Richard Macfarlane is a mechanical engineer living in Perth. He is the principal of HyperLoopDesign, an international group of engineers working on improving and developing an open-source design. He says Australia, specifically Sydney to Melbourne would make an ideal route for a Hyperloop track, turning a 9 hour + drive into a less than 1 hour commute.
If you’re unfamiliar with hyperloop, its the futuristic proposal for high-speed transportation in a vacuum tube. It was first announced by Elon Musk in 2013, and now several groups are working to develop it. Elon Musk says he will build a test track, probably in Texas.
Hyperloop Technologies Inc has just started an LA to Las Vegas project, well funded by venture capitalists, with a strong board and a large team of engineers. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) has announced an agreement to build a full-scale test track in Quay Valley, California.
Now the first design for Hyperloop has been released by HyperLoopDesign, an international group of engineers developing an open-source design called Hyperloop Cheetah. The proposed design is capable of cruising at 1,200 km/hr in a near-vacuum in a steel tube. Cheetah has a number of developments from Musk’s original design, such as wheels, which have been tested at Hyperloop speeds and solve the airflow challenges with the air skis.
Sydney to Melbourne is the world’s 5th busiest air route, with about 7 million passengers per year. Energy is our greatest future challenge, we must develop inter-city transport with lower carbon emissions and energy consumption. The East Coast rail project is unlikely to proceed, as electric rail offers little energy advantage over modern air or road transport, and the overall travel time for the train is similar to flying.
Hyperloop would be an ideal solution for this route. The travel time between Sydney and Melbourne would be 48 minutes, the energy consumption would be reduced by 85-95%, and the capital cost would be 30-50% less than high-speed rail.
Air resistance and weight are the main components of energy consumption. The Hyperloop ‘pod’ travels in a steel tube at speeds up to 1,200 km/hr, but air resistance is virtually eliminated because the tube is a near-vacuum. Airliners reduce their air resistance and energy by flying at high altitude where the air is thinner.
Energy is also reduced because the pod is quite small and light. It is the same width as a large car or minibus, 2 or 3 seats wide. For the short trip time, it is acceptable for passengers to remain seated for the whole journey in reclined seats.
Hyperloop’s power consumption is remarkably low. One pod at full speed would use similar electrical power to the very efficient Tesla model S car, but carries 27 passengers. The electrical energy per passenger for the Sydney Melbourne route would be 10.5 kWh, where the proposed high-speed-rail would use 75 kWh.
The capital costs and public impact would be lower than for the high-speed-rail project. The route would be similar, but tubes would be silent and hardly visible. The impact on land-owners and residents would be minimal, with less earthworks and reserved land, and the tube buried most of the way. The two 2.8 metre diameter tubes would be lower cost for tunneling, and they could bridge creeks and small rivers without extra structure.
Hyperloop is very futuristic and is yet to be proved, but research and full-speed test tracks are under way. One day it might become the fast and low energy solution for Australia’s inter-city travel. Hyperloop stations would be different, as the passengers are rolled out of the pod in seating modules. The system would have the capacity of 3,300 passengers each way per hour, with several airlocks.
Musk originally proposed Hyperloop as an open-source project, where engineers around the world can collaborate and develop the design. HyperLoopDesign is an opportunity for mechanical and electrical engineers and fluid dynamics specialists who are interested in contributing to future transportation.
 hyperloopdesign.netspecs page, 268 kWh for Sydney-Melbourne trip. 27 pass., 90% occupancy
 HSR Study phase 2 appendix 4c page 2 Total energy Sydney – Melbourne 29,317 kWh
Appendix 2b page 60, 520 passengers, 75% occupancy