Tue 30 Jan 2018 - Projects

Missouri Is One Step Closer to a Hyperloop with In-Depth Feasibility Study

A Q&A with some of our partners from the Missouri Hyperloop Coalition.

Missouri has always been a leader in transportation – from establishing the first leg of the U.S. interstate system to the historic flight of the “Spirit of St. Louis.” Today, the Missouri Hyperloop Coalition announced an agreement between Virgin Hyperloop One, the University of Missouri System, and the global engineering firm Black & Veatch to move forward with an in-depth feasibility study for an ultra high-speed hyperloop route along the I-70 corridor between St. Louis and Kansas City. The route would turn the economic power of the state’s two largest metro areas and the University of Missouri System into an interlinked economic powerhouse in the Heartland of the U.S.

We spoke with Ryan Weber, President of the KC Tech Council, and Andrew Smith, Vice President of Entrepreneurship and Innovation for the St. Louis Regional Chamber, who are both members of the Missouri Hyperloop Coalition. We discussed how hyperloop could fuel their local economies as well as build a collaborative, economic ecosystem for businesses across the state, and make Missouri a worldwide leader in transportation technology.

What’s the current the relationship between Kansas City and St. Louis and how might hyperloop affect this dynamic?

Weber: One of the dynamics in the state of Missouri is that Kansas City and St. Louis have always been very competitive with each other. Now that we're going to be able to be in St. Louis in under an hour, I think rather than competing, we're going to start cooperating more so than ever. I was just joking with my peers in St. Louis about this project specifically and how nice it is actually working together on something because we're always competing against each other.

Smith: You know, it's been really fun working with Ryan. When I met Ryan in Kansas City for the Governor's Innovation Task Force, we both ended up talking a lot about hyperloop and so we continued to push it through the process and then when it finally made it into the report, he was the first person I reached out to and said "If we're going to do this, we've got to do this at the state level. We’ve got to show people what can happen when Kansas City and St. Louis work together.”

From the “Road to Tomorrow” initiative to the Governor’s Innovation Task Force, Missouri is one of the nation’s leaders when it comes to seeking innovative new approaches to fund infrastructure needs. How does hyperloop in particular fit into the state’s broader vision?

Weber: Hyperloop fits perfectly, because in each one of the initiatives you just mentioned is something bold. I think every state's got some plan or some campaign to become the most innovative. But there's not a lot of action in that. That’s what is so exciting about this hyperloop project for us. We've got all the same buzzwords, but we are taking concrete steps forward with the Missouri Hyperloop Coalition, a collaboration between public and private partners. It’s all happening very quickly – and that's a differentiator between us and a lot of our competitive states.

Smith: Hyperloop is a really important part of the broader vision. Missouri is the birthplace of the U.S. interstate system. And it also is the place that launched transatlantic flight with Charles Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic about 100 years ago. We have a history here of transportation innovation – it's part of our DNA. When we're looking at the future of transportation, we have to be talking about systems like hyperloop. If we don't, we risk falling behind and losing one of our key strategic assets.

Infrastructure projects in general don't have a great rep for speedy timelines, especially when it comes to regulation. What are some of the ways that we're planning to speed this process along?

Weber: One of the things that I'm most excited about is the project’s ability to leverage the extreme amount of engineering and construction talent that is in Kansas City. We're such a hotbed for large engineering and construction firms, but they don't often get the chance to flex their muscles in our own backyard. For it to be a local company leading the feasibility study, I hope that most people in the state of Missouri feel just a bit more confident that this is going to happen.

Smith: The Missouri Hyperloop Coalition has been very proactive in reaching out to neighboring states like Kansas, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio to try to bring as many partners to the table as we can to begin having a conversation about what sort of regulatory frameworks we would need to get this built. And we're not the only one doing this; Colorado for example has been very involved in this. But we've done a lot of recruitment work with other DOTs. And the idea here is that we want to begin with the end in mind. The end being we want a hyperloop system that ultimately connects from Denver across Kansas to Kansas City, St. Louis on to Chicago, and points east. And if that's the case, we need to have our ducks in a row. We need to be able to go to the federal government and say this is the work that we're doing. This is the direction we're going in and this is, frankly, the support on the regulatory side that we're going to need.

How do you see hyperloop affecting the business climate in the state?

Weber: In the past, business leaders made key decisions on where they place their business and where they do business based on cost and things like tax incentives. Today, it’s all driven by workforce. Especially for a younger audience, hyperloop will make us even more competitive.

Smith: We talk a lot about competitiveness and what Missouri needs to do to be in a better position to attract large companies. Well, one of the best things we can do is create a unified economic development mega-region consisting of Kansas City, Columbia, and St. Louis. If we did that we'd get a population of five million instead of 2.8 or 2.2 and that's bigger than San Francisco, that's bigger than Boston. If you have the ability to travel from Kansas City to St. Louis in under 25 minutes that potentially affects almost every company in our state in terms of recruitment and workforce development and talent attraction. I can't imagine anything that would have a bigger impact.

This hyperloop route will connect Missouri's two thriving cities. How might this project impact the entire state of Missouri -- especially its more rural areas?

Weber: I know the folks living in specifically some of the rural areas are very curious as to how is this going to help them. I view it kind of like the highway system: there will be on-ramps and there will be off-ramps and you know I hope that someday this is not just only available in big cities but that it's available for everybody. And I think for the stop in between, there's speculation of stopping in Columbia or Jefferson City. And that being the capital, I hope that makes it more accessible to become an elected official.

Smith: One of the things that we really spent a lot of time on over the summer and on the Governor's Innovation Taskforce was how do we bridge that urban-suburban-rural divide because we really need each other- we're all part of this together. Kansas City and St. Louis have an incredible impact on the economy as a whole. In Missouri, when you look at something like hyperloop that links the two largest cities, along with a university town, this is something that's going to benefit every single person in this state. Not to mention, hyperloop could enable freight distribution centers to be placed in rural areas. In Missouri, given our central location and our our status as a logistics hub, this could potentially have huge dividends for us. The Missouri I-70 corridor carries almost $60 billion of goods annually. Having another mode of transportation in our state that offers significant cost savings on certain types of goods could be a big strategic advantage for us.

In your conversations with residents, what are some of the things you hear about hyperloop?

Smith: My favorite story about that was one Sunday afternoon maybe three weeks ago and my phone was buzzing and it was a message from Joe Reagan who's the CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber and he said: Got to be quick don't want to get in trouble sitting in church and the priest just opened the homily with hyperloop. The whole sermon was apparently kind of a meditation on hyperloop and the verse from Isaiah "Make straight the way for the Lord." And so I thought well you know if a priest in St. Louis, Missouri is talking about hyperloop in a homily that's a really good sign.

Today, the Kansas City to St Louis hyperloop project officially kicked off... What’s next?

Smith: Missourians tend to be naturally skeptical; “show me.” Missourians have a tendency to look at something like hyperloop and say 'really?! 650 miles an hour in a vacuum tube between Kansas City and St Louis?!' One of my favorite things is to show them the data, facts, the accomplishments that you all at Virgin Hyperloop One have made over the last couple of years, and, at the end of the conversation they always say 'I can't believe how real this.’ It happens to me every day.

What this tells me is that this is a technology that's not going to be driven by technocrats and bureaucrats. It's going to be driven by public demand. The public wants this and they want it as quickly as they can possibly get it. Now our job is to answer the hard questions about what is it going to take to get this built? What's the right-of-way situation, land-use situation, along the I-70 corridor? What kind of regulatory framework do we need? What's the economic and social impact? At the end of the feasibility study, armed with facts and data, we'll have answers to these questions and more.

Weber: Considering how quickly this has come about already, I think it's okay to be bold and say that maybe we're going to be riding on something like this in the next five years. I mean the construction phase is going to take some time – testing and all that – but it's going so quickly. Think years, not decades.

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  • Q. What is Virgin Hyperloop?

    We're a privately-held company on a mission to create fast, effortless journeys that expand possibilities and eliminate the barriers of distance and time.

  • Q. Why are you building a hyperloop?

    There are too many people caught bumper-to-bumper in traffic, who have to make a hard choice with their family on where to live and work, and who are limited in their access to experiences and opportunities. We're building a system that will give back time and deliver the travel experience of the future.

  • Q. Why do we need hyperloop now?

    The number of cars is set to double worldwide by 2040, same with air and trucking. We are already dealing with the effects of pollution, lack of access, and congestion. If we only invest in the same technologies we’ve had for more than a century, tomorrow will look like today, only much worse. It’s been over a century since the Wright Brothers first showed us human flight was possible. It’s time for a new era in transportation capable of carrying us forward for the next 100 years.

  • Q. How much funding has Virgin Hyperloop received?

    To date, we have received over $400 million.

  • Q. Who are the key investors in Virgin Hyperloop?

    A major investor of ours is DP World, a leading enabler of global trade who sees the potential of sustainable hyperloop-enabled cargo systems. Additionally, we are backed by the Virgin Group, an industry leader across rail, aviation, ships, and even spacecrafts. For more on our investors, visit the company page.

  • Q. Does Virgin Hyperloop have any partners?

    Virgin Hyperloop is the only hyperloop company that has a strategic partnership with a mass transportation company, the Virgin Group, an industry leader across rail, aviation, ships, and even spacecrafts. Another key partner of ours is DP World, a leading enabler of global trade who sees the potential of sustainable hyperloop-enabled cargo systems. Other industry-leading partners include Spirit AeroSystems, KPMG, Foster + Partners, Systra, BIG, SNCF, GE, Deutsche Bahn, Black & Veatch, McKinsey, Deloitte, Jacobs, Turner & Townsend, ARUP, and Steer, among others.

  • Q. Is Elon Musk an investor or affiliated with Virgin Hyperloop?

    No, there’s no connection with Elon Musk.

  • Q. How do you plan to scale up operations around the world?

    We aren't just building a hyperloop; we're building a network of public and private partners to scale an integrated supply chain ecosystem. Our business model is based on partnerships that create local jobs and opportunities for those who choose to invest in this technology. We are working at the highest level of governments around the globe to put in place commercial agreements to make hyperloop a reality.

  • Q. What is hyperloop?

    Hyperloop is a new mode of transportation designed to eliminate the barriers of distance and time for both people and freight. It can travel at speeds approaching 700mph, connecting cities like metro stops - and it has zero direct emissions. The journeys can be booked on demand so there’s no wait time or delays.

  • Q. How does hyperloop work?

    With hyperloop, vehicles, called pods, accelerate gradually via electric propulsion through a low-pressure tube. The pod floats along the track using magnetic levitation and glides at airline speeds for long distances due to ultra-low aerodynamic drag. Watch a video explaining the concepts here.

  • Q. Has hyperloop technology been proven?

    Yes. We’ve successfully run hundreds of tests at our full-scale prototype in the Nevada desert. On November 8, 2020, the first passengers traveled safely on a hyperloop – making transportation history. This test demonstrated that we can safely put a person in a near-vacuum environment, and our entire safety approach was validated by an independent third party.

  • Q. How fast can hyperloop go?

    We estimate that the top speed for a passenger vehicle or light cargo will be 670 miles per hour or 1080 kilometers per hour. That is about 3 times faster than high-speed rail and 10-15 times faster than traditional rail. The average speed vehicles travel will vary based on the route and customer requirements.

  • Q. Why keep the tube at low-pressure and not at a perfect vacuum?

    A perfect vacuum would decrease the drag on the vehicle even more, but not significantly. We have already gotten rid of 99.9% of the air in the tube. Lower levels of vacuum than this are important if you are performing scientific experiments, but the cost would not be worthwhile.

  • Q. How is hyperloop different from high-speed trains?

    Hyperloop is an entirely new mode - think the best of trains, planes, and the metro. Hyperloop is on-demand, offering flexible travel schedules with no stops, no transfers, and no weather delays – all at speeds about 3 times faster than high-speed-rail and less cost. Hyperloop is highly efficient, with a smaller environmental impact than high-speed rail because the closed system can be tunneled below or elevated above ground, avoiding dangerous at-grade crossings. The VH system is 100% electric and can reach higher speeds than high-speed rail for less energy due to our proprietary electric motor and low-drag environment.

  • Q. Is hyperloop safe?

    Fast, effortless journeys go hand-in-hand with journeys where everything works reliably without interference, and where all passengers feel comfortable and safe. The Virgin Hyperloop is designed to be inherently safer than other modes, with multiple redundancies in place. Our system operates autonomously in an enclosed tube and is not susceptible to weather delays, accidents from at-grade crossings, human error, or power outages. Our proprietary high-speed switching architecture eliminates unsafe track configurations and moving trackside parts, a failure point of traditional rail with mechanical switches.

  • Q. How do you plan to get hyperloop certified?

    As new mode, we have to prove our safety case to regulators and work with them to develop a regulatory framework, so passengers can ride the hyperloop in years not decades. We are encouraged by the support we are seeing at the local and federal level around the world to support hyperloop certification based on the fundamentals of safe operating that are already standard practice. Our goal is to achieve safety certification by 2025. We are on track to meet this goal and have unveiled West Virginia as the home of the world’s first Hyperloop Certification Center (HCC). This announcement builds off of significant progress around the world on the regulatory front. In July 2020, the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) Secretary Elaine Chao and the Non-Traditional and Emerging Transportation Technology (NETT) Council unveiled the guidance document on a clear regulatory framework for hyperloop in the United States. In the EU, the European Commission (EC) has just released the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy and hyperloop is explicitly identified as a game-changing mobility technology. We are also working closely with the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport (DGMOVE) and Shift2Rail to deliver the next wave of sustainable mobility through robust regulatory standards. In India, the Principal Scientific Advisor (PSA) to the Government of India, Prof. Vijayraghavan, has set up an independent committee called the Consultative Group on Future of Transportation (CGFT) to explore the regulatory path for hyperloop. For more, visit our regulatory progress pages.

  • Q. What will it feel like to ride hyperloop?

    While flying through a tube at more than 1000km/h might seem like a thrill ride, the truth is we are able to mitigate any uncomfortable acceleration forces within our controlled environment. The journey will be so smooth, you could sip a coffee the whole time without spilling a single drop. Normal acceleration and deceleration of 0.20 Gs will feel similar to a train. As a comparison, flooring a typical sedan gives between 0.4-0.5 Gs and commercial airplanes see 0.3-0.5Gs depending on the plane and load.

  • Q. What happens if there's a sudden breach in the tube?

    Pods will continue to travel safely to the next portal even with a large breach. Our response to a breach would be to intentionally repressurize the tube with small valves placed along the route length while engaging pod brakes to safely bring all pods to rest before it is deemed safe to continue to the next portal. A sustained leak could impact performance (speed) but would not pose a safety issue due to vehicle and system architectural design choices. This assessment is based on a solid understanding and analysis of the complex vehicle load behaviors during such an event.

  • Q. Is hyperloop sustainable?

    Without a massive leap forward, pollution from the transportation industry is expected to almost double by 2050 - well above the carbon budget. By combining an ultra-efficient electric motor, magnetic levitation, and a low-drag environment, the VH system can reach airline speeds for 5-10x less energy (depends on route length) and can go faster than high-speed rail using less energy. In regions like the Middle East, we could power the system completely by solar panels which cover the tube. As fighting against climate change becomes an existential issue for cities across the globe, hyperloop will create a new, shared, electric mobility model for helping to permanently reform an industry with some of the world’s highest carbon emissions.

  • Q. How much energy does hyperloop use?

    We are designing Virgin Hyperloop to be more efficient than other modes of transportation. Modern jetliners use up to 10 times the energy we use per passenger-mile over the entire journey. We can cruise at 500 miles per hour for less energy (per passenger) than an electric car doing 60 miles per hour. At peak speed, the VH system consumes approximately 75 watt hours per passenger kilometer (Wh/pax-km). To put this in perspective, the fastest conventional maglev train travels at about half our speed and consumes 33% more energy.

  • Q. Where will hyperloop get its power?

    Our system is 100% electric with zero direct emissions. We're energy-agnostic. Our system can draw power from whichever energy sources are available along the route and support a transition to a renewable energy-powered future. In regions like the Middle East, we can completely power the system with solar panels which cover the tube.

  • Q. How much noise does hyperloop make?

    It’s similar those new electric vehicles that are so quiet they need to create noise to indicate movement. With hyperloop, we eliminate sources of mechanical noise, like wheels on track, and we actually have a sound barrier inherent in our tube design

  • Q. Can hyperloop be used for cargo?

    DP World Cargospeed is a global brand for hyperloop-enabled cargo systems operated by DP World and enabled by Virgin Hyperloop technology. These systems will deliver freight at the speed of flight and closer to the cost of trucking for fast, sustainable, and efficient delivery of palletized cargo.

  • Q. What type of cargo would a hyperloop system transport?

    The focus would be on high-priority, on-demand goods – fresh food, medical supplies, electronics, and more.

  • Q. How can hyperloop help transform logistics?

    With DP World Cargospeed, deliveries can be completed in hours versus days with greater reliability and fewer delays. It will expand freight transportation capacity by connecting with existing modes of road, rail, ports, and air transport, and will provide greater connectivity with manufacturing parks, economic zones, distribution centers, and regional urban centers. This can shrink inventory lead times, help reduce finished goods inventory, and cut required warehouse space and cost by 25%. DP World Cargospeed networks can also enable just-in-time, agile manufacturing practices.

  • Q. Will the first hyperloops be passenger or cargo systems?

    The Virgin Hyperloop is unique in that it doesn’t need to be passenger-only or cargo-only. We are designing a mixed-use system that fully utilizes system capacity while maximizing economic and social benefits. However, it is possible to run cargo commercial operations while certification and regulation are still ongoing for passenger use.

  • Q. When will hyperloop systems be ready for cargo and passengers?

    We are working with the most visionary governments around the world to make sure you can ride the hyperloop in years, not decades. Our goal is to have operational systems in the late 2020s. Our ability to meet that goal will depend on how fast the regulatory and statutory processes move.

  • Q. Where will the first hyperloop get built?

    We are working with visionary governments and partners around the world to make hyperloop a reality today. To learn more about our projects around the world, visit our progress page.

  • Q. How much will hyperloop cost to build and operate?

    Capital and operating costs will range widely based on the route. We recently released a study that showed our linear costs are 60-70% that of high-speed rail projects. In addition, we expect the operational costs to be significantly lower than existing forms of transportation.

  • Q. How much will hyperloop cost to ride?

    It’s simple – if it’s not affordable, people won't use it. We are looking to build something that will expand opportunities for the masses, so they can live in one city with their family and work in another. Currently, that kind of high-speed transport is not feasible for most people. The exact ticket price will vary for each route, but a recent study showed that riding a hyperloop in Missouri could cost less than the gas needed to drive.

  • Q. How are hyperloop routes selected?

    We are in the business of serving local needs, not the other way around. Public and private support is key. In some cases, we will respond to solicited bids with partners when we feel the technology matches the project’s objectives. In other cases, we will make an unsolicited bid for a project when we see that hyperloop could offer a unique solution to market needs.

  • Q. What is the process for getting a passenger route up and running?

    While the technology is different, the process for building a hyperloop is similar to that of building a highway, railway, or any other type of linear infrastructure. The first stage is project development. This phase includes feasibility studies, and then more detailed engineering reports and environmental impact studies. Once a project is approved to move forward, a consortium is formed to finance and deliver on the project.

  • Q. How much land does hyperloop require?

    Many infrastructure projects succeed or fail based on right-of-way issues. We are designing a system that requires only about half the right-of-way as high-speed rail and can more easily adapt to existing right-of-ways. At high speeds, the VH system has a 4.5 times tighter turn radius compared to high-speed rail and can climb grades that are 6 times steeper, reducing the disturbance at crossings. Portals will be purposely integrated into and support existing communities and landscapes. Low noise levels will expand opportunities to build hyperloops closer to the city center.

  • Q. With the focus on connecting cities, how will hyperloop support rural communities?

    Hyperloop also holds enormous promise for rural communities. Virgin Hyperloop systems can be built below or above ground, which means no one’s farm needs to be cut in half. Our system enables rural areas to retain residents, who can now have more access to urban job centers, educational opportunities, and health care facilities. Additionally, hyperloop could enable freight distribution centers to be placed in rural areas, leading to job growth and industrial clusters. After a system is built, there is the opportunity to add additional on and off-ramps, supporting a greater number of people along the route.

  • Q. How will hyperloop projects be financed?

    Transportation infrastructure has traditionally relied on extensive government funding. This is because the benefits of clean, safe, and efficient transportation are enjoyed by the entire community, not just the user buying a ticket. However, most existing mass transportation modes are unprofitable and hindered by existing infrastructure built in the past century or by legacy systems. We want to change that and are focused on public-private partnerships. By developing a new mode of transportation from scratch, we're able to leverage technological developments that have occurred in the last century, especially the IT revolution. We're able to keep maintenance costs low, energy efficiency high, and transport tens of thousands of passengers per hour. This keeps margins and accessibility high, contributing to more financially attractive returns than if the corridor was served by existing modes. These benefits aren’t just hypothetical. While this is an exceptional case due to high demand, a third-party evaluation found that our Mumbai-Pune Hyperloop Project could be funded 100% by private capital. In the U.S. we see enormous potential to attract investment from the private sector, leveraging public investments. Involving government stakeholders as well as potential private investors early in the project development process is critical.

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