Turnpike Commission researches new ways to travel across the Commonwealth

March 17, 2019 - 4:00 am

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- While Pennsylvania has a rich history in transportation - dating back to the Pennsylvania Railroad in the first half of the 20th century, and the first-of-its kind Pennsylvania Turnpike in 1940 - could its future contain a "Hyperloop Tunnel?" 

A State House resolution figures as "new technologies and methods of transportation are contemplated," why not think about loading people and cargo into pods, hurtling cross-state in a hyperloop tunnel, through vacuum tubes.

"It's not the Jetsons. It's coming down the road," said Pa Turnpike Commission spokesman Carl DeFebo. 

He says the Pa Turnpike Commission has approved a multi-year contract to spend up to $2 million for a consultant to study the feasibility of a project running from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.

"This is not an emerging technology. It's a new way of bundling existing technologies," he said.

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DeFebo says they'll study technology, regulatory, environmental and financing issues.

"We're expecting that these systems may be in operation, maybe for freight, within five years, in other countries," he said.

There are no commercial hyperloop systems in operation, right now. Using magnetic levitation - they would accelerate through low pressure tubes - building to speeds over 600-miles per hour. Sort of like pneumatic tubes back in the 1800's.

Supporters envision hyperloop would get you from Point A to Point B 10 to 15 times faster than traditional rail, and 2 to 3 times faster than high-speed rail. This would theoretically cut the more than 300 mile, five-hour car trip between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to under a half-hour.

The Turnpike Commission, working with PennDOT, also will look into the potential for a stop in Harrisburg, as well as a northeast extension to Wilkes-Barre.

Transportation agencies in Ohio and Illinois are co-sponsoring a similar study for a hyperloop connecting Chicago and Columbus, and Pennsylvania officials say it could also extend to Pittsburgh.