Recently, more attention has been paid to the strategic development of transport systems. The reasons include the population growth, overpopulation of towns and cities and the migration crisis; although in Bratislava, it is also the construction of the Bratislava city bypass. To a large extent, this trend concerning transport systems is related to the development of innovations, increased environmental demands, and strategic plans in tourism. Some older, already forgotten concepts have been brought back, and new ones have also appeared that need to be considered in the future. One of such concepts, which has become the central topic of an ever-increasing number of discussions, is Hyperloop.
Although its development is still in progress, Hyperloop is likely to influence the near future of transport. Due to their low speed, high costs and environmental impact, the four main modes of transport (road, waterway, air and rail) have become increasingly less efficient in the current fast lifestyle. From this perspective, the road transport is particularly problematic with regard to increased demand for cars, insufficient road infrastructure in terms of capacity, the associated carbon emissions and volatile oil prices. The introduction of electric vehicles continues at a slow pace and resolves only local problems and short-distance travel. Therefore, it is reasonable to look for new global transport options.
The concept of passenger transport in pneumatic pressurised tubes or tunnels is not something new, with its historical context of the development of the industry and cities. There are certain parallels between the aforementioned historical context from the beginning of the industrial revolution with the concentration of labour in towns and cities, mass movement of the population, and the current information-technological revolution. The reintroduction of the good old ideas and their expansion and utilization is therefore logical and has been just a matter of time. The current Hyperloop concept naturally builds on the above-mentioned significant innovations.
As shown in the strategic map of Hyperloop development in Europe, Bratislava, along with Vienna, Prague and Budapest, constitutes an interesting commercial and transportation hub. The location of four capital cities in relative proximity is globally unique, which makes Hyperloop interesting for this sector. Hence just a few years ago the building of the first Hyperloop in Europe on the route Bratislava – Vienna was seriously considered. However, Vienna unexpectedly withdrew from this project. Then the company Hyperloop Transportation Technology (HTT) considered building a prototype in the north-south direction on the route (from Bratislava) to Brno with a subsequent longer route to Prague to follow. As part of the interdisciplinary research at the Faculty of Architecture STU in September 2017, a research-creative platform was created, comprising young scientists and students who focused on the single crucial research problem of integrating the Hyperloop system into the urban and landscape characteristics of Bratislava.
The basic urban research problem was to find suitable locations for stops in the city, their architectural forms, and their impact on surrounding structures. This was followed by the design and technical issues of the system route in the city as well as in the open country. Using the ”Research by Design” method, young architects and designers explored Hyperloop system concepts in a case study connecting Bratislava and Brno. The task was divided into four main topics: the strategy of the route, urbanistic strategy, station design and capsule design. Results of the research offered more than 20 conceptual designs for Bratislava. Considering that this was the first “Research by Design” project in Europe, HTT and the people from its headquarters in Los Angeles, as well as partner research institutions and centres in the Czech Republic were interested in the results.
With the capital city coping with problems in road and rail transport, it is clear that the idea of Hyperloop may be rather abstract and irrelevant for the majority of the population and expert public. Therefore, efforts concentrating on short-term cosmetic changes in order to increase the quality of the residential environment are given preference. There is no regard paid to the change of overall long-term urban paradigm, as well as the change of perspective of the transformation of the current city to the city of the future. This concerns not only urban and architectural design, reconstruction of stations, roadways, building bypasses, information technologies and handling the “debts of the past”. The city also needs to account for the trends of ecological thinking of modern European cities, such as Copenhagen – that aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2025, or its neighbour – Vienna that intends to achieve 80% share of renewable resources and reduce CO2 emissions by 2050. For a modern city of the future, it is equally important to keep up with other trends, formulate its own ambitious visions and inspire its residents.
Hyperloop offers a new ambitious outlook for Bratislava and incentives for its development. Even though the “Hyperloop platform” still deals with some technological development issues and the memorandum of understanding with the Slovak Republic expired in 2018, the platform has planted the seeds of its ideas in Bratislava. People remain the determining factor in the city’s development, and following up on the idea of Albert Einstein, who said that “Amidst every difficulty lies opportunity”, it is clear that despite current difficulties Hyperloop offers considerable development potential to Bratislava. There is no plan without a vision, which applies to the whole process of implementing Hyperloop as the fifth transport mode into practice.