Founded in 2017, Spacetrain is a French startup company aiming to develop a hovertrain (a Tracked Air Cushion Vehicle, TACV), based on the principles of the 1960-1970s French Aérotrain prototype. The Aérotrain prototype reached speeds of 430 kph in 1974 on a dedicated test track, but the whole project was scrapped in 1977 in favor of the TGV.
The Spacetrain project aims to refurbish the old Aérotrain test track, located in central France between Saran and Ruan, near Orléans, south of Paris, and use the new version to test a fully-working prototype in 2020. The company is planning an entry into commercial service in 2025.
The Spacetrain project vehicle is powered by hydrogen turbines and induction motors, fed by graphene batteries. Its planned maximum speed on the test track is 540 kilometers per hour, but this is a limitation due to the length of the track. The startup is in fact planning speeds of at least 740 kph, 400 more than the fastest French TGVs.
One of the main advantages of the Spacetrain technology is the lower building costs of the lines, approximately 8 million euros per kilometer, which is much less than for a classic LGV line, according to Spacetrain. Thus, while LGVs need to be a certain length to be financially viable, this is not the case for Spacetrain, and this will enable the company to build more, shorter ‘feeding’ lines. In any case, the company is aiming for lines of a maximum length of approximately 400 km, as each vehicle will be carrying its own energy with an autonomy of approximately 600 km.
The lower construction costs will make the Spacetrain lines profitable faster, thus making it possible for passengers to buy tickets at reasonable prices, similar or lower than current SNCF prices, also preventing the Spacetrain from becoming an ‘elitist’ transport mode.
The project recently gained public visibility when a reduced-scale model of the prototype was presented at the French Bourget aeronautics trade fair, in June 2019.
Spacetrain expects that the French authorities will take a decision, whether or not Spacetrain can use the Aérotrain test track, by the end of this year.