It sounds like something out of a science fiction movie.
But a major think tank has today urged the government to scrap HS2 in favour of superfast pods that it says could really narrow the North-South divide - and slash the Leeds to London journey time to just 30 minutes.
Think tank Policy North believes the £50bn-plus investment in high-speed rail is “being wasted on outdated technology, delivering little or no benefits to most towns and cities, especially those in the North”.
It urges the government to instead divert the funds into developing Hyperloop systems, which it claims would enable travel from London to Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds or Newcastle in 30 minutes or less.
Policy North president David Harrison said: “The Government must stop trying to deliver our future transport infrastructure with technology that will already be outdated by the time HS2 is operational.
“We must be more ambitious and embrace the technological advances available. Hyperloop mirrors the opportunity faced by Victorians when Britain pioneered the leap from horse-drawn barges to railways that shaped the world.”
Hyperloop, pioneered by US entrepreneur Elon Musk, involves pods travelling up to 740mph through sealed tubes in a vacuum, with zero air resistance or friction. Acceleration is aided by a system of magnets.
It is claimed that Hyperloop could be operational within just a few years with enough Government support, using land already secured for HS2.
Transport chiefs in the region today said that while technologies like Hyperloop were still in “embryonic” stages, it was more important to focus on existing projects to ensure they are not “watered down” and to “act as a single voice for the North”.
Councillor Keith Wakefield, West Yorkshire Combined Authority’s Transport Chair, said: “While we need to keep an eye on new technologies such as driverless vehicles and platooning and personalised services and emerging concepts such as Hyperloop, recent events have shown how important it is that we focus on existing projects, such as the trans-Pennine upgrade, HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail, that are already in the pipeline to ensure they are not watered down, along with the significant economic benefits they can deliver.”
The Hyperloop lobby has been gathering momentum internationally.
Testing in the US is well underway and South Korea recently signed an agreement to build a full-scale Hyperloop testbed, with a view to building a cross-country system.
A feasibility study is also underway in the UAE into linking the Abu Dhabi and Al Ain emirates, while Slovakia has been established as a hub for the development of a line connecting Vienna, Bratislava and Budapest.
A spokesman for Transport for the North said: “The focus of Transport for the North and its partners is on creating an ambitious network of fast and efficient rail services that are deliverable as part of a programme of investment in the future railway including HS2.
“It is on delivering services with the capacity needed to get people where they want to get to when they want to get there.
“The Hyperloop concept is still in the embryonic stage of evolution and needs further work to prove it is a workable and viable technology.
“The transformational rail investment we are proposing as part of the North’s first Strategic Transport Plan, will bring millions more people within commuting distance of the places they want to live and work.
“It will transform the opportunity to access more and better jobs.
“Currently those opportunities aren’t open to them and the North and the wider UK economy suffer as a result.
“We just need all this rail infrastructure to work as one.
“Right now, acting as a single voice for the North, and working with others, our focus is on making that happen.”
The calls for Hyperloop to be adopted come a week after a collective of business and civic leaders from across the North of England wrote to the Government calling on it to back Northern Powerhouse Rail (NPR) in this autumn’s Budget, saying it would create 850,000 jobs and bring about a transformational legacy of investment “the likes of which has not been seen before”.
The Government has given Transport for the North money to develop proposals for the transport network in the North of England including a high-speed rail system.