In this artist's conception, a TransPod hyperloop runs alongside Toronto's Gardiner Expressway. The billboard reads, "Running late for work again? Be there 10X faster and start enjoying your mornings!

Published: July 19th, 2017

TransPod co-founder and CEO Sebastien Gendron wants you to know that his company has reached out to Ontario’s government several times.

“I had the chance to meet with (Ontario) Minister (of Economic Development and Growth Brad) Duguid,” he tells ITBusiness.ca. “It was actually our first official talk with somebody at the government level, but then we were redirected to (Ontario) Minister (of Transportation Stephen) Del Duca, and though we tried several times to reach Minister Del Duca’s office of, so far they’re clearly not interested.”

That will no doubt come as unwelcome news to supporters of the Toronto startup, and hyperloops in general, who found themselves wondering if there was a cheaper alternative to the high-speed rail line discussed by Del Duca and Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne in May, and discovered last week that yes, there was.

Fortunately, while the government might appear lukewarm to TransPod’s proposal at the moment, Gendron is quick to emphasize that his company is not relying on public funding to actually build the hyperloop, noting that the study and its accompanying press release were as much for investors’ benefit as the government’s.

“Internally, we wanted to confirm that this new mode of transportation, at the capacity we’re looking for in Canada, is much more cost-effective than any high-speed rail system,” he explains, noting that the last official estimates of the cost of constructing a hyperloop were released by the technology’s creator, Tesla Inc. founder Elon Musk, in 2013.

Musk estimated that the most advanced version of a hyperloop from Los Angeles to San Francisco would cost only $7.5 billion USD to build over a 20-year period, a result that Gendron calls “optimistic” and which has since been debunked, both by the New York Times, which at the time estimated that a Los Angeles-San Francisco hyperloop would actually cost around $100 billion USD, and by leaked documents from industry leader Hyperloop One that indicate the actual cost would lie between $9 billion and $13 billion USD.

TransPod’s own estimates, the breakdown for which can be found here, concluded that a hyperloop between Toronto and Windsor, Ont. could be constructed for $10.3 billion, less than half of the projected $20.9 billion price tag for a high-speed rail line of equal length.

The company developed the project’s estimates based on conceptual engineering data, cost data from similar transportation infrastructure projects, and budget-level cost quotations where available, collaborating with France-based REC Architecture and an anonymous Canadian engineering firm to perform its final analysis.

A mix of public and private funding

Since TransPod released its cost estimates, the company has been approached by new parties interested in investing, including the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Gendron says, and for the time being is concentrating on developing the technology and planning a hyperloop corridor between Toronto and Montreal.

“We wanted to clearly send a message that if we want to develop innovation in Ontario, we’d better look at the newest modes of transportation and seize our opportunity here to really take the lead in developing something for the future,” he says. “There’s foreign investment which can come to the province if backed by some public funds.”

The company will also be approaching the federal government, which Gendron hopes will be more receptive than Ontario’s.

“So far, with the all of the funds the federal government has pledged to support innovation and infrastructure, it certainly sounds like they wish to walk the talk,” he says with a chuckle. “We’re mainly looking into private investment to build our main corridor, so they really don’t have anything to lose.”

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