After President Emmanuel Macron scrapped plans for a high-speed rail connection to Limoges, a city in central France, local entrepreneur Fabien Thibaut picked up his phone to call Elon Musk and talk about the Hyperloop — Musk’s idea for superfast trains zooming in tubes.
“This kind of project is essential for a city like ours,” said Thibaut, one of many in France who wants to bring home a piece of Tesla founder Musk’s idea.
“We have nothing here — this would bring companies, jobs, tourism.”
In the country that invented high-speed TGV trains and the supersonic Concorde plane, Thibaut had no trouble drumming up support from others including the deputy mayor. But with the government keen on cutting public spending, officials in cities like Limoges, Orleans and Toulouse are seeking cheaper approaches to futuristic transport, pitching themselves as hotbeds for testing.
While they can’t put fat checks on the table, French cities are relying on handouts of real estate, tax cuts for engineering talent, and some limited subsidies to attract Hyperloop-inspired projects.
“Any Hyperloop project will need government support whatever happens,” said Serhiy Yarusevych, a mechanical engineering professor at the University of Waterloo in Canada. “There are no breakthroughs required on the technology side. What will matter is the funding for land, infrastructure and R&D.”
Musk’s idea isn’t new — French novelist Jules Verne imagined pneumatic pods crossing oceans in tunnels at 930 miles per hour a century and a half ago — but since he laid out the concept of the Hyperloop in 2013, a flurry of initiatives has emerged.
Musk’s space company SpaceX has organised student competitions to build prototypes, while British tycoon Richard Branson is backing the troubled Virgin Hyperloop One, which is itself working with German automaker BMW AG in Dubai.
Two other Los Angeles startups, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and Arrivo, also are developing similar concepts.
So while the Tesla founder never returned Thibaut’s call, a Canadian startup called TransPod did.
TransPod’s technology is based on magnetic propulsion and electrified tracks, moving pods through a vacuum tunnel designed to reduce friction. As with most Hyperloop projects, the bulk of the estimated costs are for deploying infrastructure.
Co-founder Sebastien Gendron estimates his company needs 20 million euros ($24.2 million) in financing to complete the Limoges project at the current stage, and says he’ll raise half of that from private investors.