Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop One has just completed the world’s first passenger ride on a super high-speed levitating pod system, a key safety test for technology it hopes will transform human and cargo transportation - and get rid of the environmental harm linked with traditional fossil-fuel machines.
Back in 2017, at Hyperloop One’s test site in Nevada, they carried out a trial using a full-size pod that reached 190mph, although the company said it was aiming for top speeds of 600mph-plus for the passenger vehicle.
This week, two Virgin Hyperloop executives jumped on board a pod and reached speeds of up to 107mph (172 km/h) at the company’s DevLoop test site in Las Vegas.
In a hyperloop system, which uses magnetic levitation to allow near-silent travel, a trip between New York and Washington would take just half an hour to cover the distance of approximately 230 miles. That would be twice as fast as a commercial jet flight and four times faster than a high-speed train. The company has already run more than 400 tests without human passengers at the Nevada site but it seems that the target of travelling at 600mph is still a a bit of a pipe dream. All the same, on 8 November 2020, the first passengers traveled safely on a hyperloop - making transportation history.
However, with several other companies seeking to achieve this goal - such as Canada’s Transpod and Spain’s Zeleros - it's not unreasonable to believe that within the next few years traditional passenger and freight networks will be radically transformed, slashing travel times, congestion and doing away with the environmental harm linked with machines powered by fossil fuels.
And Elon Musk is pursuing similar technology with his Boring Company. The difference there is he's going underground with his concept whilst the others all envisage overground hyperloops.
Last month, Virgin Hyperloop picked the US state of West Virginia to host a $500m certification centre and test track that will serve as a proving ground for its technology, and is aiming at safety certification by 2025 and commercial operations by 2030.
Those who have followed the twists and turns of selecting the route for HS2, England’s second high-speed rail network linking London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds, will know that getting people to agree where to put overground infrastructure in densely populated countries is challenging. In a crowded country where land is expensive, the potential problems for hyperloop would be like those of HS2 on steroids.