According to Uber, the global company which has a platform that connects customers and drivers, a person spends approximately 52 minutes per day in a car on average because of traffic in Asia. Many people regularly struggle through traffic jams, especially during rush hour. Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, however, suggested a new concept of an “Underground Tunnel” with a hyperloop system which he expects will solve this problem. The Sungkyun Times (SKT), therefore, now scrutinizes the status of transportation in Korea and introduces the hyperloop system and its influence on future transportation systems in Korea.
Transportation Status of Korea
In Korea, there are a lot of car drivers and the number of vehicles continues to increase more than 3% every year. The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport released a report showing that traffic congestion costs are about $26.7 billion, an increase of 4% compared to last year. These studies clarify that the government spends immense amounts of tax dollars due to this continuous increase of cars and traffic congestion. To solve these problems, the government continues to build new roads, but the expenses are still skyrocketing. Moreover, the Korea Expressway Corporation Research Institution states that the Gyeongbu Expressway has one of the highest volumes of traffic in Korea, estimated at 213,997 vehicles per day in 2015. On the Gyeongbu Expressway, the average speed is 41.8km/h. This supports the fact that the average speed of traffic flow on the Gyeongbu Expressway is the second slowest in Korea because usually the highway minimum speed is 50km/h and the maximum speed is 100km/h. Especially, the roads from Banpo and Seocho to Yangjae have huge traffic jams, so these roads need to be reformed since they hamper the overall efficiency of the Korean national transportation system.
Efforts and Limitations
Recently, the government recognized this problem, and they planned to build 6.4km of new highways underground between Yangjae Interchange (IC) and Hannam IC. A research team led by Lee Hee-jung, a professor in the Department of Urban Planning and Design from the University of Seoul, submitted this plan to the Idea Contest held by the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport for utilizing road space. Although discussions regarding the establishment of an underground expressway have taken place, they are still in the planning stages. There are diverse details still to be considered, so the related staff cannot yet move on to the next stage. In addition, this plan has problems regarding costs. The government estimates the underground expressway costs to reach up to $5.5 billion in total. This is not efficient from a financial aspect because the cost-effective benefit is only 0.81. A figure of cost-effective benefit below 1.0 means that it is not financially responsible and these limitations will delay the progress of the plan. Furthermore, as the number of cars continues to increase, a need to introduce new off-road solutions for the traffic congestion problem has been arising. Thus, some have started to consider developing a hyperloop system which was first introduced in the United States (US).
What Is the Hyperloop System?
The hyperloop is a network of vacuum tubes equipped with thin cushions made of air, magnetic fields, and solar heat. This system is also called an express vacuum tube capsule train. The hyperloop system utilizes both vacuum magnetic levitation technology and pneumatic technology. Magnetic levitation technology maintains the space inside the tube close to the state of vacuum and moves trains only with magnetic force. On the other hand, Pneumatic technology speeds this up by pushing the train with intense air pressure. These two technologies are applied to the hyperloop system, by complementing each other’s flaws. If only one technology is applied, the system can cause problems by increasing air resistance.
|Applied with Magnetic Levitation Technology/spacex.com|
|Applied with Pneumatic Technology/spacex.com|
Through this system, specially manufactured capsules can pass through the tunnel at speeds of 1,207 km/h. The capsules operate like a rail gun, which means that a train would rocket in every hour. When this system is actually applied, people can build vacuum tunnels, minimizing air resistance and frictional resistance, and this can make the train move faster. The system was built completely by the general public because the creator of this system used a crowd-sourcing system that uses mass intelligence. Anyone can have access to this idea through Tesla Motors’ blog, and find information about the hyperloop system. Furthermore, people can get to their destinations faster with this system than on a normal train, and hyperloop trains can be manufactured at a lower price.
Elon Musk first envisioned the hyperloop system and started this project. He realized that the commute from Westwood to Los Angeles (LA) Airport, which should actually take about 35 minutes, has huge traffic congestion problems, so people are usually stuck on the road for more than one hour. He said that this congestion is “soul-destroying,” and it encouraged him to consider the hyperloop. In December of last year, he established The Boring Company and started to build an underground tunnel system in the LA suburbs.
Unfortunately, there are several limitations with the hyperloop system. First, there are many safety concerns. If a user has a problem while using the tunnel, there is no way to deal with those issues because it is a means of transportation that operates in an enclosed tube. Second, the aftermath of accidents could be disastrous. As the speeds of the train are extremely fast, it would have a horrifying impact when colliding with other vehicles. Elon Musk claims that this is impossible since the hyperloop will use an auto driving system, but no device has a 0% possibility of malfunction. Third, this system has a major defect in that transporting large groups of people at once is difficult. Compared to airplanes or subways, some people claim that the hyperloop system is more risky and inefficient to use as a means of daily transportation. Fourth, it will take a long time to get permission from the government to build it since the hyperloop system is not perfectly developed yet. Although several companies in Korea have started similar studies these days, no company has yet launched this idea into reality and it is expected that it will take time until the technology is fully commercialized.
The Future Outlook
Despite several limitations, the benefits have great potential, and now several companies have started to study this system in detail. The Boring Company, for example, has started to build a tunnel using the hyperloop system and passed the approval process in the US. This process is regularly updated on the Social Networking Sites (SNS) of Musk. Not only the US, but also China and Canada have started studying hyperloop systems and they are in the early stages of developing their own systems. It shows that the hyperloop system has enormous potential to be feasible.
In Korea, an Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST) research team also launched a hyperloop model on October 26th, 2017. It started the study this past July. They did not implement a real model, but they showed the possibility of operating a hyperloop system, using the main principles. Lee Kwan-seok, a staff member of the Korea Railroad Research Institute, said that they are planning to complete development of their hyperloop model until 2024 and after that, they will attempt to commercialize the system. This study guarantees the convenience of drivers who are tired of severe traffic congestion. The Korea Expressway Corporation claimed that a total of 4.68 million cars passed through the Seoul toll booth, and it took an average of 320 minutes to Busan, 280 minutes to Gwangju, and 300 minutes to Mokpo during the last Chuseok holidays. If the government builds new expressways using hyperloop technology, it is expected that people can travel from Seoul to Busan in only 16 minutes. Furthermore, while people usually cannot visit other provinces during the holidays due to quickly sold-out tickets of trains and airplanes this system can improve accessibility when moving to other provinces.
The SKT expects that traffic jams will be solved thanks to the development of the hyperloop system and various kinds of convenient transportation systems. Moreover, as Korean magnetic levitation technology is strong and quite elaborate, there is a possibility that a hyperloop system could be commercialized in Korea first, as the main part of the hyperloop system is based on magnetic levitation technology. It would be also beneficial for commuting Kingos living far from the university if the hyperloop system is completely developed sooner than later.
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