All the cynics who thought predictions that a test track for a Hyperloop-like magnetic-levitation transportation system would be built in Denver were pie-in-the-sky have been proven right. The Colorado Department of Transportation is confirming that the project, which appeared to be slipping toward the grave in recent months, is officially dead.
The reason, says Amy Ford, CDOT's communications director, is the collapse of Arrivo, the firm with which the department announced a partnership in November 2017. Arrivo's website remains online at this writing, but Ford says, "It's my understanding that they fully closed their doors at the end of 2018."
According to a December 14 report in The Verve, Arrivo, which was started by former Hyperloop One executives, furloughed all of its employees in November as it sought new funding. A follow-up piece in the Colorado Sun concluded that this scenario spelled doom for the Denver test track, but Ford told the publication that Arrivo was still working on a feasibility study and had signed a contract to develop a test track in Adams County — a location different from its previously announced location, near the nexus of I-25 and C-470.
Now, however, Ford acknowledges that none of that will be happening.
Signs that Arrivo's claims were flimsy have been popping up for more than a year. In an interview with Westword shortly after the test-track announcement, then-CDOT executive director Shailen Bhatt explained that the Arrivo track, dubbed the Zipper, would use the same mag-lev technology as Hyperloop One, but without the vacuum-tube component that concerns so many safety experts. The pods would move at 200 to 300 miles per hour — slower than the projected 600 MPH for Hyperloop One, Bhatt conceded, but fast enough to reduce the time for individuals and goods to travel from Denver International Airport to downtown during rush hour from seventy minutes to nine minutes.
As for when all of this would get under way, Bhatt said that, based on Arrivo's projections, he "would anticipate breaking ground in early 2018. Now, is that January? Is that March? I don't know. But that's what they're targeting, and they're making a $10 million to $15 million investment. Their goal is to have a couple hundred employees here in Denver by the 2020 range. So it's a pretty aggressive schedule."
All of these estimates have vaporized since then, but CDOT's Ford stresses that the failure hasn't cost the taxpayers of Colorado anything. "Arrivo was moving forward on their own dime. They were doing their own analysis, looking at things like economic value capture and that kind of stuff. No dollars of ours had gone into Arrivo."
The test-track collapse hasn't permanently soured CDOT on magnetic levitation or the like. Ford points out that the department is continuing the process of "initiating a statewide, rapid-speed travel-opportunities-and-benefits study, which looks at emerging technologies and what would be the pathways to actually building that kind of system in the United States, including the governance structures that would be responsible for it as part of the broader transportation landscape."
Meanwhile, Hyperloop One is finishing its own feasibility study, which Ford expects to be completed over the next few months. After that, she says, "the next three steps are that the technology needs to mature, it has to move through the regulatory environment and a certification process, and funding has to be found."
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That money won't be coming from CDOT, at least in the short term. "We're not going into our pockets for any of this," she maintains.
In her view, "The bigger picture is how we look at Front Range multi-modal connectivity and how we address congestion on the roads, which are a priority of the governor's. We're looking at high-speed travel as a possible solution to those kinds of challenges, which CDOT is very serious about addressing."
At the same time, she concedes, "Not all of these technologies will move forward — which is something we've said from the beginning. Some will and some won't. The market makes a lot of those determinations. But we're in an era where transportation technology is innovating incredibly quickly. A year ago, we weren't talking about scooters. Three years before that, we weren't talking about self-driving cars. And five years before that, we weren't talking about Uber and Lyft."
But we're done talking about Arrivo.