Elon Musk's Hyperloop may have competition from a government-backed maglev train

  • Serial entrepreneur Elon Musk wants to build a Hyperloop between Washington D.C. and New York to revolutionise East Coast transit.
  • But it could face competition from The Northeast Maglev (TNEM), a private company that aims to build a high-speed rail on the same route.
  • TNEM has secured a $US28 million federal grant to study the maglev’s feasibility.

Elon Musk’s Boring Company has ambitious plans to revolutionise transportation by building a Hyperloop between New York and Washington D.C.

But it may have competition from a private company that has already made some progress with the US government.

The Northeast Maglev (TNEM), a private company, was founded in 2011 with the goal of building a high-speed rail between New York and the country’s capital. TNEM wants to first build the route between Washington D.C. and Baltimore before eventually extending it to New York.

TNEM said its rail would be able to transport passengers between Washington D.C. and Baltimore in just 15 minutes. Traversing D.C. to New York would take an hour.

By comparison, Amtrak’s Acela train, its fastest option, takes just under three hours.

The secret lies in bringing Japan’s maglev technology to the Northeast Corridor, TNEM CEO Wayne Rogers told Business Insider.

Maglev technology allows trains to magnetically levitate (hence the name) above a track, allowing them to achieve higher speeds than traditional rail lines.

A maglev train built by Central Japan Railway set a world speed record of 375 mph in 2015. The maglev will eventually connect Tokyo and Nagoya, but won’t open to the public until 2027.

Central Japan Railway, a private company, has said it will collaborate with TNEM on the US project.

“Our concept is to piggyback on all the work that they have already done,” Rogers said of working with Central Japan Railway.

TNEM has acquired a railroad franchise and a $US28 million grant from Maryland’s Department of Transportation and Economic Development Corporation. The company has also collected $US100 million in private funding.

The federal funding, secured in 2015, is being used to conduct an engineering feasibility analysis and environmental impact study for the Baltimore to Washington D.C. leg. That process could take another two years to complete, Rogers said.

Still, a maglev train won’t come cheap. The Baltimore-Washington D.C. route will alone cost “north of $US10 billion,” Rogers said. He said tickets would cost “slightly more” than an Acela train, but declined to give specifics.

Central Japan Railways’ route between Tokyo and Nagoya is estimated at nearly $US100 billion, according to the Associated Press. The astronomical price mostly comes from the cost of tunnelling.

Maglev trains require a straight rail in order to operate safely. To ensure the alignment is perfectly straight, the majority of the Washington D.C. to Baltimore route will need to be constructed underground, Rogers said.

“Tunnelling is the main cost and the main driver of schedule,” he said.

Musk’s Hyperloop would also travel in a vacuum-sealed tunnel. The Boring Company is looking to cut down costs by building a tunnelling machine that can dig and place reinforcements in the wall at the same time, Musk said in April.

Not only will TNEM be tasked with raising enough funds for the project, but it will also face political obstacles. A maglev train would surely pose competition for the airline industry and Amtrak.

Rogers said the maglev should be seen as yet another addition to the growing transportation infrastructure in the US. Airlines could channel their resources toward more long-distance flights; Amtrak would still be a viable option for carrying freight and people looking for lower ticket prices.

Rogers also said it’s a more viable option than Musk’s Hyperloop because the technology is proven.

“My personal opinion is we are 15 to 20 years away from being able to build it and safely move people,” Rogers said of the Hyperloop.

Rogers’ has an optimistic outlook for a plan that has been in the works for six years, but still isn’t nearing construction. However, it’s arguably further along than Musk’s Hyperloop proposal, which has so far only secured “verbal approval” for construction.

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