Hyperloop Indonesia: Hype or Hyperbole?
Mon, 04 Jun 2018 || By Faiz Rahman

Introduction

If you have already watched Black Panther movie, you should have seen the Wakanda’s futuristic train system. It uses (frictionless) magnetic tracks to repel the train and shoot it with super-fast speed. The frictionless design enables the train to move faster than conventional trains.[1] In reality, a similar-yet-different concept of futuristic transportation system envisioned by Elon Musk has floated to the world in 2012, an incredibly fast tube-travel transportation that he called Hyperloop. The Hyperloop is claimed to be the fastest vehicle on earth, which (theoretically) could move as fast as the speed of sound.[2] Since then, many academicians and engineers race to actualize the concept. Elon Musk said that Hyperloop can travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in just 35 minutes,[3] faster than using an airplane that normally takes 1 hour and 30 minutes. As the concept now is on its way to be actualized, the working Hyperloop is targeted to be operable for cargo transport by 2020 and for human passengers by 2021.[4]

The discourse of Hyperloop development has been echoed in so many countries around the world, including Indonesia. Back in early 2017, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), a transportation company from the US and one of the “big two” Hyperloop developers beside the Virgin Hyperloop One, claimed to have signed a contract for a Hyperloop feasibility study in Indonesia worth US$ 2.5 million at the Ministry of Transportation of the Republic of Indonesia, witnessed by the Indonesian Minister of Transportation, Budi Karya Sumadi.[5] As the Hyperloop itself is still in development phase, it has become interesting to examine how the concept could be actualized, especially in Indonesia; what impacts can be given to the existing modes of transportation; and also what should Indonesian government prepare to implement this futuristic transportation system.

 

Q1. How does Hyperloop work?

Before discussing Hyperloop in the Indonesian context, the concept of Hyperloop should be understood first, so we can have a clearer picture of what Hyperloop is and how it works. Although the concept of Hyperloop is similar to magnetic levitation trains that have already been operated in several countries including Japan and China,[6] Hyperloop is declared to be the fifth mode of transportation besides cars, trains, ships, and aeroplanes.[7] Musk argues that Hyperloop could be a fast, efficient, and cheap mode of transportation for people and goods, unlike the existing modes that tend to be either relatively slow (e.g., cars and ships), expensive (e.g., airplane), or a combination of relatively slow and expensive (e.g., rail/train).[8]

Basically, the concept of Hyperloop transportation system consists of at least four components: (1) a capsule that could carry people or cargo; (2) a steel tube; (3) propulsion (accelerators and stators); and (4) route.[9] Furthermore, the idea of Hyperloop is to accelerate capsule-like vehicles approximately at the speed of sound, on a friction-free surface (either using air cushions or magnets) inside a near-vacuum tube.[10] There is also a magnetic linear accelerator attached at various Hyperloop stations on the low-pressure tube with rotors incorporated in each capsule.[11] Furthermore, in 2017, Hyperloop One, one of the Hyperloop systems developers, announced that they achieved a test speed record of approximately 250 mph at their full-scale test track in Nevada,[12] which is around a third slower than the expected Hyperloop speed.

However, although the concept seems futuristic, the thought of moving people through a magnetic tube itself is not new. In 1799, George Medhurst proposed the similar idea (atmospheric railway) – using cast-iron pipes to move goods using air pressure – and has a patent of that concept.[13] A similar concept was developed in London and New York in the 1850s to 1860s to transport parcels using pneumatic railways.[14] Moreover, in 1910, Robert Goddard, an American rocket pioneer, designed a concept of a train that hovered on magnets inside a vacuum-sealed tunnel, even though it was never built.[15] The concept further developed into a technology called magnetic levitation train that has been used in some countries like Japan, South Korea, Germany, and China.

Moreover, there are several issues that need to be solved before implementing the Hyperloop. Taylor, Hyde, and Barr from John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems, US Department of Transportation, outline seven key questions that need to be addressed before implementing the Hyperloop, namely:[16]

  1. Whether the Hyperloop system adequately lightweight that there would be significant construction cost savings compared to building an elevated HSR or magnetic levitation system;
  2. Technological hurdles to build hyperloop underwater and how to overcome it;
  3. Whether the passenger capacity could be expanded;
  4. The weight limit for freight capsule;
  5. What size the tube needed to carry a standard size of shipping container;
  6. Whether the Hyperloop could provide local transit service;
  7. Whether the Hyperloop will be noisy for passengers and communities.

There are also some issues mentioned in several studies concerning Hyperloop such as passengers’ safety and environmental impact,[17] as the Hyperloop claimed to be faster than the existing transportation modes, and also environmentally friendly.[18]

 

Q2. What are the Possible Benefits of Hyperloop Implementation in Indonesia?

As mentioned above, the Hyperloop transportation system development project entered Indonesia in early 2017. Hyperloop Transportation Technologies’ (HTT) Chairman, Bibop Gresta stated that the contract for a feasibility study in Indonesia is the first in South East Asia.[19] HTT focuses its study in Jakarta, as the capital city and one of the cities with the densest population in Indonesia.[20] The company previously came to an agreement with India, Czech Republic and Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates). According to Gresta, the feasibility study will be conducted for three to six months (which is supposed to be finished by now). However, to date, there is no follow up information concerning the carried out feasibility study. Indonesia’s large population and its current transportation issues especially traffic jam (mainly in big cities) and air pollution problem become the several reasons why HTT chose Indonesia, especially Jakarta, as a place to develop Hyperloop transportation system. Furthermore, Hyperloop development in Indonesia is supposed to solve the issues mentioned above. If it could be successfully implemented, there are at least three major benefits can be obtained.

First, distance problem for people that work intercity and population density issue can be resolved, as people no longer need to live in the area near their workplace. As an illustration, using Hyperloop, people from Yogyakarta can travel to Jakarta in just 25 minutes. Also, people who live in Bandung only need 9 minutes to travel to Jakarta, compared to road or rail transportation that could spend 2 hours and 30 minutes.[21] Thus, even if they live far away from their workplace, distance is no longer a problem.

Second, the development of Hyperloop in Indonesia can also have significant economic impacts as people can live in the less expensive area but still be able to work in big cities, which have more expensive living cost. Furthermore, the development can also encourage the establishment of many economic hubs along the Hyperloop route.

Third, the implementation of Hyperloop transportation system might also have a significant impact on traffic and air pollution. The problems in the current state of transportation modes are mainly concerning the environmental impacts of the vehicles. Just like other modes of transportation, the development of public transport is aimed to reduce the number of private vehicles on the road, and to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution. Hyperloop itself is theoretically the safest, the most environment-friendly, and relatively the cheapest transportation mode compared to the existing modes.[22] Therefore, if there are more people using Hyperloop, there will be less private vehicles on the road. Moreover, it might be better if the Hyperloop system could also be integrated with other public transportations.

 

Q3. What are the Challenges in Developing Hyperloop in Indonesia?

Apart from the technical issues mentioned above, there are some regulatory and policy issues that should be addressed to successfully implement Hyperloop in the future.

First, transportation regulation. The implementation of Hyperloop might be a problem from the regulatory standpoint, as it could affect the current Indonesian transportation regulation framework. As it is known, the current four modes of transportation already have its own Act and its respective implementing regulations. These are the railway transportation (regulated by Law No. 23 of 2007), water transportation (by Law No. 17 of 2008), air transportation (by Law No. 1 of 2009), and road transportation (by Law No. 22 of 2009).

Actually, the government could categorize the Hyperloop as one of those transportation modes. Nevertheless, the question arises because the idea of Hyperloop as the fifth mode of transportation is very new. The question is particularly on whether there should be a new act and/or regulation that specifically regulates Hyperloop because it is beyond the existing transportation modes category. There are several issues that should be accommodated in the proposed specific Hyperloop act and/or regulation such as passenger safety and insurance, as well as Hyperloop cargo classification as Hyperloop for transporting goods.[23] As the legal adagium states that “the law always limped behind the times,” future regulation makers should also take into account the technological developments related to the regulated provisions. Furthermore, the government should also update its transportation master plan to accommodate the future development of transportation modes.

Second, permission and spatial planning regulations. Just like the construction of MRT or LRT, the construction of Hyperloop potentially uses citizen’s land or change the land’s function to make the transportation routes, although Hyperloop claimed to have a minimum amount of land required for its construction.[24] It is also related to the permission needed to carry out the project, as a construction cannot be conducted if there is no permission granted by the government. In this case, Environmental Impact Assessment (ANDAL) also plays an important role, not only to complement the permitting process but also to show that Hyperloop is really a green transportation as claimed by Elon Musk.

Third, political will and commitment from the government and stakeholders. A mega project like this tends to be used by white-collar corruptors to reap personal gain. It is obvious that without political will and commitment from the government and stakeholders to run and complete the project, it is feared that Hyperloop will only be a mere wish and end up like many other government projects that eventually stalled.

 

Q4. Does Indonesia Really Need Hyperloop?

Finally, one of the key questions concerning Hyperloop development is whether Indonesia really needs the Hyperloop. The answer can be divided into two perspectives: now and then.

For the time being, considering the current development of transportation modes in Indonesia, there are many problems that should be cleared first by the government including mapping and integrating existing transportation modes, updating current laws and regulations, as well as completing ongoing transportation infrastructures construction project, before accommodating the futuristic ones such as Hyperloop. Such issues are obviously supposed to be prioritized first above any other future talks on transportation projects. Additionally, the study concerning Hyperloop viability and feasibility should be conducted simultaneously with the current transportation projects. Thus, by the end phase of the current project, government can start building the Hyperloop infrastructures.

As for the future, yes, Hyperloop is absolutely needed as it can revolutionize the current transportation paradigm. Considering some benefits explained above, Hyperloop can be a great solution for many transportation, environmental, as well as urban issues. It could even encourage more equitable population distribution, as people do not need to migrate just for work to earn greater income because time and distance are no longer a barrier to work intercity. Furthermore, it could also boost the economy of the community as there will be more economic hubs developed along the hyperloop routes and stops.

Editors: Atin Prabandari, MA(IR) & Nabeel Khawarizmy Muna, S.IP

Picture: teslarati


[1]     See Hawkins, A.J. (2018). Black Panther’s Wakanda is a Transportation Utopia with a Dash of Reality [online] The Verge. Available at: https://www.theverge.com/2018/2/23/17044448/black-panther-wakanda-maglev-train-hyperloop-transportation [Accessed 21 May 2018].

[2]     Musk, E. (2013). Hyperloop Alpha [online] SpaceX. Available at: http://www.spacex.com/sites/spacex/files/hyperloop_alpha-20130812.pdf [Accessed 21 May 2018].

[3]     Heath, N. (2018). Hyperloop: Take a Trip into the Future of Transport [online] Tech Republic. Available at: https://www.techrepublic.com/pictures/hyperloop-take-a-trip-into-the-future-of-transport/ [Accessed 21 May 2018].

[4]     Hawkins, A.J. (2018). The Hyperloop is Perpetually Just ‘Three Years Away’ [online] The Verge. Available at: https://www.theverge.com/2018/4/30/17302208/virgin-hyperloop-one-richard-branson-three-years [Accessed 21 May 2018].

[5]     Mukti, H. (2017). Hyperloop Siap Bangun Transportasi Tercepat di Indonesia [online] CNN Indonesia. Available at: https://www.cnnindonesia.com/teknologi/20170308155332-384-198744/hyperloop-siap-bangun-transportasi-tercepat-di-indonesia [Accessed 21 May 2018].

[6]     For further information regarding Magnetic Levitation Trains, read Sawada, K. (2000). Magnetic Levitation (Maglev) Technologies. Japan Railway and Transport Review 25, October 2000, 58-67.

[7]     See Williams, M. The Fifth Mode of Transportation: The Hyperloop High-Speed Train [online] HeroX. Available at: https://www.herox.com/crowdsourcing-news/182-the-fifth-mode-of-transportation-the-hyperloop-hig [Accessed 21 May 2018].

[8]     Musk, E., above n 2, 6.

[9]     Musk, E., Ibid, 9-10.

[10]   Ross, P.E. (2016). Hyperloop: No Pressure. IEEE Spectrum, Vol. 53, Issue 1, January 2016, 53. See also Heath, N., above n 3; and Musk, E., Ibid.

[11]   Musk, E., Ibid, 6.

[12]   Hyperloop One. (2017). Hyperloop One Makes History with World’s First Successful Hyperloop Full Systems Tests [online] Hyperloop One. Available at: https://hyperloop-one.com/hyperloop-one-makes-history-worlds-first-successful-hyperloop-full-systems-test [Accessed 21 May 2018]. See also Lambert, F. (2017). Virgin Hyperloop One Reaches New Record Speed in Test Loop, Raises Another $50 million, and Branson Becomes Chairman [online]

Electreck.co. Available at: https://electrek.co/2017/12/19/virgin-hyperloop-one-new-record-speed-in-test-loo-branson-chairman/ [Accessed 21 May 2018].

[13]   Kobie, N. (2018). Is Hyperloop Overhyped and Underlooped? [online]

Alphar. Available at http://www.alphr.com/the-future/1008177/hyperloop-overhyped-underlooped [Accessed 21 May 2018].

[14]   See Garfield, L. (2018). 15 Remarkable Images that Show the 200-year Evolution of the Hyperloop [online] Business Insider Singapore. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.sg/history-hyperloop-pneumatic-tubes-as-transportation-2017-8/?r=US&IR=T [Accessed 21 May 2018].

[15]   Ibid.

[16]   Taylor, C.L., Hyde, D.J., and Barr, L.C. (2016). Hyperloop Commercial Feasibility Analysis: High Level Overview. Cambridge: John A. Volpe National Transportation System Center, 40.

[17]   See e.g., Ibid; Musk, E., above n 2; Transport Research and Innovation Monitoring and Information System (TRIMIS), European Commission. (2017). The Hyperloop Capsule as a Future Transport Mode. TRIMIS Digest, Issue 1, November 2017; Shinde, R.T., et al. (2017). Hyperloop Transportation System. International Research Journal of Engineering and Technology (

IRJET), Vol. 4(4), April 2017; and Zhou, D. (2018). A Look Inside a New Mode: Virgin Hyperloop One. TR News, Vol. 314, March-April 2018.

[18]   See e.g., Ingale, C.R., and Chopade, J.V. (2017). Review Paper on Hyperloop: A New Mode of Transportation. International Journal for Scientific Research & Development, 5(1), 1541.

[19]   Linawati, M. (2017). Alasan Hyperloop Bangun Kendaraan Super Cepat di Indonesia [online] Liputan 6. Available at: https://www.liputan6.com/bisnis/read/2881732/alasan-hyperloop-bangun-kendaraan-super-cepat-di-indonesia [Accessed 22 May 2018].

[20]   Ika, A. (2017). Transportasi Canggih Kereta Hyperloop, Jarak Jakarta-Yogyakarta Hanya 25 Menit [online] Kompas. Available at: https://ekonomi.kompas.com/read/2017/03/08/215107626/transportasi.canggih. hyperloop.jarak.jakarta-

yogyakarta.hanya.25.menit [Accessed 22 May 2018].

[21]   Linawati, M., above n 19.

[22]   See e.g., Pandey, V., and Pallissery, S.S. (2017). Hyperloop, Train of Future. International Journal of Scientific & Engineering Research, 8(2), 26.

[23]   In US, there are also some regulatory hurdles in the future implementation of Hyperloop. See Pring-Mill, D. (2017). Regulations Could Slow Down Hyperloop [online] Freight Waves. Available at: https://www.freightwaves.com/news/2017/10/19/regulations-could-slow-down-hyperloop [Accessed 22 May 2018].

[24]   See Musk, E., above n 2, 24.