Hyperloop in Ukraine: yes, no, mayhaps – underline as appropriate
You can hardly find a person in Ukraine that would seriously believe in a Hyperloop in Ukraine. A supersonic train running through a vacuum tube needs billions of US dollars to build and all of a sudden our state has the resource to build one? The kind of resource that would be much more practical if allocated for conventional railroads! Ridiculous.
If you carefully analyze the situation, it will not seem so comical. Ukraine does have a trump in a sleeve.
First of all, let us take a look at the list of the parties expected to be engaged in a Hyperloop project: In addition to the anticipated Academy of Sciences and ‘Ukroboronprom’, it includes Octagonal Corporation (provides strategic investment advisory services, the Mexican Hyperloop developer Fernando Romero is among its clients), Yuzhmash (manufactures US rockets Antares, expendable launch systems Tsyklon, rockets Zenith), Kakhovka Plant of Welding Equipment (recognized as one of the best in development and production of welding equipment, particularly rail welding), Unit.City (area incorporating dozens of innovative companies), Interpipe (specializes in the production of pipes and wheels for railroad transport; potentially, it can construct a highway for Hyperloop in Ukraine).
This list is non-exhaustive but it translates the project scale rather well. It becomes obvious that we have many reputable and experienced companies to create Hyperloop and most of them have a strong track record and recognition.
More importantly, they can perform most of the production works, thus, reducing the need for international fundraising greatly.
Secondly, Ukraine has experience with high-speed electric trains.
As you recall, the Kriukiv Railway Car Manufacturing Plant released Tarpan model — a train that is nearly on par with Hyundai models and much more cost-efficient.
Surely, Elon Musk’s vacuum trains are way more technological but it is an argument in favor of Ukraine. Apparently, we can achieve things when we really want them.
It is also worth mentioning the signing of the memorandum with Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), one of the three companies involved in the Hyperloop project. This matter, however, is rather ambiguous.
On one hand, the document is declarative in nature. It does not impose any obligations on the parties. And that means, there is no need to meet obligations and further cooperation can remain on paper only.
On the other hand, signing the memorandum is another step towards a stronger relationship. It is also a chance to come into the spotlight and get investor’s attention. Ideally, this agreement can open global best practices for Ukrainian experts.
So, will there be a vacuum train in Ukraine?
Yes and no. Ukraine has the potential to implement even such a large-scale project as Hyperloop. However, the implementation process will be surrounded with difficulties.
What kind of difficulties?
Firstly, its high cost. According to Volodymyr Omelian’s plan (Minister of Infrastructure of Ukraine), the construction will include several stages.
The first is a scientific substantiation of the project, measurement of risks and prospects. This one will be financed by the state, and all subsequent stages are expected to involve foreign investors. The question still stands, however, if Ukraine is going to have enough money? It is unlikely since we are talking large amounts.
For example, Virgin Hyperloop One (another company that wants to build a vacuum train) has spent US$245 million on research and development alone. But even if we assume that Ukraine is going to raise the amount necessary, how logical would it be to invest in Hyperloop when a plethora of unresolved problems stand are still on the agenda? This is quite a bold decision to make.
What remains to be seen is the investor’s desire to finance such projects in such a weak economy as Ukraine, when there are alternatives in other, more prosperous countries.
Secondly, Hyperloop enthusiasts in Ukraine, that is the Ministry of Infrastructure of Ukraine headed by Omelian, have no clear strategy to implement transport innovations in Ukraine.
It seems that they swing from one extreme to the other trying to hype up and draw attention to Ukraine.
Think of the New Sil Road attempt and the contract entered to build a billion-dollar terminal in Ukraine that would process liquefied gas. Hype surrounded both the road and terminal with nothing but promises of mountains and marvels. And in the end… It went down the tubes. The terminal idea turned out to be a fiction.
There is another issue about the price of travel. Construction costs and infrastructure maintenance will cost a pretty penny, and that is why low-cost tickets are hard to believe (Elon Musk says it will cost $1).
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies spoke of $20, but this is very likely to be a conservative estimate. The thing is that the technology is not ready yet, and its final cost may increase further.
To top it off, implementation is a long and complicated process. Take the land issue for example.
Many experts believe that a Hyperloop ticket can be over $100. But even if it stays at $20 – it is still much more expensive than taking a couchette car. At least at the current dollar rate.
Speaking of Hyperloop. It is still unclear who will pay for its maintenance. The state has no money even to put Ukrzaliznytsia back in order, let alone the vacuum trains.
With a great number of promising companies that can contribute to Hyperloop, Omelian’s idea to develop such a technology is understandable.
Alas, economic realities are not conductive. Of course, the Minister does not promise vacuum trains to appear in a day. His latest statement said that the launch is expected in five years.
Yet even this estimate is very doubtful. Unless Ukraine makes a real economic breakthrough by that time.
For all intents and purposes, it is extremely good that we have such global ideas and immense personalities. Such ideas should not be given up, they just have to be timed right.
Author: Alla Popova
This post is also available in: Russian
Алла ПоповаHead of Corporate Business