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Next Step for the Hyperloop? A $500 Million Test Track

Brent Warren Brent Warren Next Step for the Hyperloop? A $500 Million Test TrackThe XP-1 Hyperloop pod on display in front of COSI. Photos by Brent Warren.
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An XP-1 Hyperloop pod was unveiled yesterday morning in a ribbon-cutting ceremony outside COSI. It was the first of several events being held this week to promote the futuristic technology and the possibility that Columbus could be involved in its inaugural line.

The pod being displayed (yesterday it was at COSI, today it will be on the Ohio Statehouse lawn, and Tuesday it will make stops in Dublin, Marysville and Lima), is the same one that achieved a top speed of 240 mph as it traveled through a 500-meter-long tube in the desert outside of Las Vegas.

Virgin Hyperloop One, the company that built the Nevada test track and has proposed building a Hyperloop to connect Chicago, Columbus and Pittsburgh, is calling the Ohio events the first stop in a national “roadshow” that will bring the pod to several cities across the country.

The CEO of Virgin Hyperloop One, Jay Walder, was also scheduled to meet with state officials and business leaders at the Statehouse this morning, and will speak at a Columbus Metropolitan Club Luncheon on Wednesday.

Although the events give the company a chance to show off what it has built and to make the case for the Hyperloop as the “first new form in mass transportation in over one hundred years,” there is still a long way to go in the development of the technology.

Ryan Kelly, Head of Marketing and Communications for Virgin Hyperloop One, told CU that the next major step is to build what the company calls a “certification track.”

That track would be a little over seven miles long and would enable the company to go beyond what it has achieved at its privately-funded test track. That means putting people in the pods for the first time, developing a switching system that would allow multiple pods to travel in the tube at the same time, and seeing if a pod can safely travel through the tube at a much greater speed than it has so far (to achieve the kind of travel times the company has promised, pods would have to travel more than twice as fast as the XP-1 did in Nevada).

Kelly said that the track would provide the proof that the technology works and is safe, something that regulating agencies – like departments of transportation at the federal and state levels, as well as those from other countries – would require before approving it to operate.

Officials in India recently announced that a proposed Virgin Hyperloop One project connecting Pune and Mumbai will be moving into the procurement phase, although Kelly said that the company has not yet decided where to build the certification track.

“Whether India is going to be able to provide the support in order to certify globally (is still unknown)…the U.S. I think has a better opportunity to potentially do that and so that’s why states are kind of vying for that now,” he said, adding that the company estimates the cost of building the track in India at “about $500 million.”

“Our timeline here is that we want to have the certification track up and running by 2024, somewhere in the world, and we want (the Hyperloop) certified and ready to go,” Kelly added, explaining that, even if the track is not built in Ohio, the planning and procurement process for the Chicago route could continue for the next five years, and, once the technology is certified and approved, “we break ground.”

An estimate of the overall cost of a Hyperloop connecting Chicago, Columbus and Pittsburgh has yet to be released, but a study by the Colorado Department of Transportation put a $24 billion price tag on a 325-mile network in that state. 

As for who would pay for the $500 million certification track needed to prove the technology works, Kelly said “we’re looking at a public-private partnership; (there will be) private investment, but whatever that public agreement looks like would have to be negotiated case-by-case…so, we’re also looking for, obviously, what’s the best offer that we’re going to get to make this happen?”

COSI President and CEO Dr. Frederic Bertley, Ryan Kelly of Virgin Hyperloop One, and William Murdock of MORPC, in front of the pod.
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