conceptual image of transpod vessel on tracks
In July, TransPod unveiled a prototype of its fully electric FluxJet vehicle in Toronto. This summer, the company also started preliminary work on the tube line in which the FluxJet will ultimately travel in its first planned deployment — a 300-kilometre corridor between Calgary and Edmonton. Photo: TransPod/Facebook

TransPod, a Toronto startup, says its technology — unveiled last month — could shuttle commuters between the two cities in just 45 minutes in FluxJet vehicles capable of carrying up to 50 passengers at up to 1,000 km/h

Toronto-based startup TransPod is looking to make ultra-fast ground transportation a reality in Canada with its own version of a hyperloop, a concept popularized by Elon Musk as well as companies like Virgin Hyperloop, which ran its first passenger-carrying test trip in 2020.

In July, TransPod unveiled a prototype of its fully electric FluxJet vehicle in Toronto. This summer, the company also started preliminary work on the tube line in which the FluxJet will ultimately travel in its first planned deployment — a 300-kilometre corridor between Calgary and Edmonton.

“The goal is definitely to complement the aircraft between major cities and removing some trucks from the roads. And being able to provide the same frequency as a subway but with the speed of an aircraft.” says TransPod co-founder and CEO Sebastien Gendron in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada.

TransPod’s FluxJet will be a computer-controlled, fully automated electric vehicle with aerodynamic and propulsion systems that will run entirely on renewable energy. It is designed to travel in a fully enclosed tube system, carrying passengers and cargo, by levitating in a low-pressure, near-vacuum pipeline. The tube system, TransPod says, may one day be capable of allowing travel at ultra-high speeds of 1,000 kilometres per hour. This, TransPod notes, is faster than a jet and three times as fast as a high-speed train.

At last month’s unveiling, TransPod showed off some of the technology and levitation capabilities of a one-third sized model FluxJet. This prototype is the result of seven years of research, development and testing. 

Prior to this demonstration, TransPod confirmed in March that it secured US$550 million in funding from UK-based Broughton Capital Group, in cooperation with China-East Resources Import & Export Co., a wholly owned state company that imports and exports industrial equipment. The funds will be used to accelerate development for a TransPod tube line that will connect Calgary to Edmonton. 

The proposed line will be built on an elevated guideway structure suspended on concrete pylons. The guideway corridor will be 40 metres wide and will include a service road for maintenance, emergency services and construction purposes.

TransPod’s scheduled timeline

The project’s timeline sees the FluxJet and the tube line rolling out in three phases.

In the short term, the company is looking at continuing its R&D testing, getting land and construction permits and performing environmental assessments.

“We have a test facility under construction in France right now,” says Gendron. “In addition to that test facility, the initial [FluxJet] prototype needs to grow. We have a half-scale vehicle planned for next year, as well to continue to do actual testing in low-pressure environments.”

By 2025, the startup expects to have completed a full-scale FluxJet. The vehicle will be 25 metres long, capable of transporting up to 50 passengers and have a diameter of 3.6 metres (similar to a narrow-body airliner). 

“We are thinking about having three configurations,” says Gendron. “One would be basic, economy class (like on an airplane) and business class. We’re looking at another kind of configuration — similar to what we have on a subway — to add more capacity where people will be able to stand, with a limited amount of seats. And the last one, freight configuration, is to transport the same type of containers that we have on an airplane.” 

Starting in 2025, TransPod plans to start a two-year test deployment of the fully built FluxJet between downtown Edmonton and the Edmonton Airport on a five to 10-kilometre test track. Construction of the full intercity line between Calgary and Edmonton would then begin in 2027.

TransPod is also focusing on setting up the proper regulatory framework for the vehicle and line.

“The European Transportation Commission is leading the pack [and] they plan to have a regulatory framework by 2025,” says Gendron. “Our objective is to connect them with Alberta transportation to make sure that they have the right tools to certify our system by 2027.”

Business case and funding challenges

Along with TransPod, six private companies and two governments across the globe are working on developing new hyperloop transportation systems.

In a feasibility study for the Alberta project, it is claimed the TransPod project will create up to 140,000 jobs over the construction period and add $19.2 billion to the Alberta’s GDP by 2030. These numbers have not been externally confirmed.

TransPod claims it has further reduced costs compared to other hyperloop developers by developing linear induction motors embedded on the vehicle that can levitate the FluxJet rather than rely on magnets used in other high speed vehicles.

But, like with magnetic (or Maglev) technology, the FluxJet vehicle won’t need to make direct contact with the power rails that propel it.

Despite the company’s confidence in its technology, one of the biggest roadblocks is finding investors, says Gendron. 

It will cost TransPod US$10 million to develop each type of FluxJet vehicle. The transportation line that will connect Calgary and Edmonton will cost the company an additional US$60 million per km of track built, amounting to US$18 billion in total. 

“The amount appears high but you need to look at the business case and the profitability [of the project],”  says Gendron. “The investors will break even after 20 years.” 

So far, all the funding raised by TransPod has been through the private sector.

Although the Alberta government hasn’t yet contributed to the project’s development, Gendron says they would “love” for either the federal or provincial government to step up with financial aid in the future.

He explains that the governments haven’t yet because the TransPod technology is still in its infancy and he believes governments are “pretty much risk-averse” to new innovations.

Calgary-Edmonton corridor and other lines

TransPod says it chose the Calgary and Edmonton corridor for its first project because the cities are just 300 km apart in the same province and are a popular commute.

While Gendron notes that TransPod’s focus is on building the Calgary and Edmonton line, the company would also be interested in launching a high-speed route between Toronto with Montreal, a more complicated and costlier undertaking.

“The challenge with Toronto-Montreal is that you have to deal with two provinces: Quebec and Ontario. So politically speaking, it’s not the easiest one and it’s also longer, so we’re talking about 700 km [between the cities] so it’s more expensive,” says Gendron.

Gendron says Ontario and Quebec have also shown less interest in developing the technology compared to Alberta.

Gendron says that despite making no financial commitments to the infrastructure project, the government of Alberta was willing to sign a memorandum of understanding with TransPod in Aug. 2020 to help the company study the feasibility of its technology in the province.

“Alberta’s government is supporting new and exciting opportunities for job creation and innovation,” said Ric McIver, Alberta Minister of Transportation, in a press statement at the time. “We look forward to seeing this work put Alberta at the forefront of the movement of goods and people.”

In the future, says Gendron, “We would love to do the Toronto to Montreal [line]. If Alberta succeeds, I hope the governments in Ontario and Quebec will change their minds.”