as required.
The electricity that it uses will be self-supplied from solar panels along the loop pipe. Spare capacity can be sold to the grid.
Further infrastructure like broadband, water, sewerage, etc could also be carried on the structure.
Funding has never been easier with a lower rate of interest. One project bond will raise the funds at zero interest. The EU is now buying bonds directly.
Customer prices will be flexed for the market and these are some thoughts on them.
Irish citizens will be charged €20 per head per week to use the service any time. There will be a minimum monthly subscription pricing model to avoid the costs and tracking of minor transactions.
So, a commuter from your figure 13 will spend €4 (I assume a 5-day work week) per day and get to travel both ways for that. (in 6 minutes, vs your 45 minutes).
It is assumed that about 4,000 Irish people will use this per week (tourist, students, casual users, and commuters). It is assumed that the 6-minute journey time and the price will get people off the road. It will also greatly increase the numbers commuting between the two areas as the time factor and cost is so low.
Tourists will be charged €110 for a round trip. The figures assume 4,000 tourists per week will take the experience. This is about 20% of 2017 tourists to the region. There is an expectation that this will in-itself attract more international tourists to the region. No great marketing is needed other than a speed indicator in the pod to allow for photos to be made. The cost is set to reflect the experience.
Interrail pass holders can, like the TGV in France get a discount on the €110 fee to non-Irish customers. This may be as high as 50%.
Irish senior citizens, wheelchair users etc will be carried free. This should be of a great boon to people going to the beaches in Wexford for their mental health or to the hospital in Waterford for their physical health.
At this pricing model and with a 6-minute transfer time it will take Irish people out of their cars. Convenience at a low, low price is popular.
Departures will be on demand and you should be in your destination within 10 minutes of arriving at the departure point. Loading and unloading is the same as getting into a car. Sit down, put on your seat belt, and the pod will do the rest.
The capacity is 28 people per pod at 2-minute intervals. So that is 30 pods per hour or 520 people in an hour. As pods travel in both directions it has a capacity of over 1,000 people per hour. The generation of return to repay the bond requires less than 10 % of that of that capacity with the pod only running 12 hours per day.
Due to the spare capacity on demand services will be achievable.
Due to the spare capacity direction of travel ratios are not important.
Pods will average a low speed (for hyperloop) of 560 kms per hour to allow for passenger comfort.
The pods emit no noise or pollution. As the line is straight and their speed is low then they will have little noise internally. They will not disturb wildlife as they operate. Any raised loop pipes will be on a concrete structure which farmers encounter at present on their land for carrying power lines.
All money collection, bookings etc can be done by electronic payments.
As it is a high technology project it may benefit from grants and subsides.
It should spawn- like the first greenway- copies elsewhere.
Feeder suppliers of transport to the departure points in Waterford and Wexford will spring up an provide on demand services to users.
They can be extended on to Cork or to Dublin as the technology improves and become less expensive.
As more and more Hyperloops are built in Europe the attraction as a tourist experience will fall. Revenue from this will drop but the bond will be largely paid off by then.
You may accurately argue that it is not yet in place anywhere, but at the speed of infrastructure development in Ireland if we start to plan for it now, we might just be ready when low speed Hyperloops are commercially ready to be built in the next 2-3 years. (Although I doubt we will be ready then as even the ultra-low tech greenway has a rather unambitious start date of 3 years hence, 2024)