By Kim Tae-gyu
Korea is seeking to develop a public transport concept that is almost as fast as the speed of sound reaching 1,000 kilometers per hour, the Korea Railroad Research Institute (KRRI) said Tuesday.
The state-run institute will join forces with other research groups and Hanyang University to build the near-supersonic "train," which would be able to travel from Seoul to Busan in half an hour.
"We hope to create an ultra-fast train, which will travel inside a state-of-the-art low-pressure tube at lightning speeds, in the not-too-distant future," said a KRRI official.
"To that end, we will cooperate with associated institutes as well as Hanyang University to check the viability of various related technologies called the hyper-tube format over the next three years."
Currently, the fastest ground transport in the world is magnetic levitation (maglev) trains, which can travel at around 500 kilometers per hour.
The innovative hyper-tube technology, which transports people in floating pods inside tubes under a partial vacuum, was first proposed by Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk.
Because there is no friction, which is typical for conventional trains between wheels and tracks as well as air resistance, the hyper-tube pods can travel almost as fast as the speed of sound.
A maglev train is also free from friction but its speed is slowed by air resistance, particularly as this becomes stronger as the train speeds up.
"Many countries such as the United States, Canada, and China are competing to take the lead in this futuristic technology and we will also try to preempt our global rivals," the KRRI official said.
"The government has focused on interdisciplinary research and this will be the biggest effort we are working on to develop a representative future technology."
However, there are critical downsides to the seemingly potential-loaded hyper-tube technology, also known as a hyper-loop, because it is vulnerable to flaws.
If a terrorist makes a hole in the tube or a natural disaster damages it so that it loses its negative pressure, pods inside would crash catastrophically.
The KRRI said that together with its partners, the institute will seek to overcome these challenges.