A nonprofit trade association based in Colorado Springs is working to bring space-age public transportation to the Front Range.

“We’re trying to be a catalyst for a discovery that is already here — the reinvention of transportation,” said Dane Egli, president and co-founder of the Hyperloop Advanced Research Project. “It’s a bold new invention that could come to your neighborhood  — and not in a future lifetime, but soon.”

HARP is the trade association advocating for the half-dozen companies testing Hyperloop travel — which exceeds 700 mph — and Fort Collins-based Loop Global, which promises speeds in excess of 1,000 mph and up to 4,000 mph on a long-range trip. Both concepts operate in the vacuum of an evacuated tube via magnetic levitation and linear electric motors.

Egli and Loop Global President D. Worthington both say commercialized tube transportation is realistic by 2021, though it would likely be on a 3-mile test track. Worthington will be part of an Aug. 16 meeting in the Springs, hosted by HARP, to cultivate support among local officials and business leaders.

Egli was part of a group that presented a proposal — there were 2,600 submitted worldwide — in the contest run by Los Angeles-based company Hyperloop One. It was one of three Colorado proposed routes selected among the 11 semifinalists, with three routes to be selected for future construction and announced this summer.

“This is a rapidly emerging industry,” said Egli, a former national security director at the White House under President George W. Bush. “Six months ago, several leaders in the industry challenged four of us to create a trade association that is unbiased to advocate for all the companies working on this technology. Our three things are to support, educate and research.”

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HARP managed to get 21 leaders from the Pikes Peak region to sign a letter supporting the advancement of the technology. Among them were Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers, U.S Rep. Doug Lamborn, UCCS Chancellor Venkat Reddy and Colorado state Sen. Owen Hill.

“I’m intrigued by the technology, because it’s being advertised as significantly less expensive than fast rail,” Suthers said. “If it could be done, it would be very quick and if the infrastructure is less expensive than fast rail, this could be our future. I want to encourage the testing of it without committing any city resources. At some point in time, we’re going to need Front Range fast transportation. Fast rail is extremely expensive, and to the extent that there is alternative technology that could be less expensive, I’d love to see it explored. It’s amazing.”

AN EMERGING MARKET

Worthington said ET3 technology is cheaper, faster and a better solution than Hyperloop. He said fast rail built in California costs about $150 million per mile while Hyperloop One is anywhere from $64-$121 million a mile and ET3 is $10-$20 million per mile.

“If we’re both operating, people will compare and decide what is the best approach,” Worthington said. “One of them is going to win the war.”

He said bringing ET3 travel to the Springs “is absolutely realistic” and a 3-mile test track could be built here by 2021. Construction of long-range routes would follow, perhaps in the same year.

Worthington said HARP is giving Colorado Springs the chance to build relationships in the industry.

“The city could be an early adopter and give these risk-takers the opportunity to possibly center the industry in Colorado,” he said. “It could be like Detroit was in the automobile boom.”

Worthington said Hyperloop still has technological challenges, although Hyperloop One recently had what Egli described as “its Kitty Hawk moment.”

“They did their 3-mile test run in the Nevada desert,” Egli said. “If you talk to Hyperloop One or ET3, their technology is proven. HARP emerged because we’re there now with the technology; it’s ready for implementation. Tube transportation is a bold new technology that will expand economic opportunity, reduce highway congestion and strengthen critical infrastructure resilience. The leaders of the Pikes Peak region also understand the potential of Hyperloop technology to improve access to new markets and enhance security, safety and quality of life.”

Suthers smiled at the possibility of being in Denver in six minutes.

“If you get that kind of rapid transportation between two of the 40 largest cities in America, that’s a lot of people engaging in commerce, and I think it would be tremendous,” he said.

Elon Musk, owner of Tesla manufacturing and SpaceX, who envisions putting people on Mars, publicized in late July that he was granted verbal permission to construct an underground Hyperloop segment from New York City to the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore area.

The Baltimore Sun ran a story by Egli on its op-ed page July 31, promoting the virtues of new-age travel.

“This new technology will give people access to new geographic locations and new jobs,” Egli said. “It’ll bring speed, convenience, an economy of cost and will leave no carbon footprint.

“From 1803 to 1903 we had ships, trains, cars and flight. Since then, we’ve done a good job refining those, but now we want to introduce a fifth mode of transportation.”

PRIVATE FUNDING is key

Worthington has been involved since 2010 and said ET3’s consortium was established in 1997. ET3’s capsules seat up to six people in “limousine style,” he said, while Hyperloop One’s pods seat about 30-40 passengers.

“We’re not looking for any public funding as we have private sources, but I could see this becoming private-public funding if the government jumps in,” Worthington said. “We need to access right-of-way to build the tubes that will carry the capsules.”

Egli envisions a public-private-academic partnership supported by  local, regional and federal governments.

He suggested that ET3 could reduce the future need for cars and even envisions the day — though it might be 50 years hence — when a garage would be replaced by an air lock to enter into the evacuated tube environment.

Maybe it’ll go that way, maybe not,” he said.

Hyperloop technology is capped at about 600 miles, Worthington said, while ET3 could make a direct run from Los Angeles to New York. He even envisions routes from Beijing to London to New York, but said shorter trips are ideal for ET3.

For Suthers, this is a new discussion, after he’s fought hard to widen Interstate 25 between Monument and Castle Rock.

“I’m vehement about expanding I-25, but the level of congestion and number of people is going to continue to expand, so we’re going to have to have Front Range rail service,” Suthers said. “I’m not surprised everybody would look at this and say if this is a cheaper alternative and it’s realistic, let’s see what happens.”