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TBARTA explores hyperloop technology to link Tampa to St. Pete

Jaymi Butler

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Hyperloop
Hyperloop capsules can transport 160,000 passengers daily at speeds up to 760 miles per hour.

We may not have flying cars just yet, but the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority is looking into something equally as cool to connect Tampa to St. Petersburg – a high-speed capsule that can travel as fast as an airplane. 

Andrea La Mendola, chief operating officer for Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, pitched the concept during a virtual TBARTA board meeting Friday. While no action was taken, board members had the opportunity to learn more about this futuristic form of transportation, which is currently in the development stage at three overseas sites. 

hyperloopHyperloop systems consist of capsules moving through metal tubes that have most of the air removed, making them nearly frictionless and allowing them to operate at speeds of up to 760 miles per hour. Magnets cause the capsules to move and levitate once they pick up enough speed, La Mendola said. 

In addition to connecting Tampa to St. Pete, the project would have additional phases to connect St. Pete to Bradenton, followed by the connection of Bradenton to Miami with stops in Sarasota, Venice, Port Charlotte, Ft. Myers, Naples, Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. Commute times were not shared during the presentation, nor were specific costs or funding sources.

Logistically, the 20-ton capsules can hold between 28-50 people and will also have the ability to transport cargo. Safety measures include autonomous control, emergency access and the use of sensors, and because the technology is enclosed in a tube, it’s protected from the elements.

La Mendola also touted Hyperloop’s energy efficiency and environmental friendliness. By incorporating renewable energy sources, including solar panels, it can generate more energy than it consumes within a year, and based on forecasted travel demand, he said carbon dioxide emissions could be reduced by 143 million tons with the implementation of the system.

While board members, which include elected officials from around the Tampa Bay area, aren’t ready to pull the trigger on the hyperloop until the developmental prototypes are further along, they can look to a feasibility study conducted in the Great Lakes area for more information. According to the study, which is the most comprehensive economic and technical analysis of a hyperloop system, adding this type of transportation could expand the area’s tax base by more than $12 billion. It would also allow people to travel from Cleveland to Chicago – a distance of 479 miles – in less than 50 minutes.

“This system can help redefine the urban landscape and turn megacities into megalopolises,” Le Mendola said.

For now, though, residents can look forward to the SunRunner, which broke ground in August. The first rapid transit of its kind in the Tampa Bay area, the SunRunner will act as a train of sorts, with raised platforms that will allow people in wheelchairs, families with strollers and bike riders to easily hop on and off. In total, the 10.3 mile route stretching from downtown St. Petersburg to the beaches will have 16 stops.

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