May 13

Image: Virgin Hyperloop

Virgin Hyperloop, a means of ultra-high speed travel via pods in a sealed tube, has completed its first tested human travel, according to a company statement.

In concept, the pods could cut transport time between Los Angeles and San Francisco, for example, to under 45 minutes by reaching speeds exceeding 1,000 km/hr. Travel between those two cities currently requires an hour-and-a-half flight or a 6-hour drive.

The test, conducted successfully, was on a much more modest scale. Two passengers traveled Virgin Hyperloop’s 500-meter DevLoop tube in Las Vegas, reaching a speed of 173 km/hr. The test with live humans came in the wake of more than 400 unmanned tests where speeds reached 387 km/hr.

The technology includes hovering pods that use magnetic levitation (similar to Japanese high-speed trains) to travel through a vacuum tube, which allows for higher speed by eliminating air resistance and turbulence. The tube can be built on stilts or underground.

“I can’t tell you how often I get asked, ‘is hyperloop safe?,’” said Jay Walder, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop. “With today’s passenger testing, we have successfully answered this question, demonstrating that not only can Virgin Hyperloop safely put a person in a pod in a vacuum environment, but that the company has a thoughtful approach to safety which has been validated by an independent third party.”

In addition to the promise of speed, Hyperloop could also significantly reduce carbon emissions by serving as a replacement for short haul flights.

Virgin Hyperloop last month picked West Virginia as the site for a $500-million certification center, which will be a U.S. regulatory proving ground. Construction is slated to begin in 2022 and will include a test track of almost 10 kilometers.

In July 2020, the US Department of Transportation  Secretary Elaine Chao provided a guidance document on a regulatory framework for hyperloop in the United States.

Investors in Virgin Hyperloop, part of Virgin Group belonging to billionaire Richard Branson, include the United Arab Emirates shipping company DP World.

By Stephen Bierman

Stephen Bierman is an energy markets journalist and the editor of New Economy Observer.

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