Can Hyperloop really decentralise Thailand? A closer look at Transpod feasibility study.May 17, 2019
To begin with, this is a massive project. 1514 km of Hyperloop track is nowhere near any other projects proposed so far. Therefore, there is a big uncertainty for each claim and it has to be double checked before taken for granted.
The study analyses each route separately. Chiang Mai – Bangkok (690 km), Bangkok – Phuket (725 km) and Chiang Mai – Phuket (1514 km). For each connection to Bangkok the total existing number of trips is estimated to be around 15m passengers per year. Additionally, it is estimated that only around 0.5m passengers travel directly between Chiang Mai and Phuket.
Due to the strong centralisation of Thailand population in the metropolitan area of Bangkok it was decided that the pods will stop only at end stops skipping the cities along the way in the first phase of the project. As stated by the authors, the added economic benefits don’t offset the cost of building additional stations and time it takes to stop the capsules.
At the same time the study mentions theoretical benefits which may come from the Hyperloop line in smaller cities even though it was decided that building stations there is not worth it due to too small demand.
Building high-speed transportation systems can act as a catalyst to drive economic growth and provide strong economic benefits. Indeed, as the project will aim to connect smaller cities, it is foreseeable that cities such as Nakhon Sawan turn into successful suburban. Consequently, it will be possible for many hyperloop users to live in smaller cities and take a pod to go to work in Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Phuket
Leaving behind the fact that the authors mention benefits which they don’t want to realise let’s look closer at their claim. Transpod says that by allowing everyone to work in Bangkok they “decentralize” the country. The very opposite was found with majority of High Speed Railways world-wide. Where smaller cities connected to the network instead of an inflow of investments saw outflow of workforce. What is the reason for that ? There are a few. In contrast to highways HSR doesn’t transport goods. As a result the goods are not being transported in any faster manner, therefore producers don’t see any incentive to move to smaller locations. At the same time it gets very easy for the people to commute to bigger metropolises. Lately the residents of Spain where protesting against the abandonment of rural areas for bigger cities. Paris is another example of centralisation. Not to mention Tokyo and Osaka regions which grew completely out of proportion. Obviously people are moving to bigger cities despite HSR, but typically it is an additional factor which facilitates that. Most Hyperloop companies claim that their technology may stabilise the real estate market. Well, if that means we will experience the same things as in Japan or France, then we can expect the exact opposite. People will use Hyperloop to commute, but even more people will decide to move to the city due to the outflow of industrial activities to major agglomerations.
Meanwhile, the bullet train has sucked the country’s workforce into Tokyo, rendering an increasingly huge part of the country little more than a bedroom community for the capital. One reason for this is a quirk of Japan’s famously paternalistic corporations: namely, employers pay their workers’ commuting costs. Tax authorities don’t consider it income if it’s less than ¥100,000 a month – so Shinkansen commutes of up to two hours don’t sound so bad.
Whether Hyperloop can ease the urban sprawl remains to be seen. Without the possibility to move large quantities of cargo preferably adapted to intermodal it is very unlikely. With just a few stations, which are not even planned in the first phase of the project along the whole 1500+ km route the impact it might have on city planning might be minimal.
In the next article analysing the Thai feasibility study we will look at the potential time savings and CO2 emissions stemming from the project.