Wed 21 Jun 2017 - Projects

Three Hyperloop Routes That Would Transform The UK Economy

Leslie Horwitz

Strategic Communications

Part of a series highlighting proposed European routes from the Hyperloop One Global Challenge. Posts featured routes in Germany, the Baltics, Corsica-Sardinia, and Spain, Netherlands and Poland. Update: UK: Edinburgh-London and UK: Glasgow-Liverpool routes were named two of ten winners, and the UK: Glasgow-Cardiff route was selected a finalist of the Challenge in September 2017.

“Time is Money,” read the rail map produced by the London Underground’s famed District line in 1892. For centuries the UK has followed this mantra, producing one of the oldest and most expansive public transportation networks in the world. The UK investment in transportation ushered in the global industrial revolution, marking a string of the most transformative early projects including the Bridgewater Canal in 1761, the steam railway between Manchester and Liverpool in 1829, and the opening of the London Underground in 1863.

Today, the UK’s systems are operating beyond capacity. London is the most congested city in Europe with over one million people traveling into central London each working day, swelling its daytime population sixfold. Heathrow is operating at 98% capacity. Expansion to a third runway is on the table but more of a short-term fix and far from certain.

Demand for rail over the past 20 years has exceeded government and industrial projections, growing faster than any other mode in the UK. Projects near completion such as Crossrail seek to make up for past underinvestment, but are not catered to future demand. Three Hyperloop One Global Challenge finalist teams from the UK believe that Hyperloop could help address growing transportation needs in the UK and continue the country’s legacy as a transportation pioneer.

Transport can also address the UK’s growing economic inequality between the South and North. London now generates about one fifth of the UK’s GDP, with only 13% of the population. The rich of the Southeast are getting richer, and the people who live there can’t afford housing near their job or find a job near their housing.

An uncertain post-Brexit environment could appear challenging for a major infrastructure investment given the high volatility in sterling, rising prices of raw material imports, and higher costs of governmental borrowing. Many companies are moving their operations elsewhere due to Brexit and it still remains uncertain whether Scotland will hold another referendum to leave the UK but remain in the EU. 

Others argue that innovative infrastructure investments are essential to supporting UK growth in a post-Brexit environment, allowing for inward investment that regenerates areas currently isolated from existing economic centers as well as growth in human capital and employment opportunities. Greater connectivity between England and Scotland could integrate the two and create new successful financial centers outside of London.

By connecting metro areas across northern UK, and redistributing economic activity in a more balanced way across the country, the proposed Scotland-Wales route and a North-South Connector would stimulate growth and bring much needed economic balance to the UK. The proposed Northern Arc route would create a new megaregion of over a million people competitive globally with the London metro area. The proposals are good examples of how Hyperloop can be a politically unifying factor, and one that will allow for greater connectivity throughout a wide region.


The Scotland-Wales Hyperloop proposed by a team from the global engineering firm AECOM will begin by connecting the capitals of England, Wales, and Scotland. Cardiff to London would become less than a half-hour journey and Cambridge to Edinburgh would be less than an hour’s journey, collapsing the barriers between the UK’s overheated economic center and secondary cities ripe for investment and economic regeneration. Scotland’s density is among the lowest in Europe.

Hyperloop can also relieve pressure on London’s congested airports by supporting smaller, regional airports with greater connectivity as well as creating hyper-fast connections with larger airports north of the Midlands.

Hyperloop One Global Challenge semifinalists, representing the UK Scotland-Wales route

The route plans to complement existing/in-progress networks and utilize logistical hubs that are already operational. “We have great public transport,” says Simon Richardson, a principal consultant in the development planning group at AECOM, “We’re just unfortunately not given the level of service on public transport networks in terms of its capacity…Hyperloop gives us an opportunity to link at high speed and provide capacity that we can’t deliver on the existing rail networks, especially in the Southeast.”


North East England has delivered innovations that have shaped intercity transport to this day. It is the birthplace of the railway, the steam turbine and home to the workshops where George Stephenson’s Rocket was designed and built. But this historical powerhouse has been lacking investment for some time. The Northern Arc route, supported by the architecture and engineering firms Ryder and Arup, seeks to turn this tide and deliver a blueprint for a competitive mega-region in the North.

“For us to compete, we need to bring the cities of the North and the central part of Scotland together. By bringing those six cities together, we have a population of well over one million — which means we can compete with the likes of London,” explains Nic Merridew, Director at Arup. The route will also intersect with Manchester Airport, which is within two hours travel time of a third of the UK’s population, and access the wider Newcastle City Region where there are opportunities to make valuable freight connections between Port of Tyne, Teesport and the Newcastle International Airport.

Enhanced connectivity would help cities such as Newcastle continue their economic recoveries. Newcastle is strategically placed, almost equidistant, between the economic hubs of the M62 corridor connecting Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, and the Central Belt of Scotland between Edinburgh and Glasgow. There are great programs underway such as “Re-Newcastle,” which includes new housing for the growing population, a plan to make the city center easier to access and get around on foot and by bike, and a business-friendly climate with special districts and fast broadband connections.

But Newcastle is stymied by being out of commuting distance to the nearest cities of Edinburgh and Leeds, which are approximately 1.5 hours by train or more than two hours by car. With Hyperloop, they’d both be less than fifteen minutes away.

Hyperloop One Global Challenge semifinalists, representing the UK Northern Arc route

A Northern powerhouse could emerge as an international gateway to a super region of interconnected cities.


Some people complain, others act. Pictured below are only several of the more than 50 University students from across engineering, science, arts and humanities departments at the University of Edinburgh and Heriot-Watt University who wrote a Global Challenge semifinalist proposal to connect the historic capitals of London and Edinburgh. “It’s really exciting that so many of our team members are from different countries, different schools...and that they can all be excited about the same problem, about the same goal of creating a Hyperloop,” said Fergus Davidson, a physics student at University of Edinburgh.

The North-South Connector is built to support the transportation ‘spine’ of the UK. It includes Hyperloop stations located near the airports for each of the cities in order to off-load domestic air travel, especially between London and Edinburgh. “It makes sense to connect the two. We decided not only could we make the journey shorter and more pleasant and environmentally friendly but also with less strain on airports around London,” explains team President Adam Anyszewski, who studies mechanical and electrical engineering at the University of Edinburgh.

Mirroring the Northern Arc, the North-South Connector outlines how a Hyperloop system could help enable a more balanced economic landscape across the UK. “The UK is currently very London centered, and that has not spread in the same way across the rest of the UK.” says Hannah Ritchie, a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh in climate change mitigation. The route highlights how the virtual density made possible by Hyperloop speeds would allow for higher labor mobility and a greater interchange of skills between places such as Glasgow, which is historically strong in manufacturing, and Edinburgh, which is stronger in financial services.

Through fast and seamless connections, a Hyperloop system would distribute the massive economic pull of London more equally and more productively. As the proposal astutely notes, “what the Tube did for London, the Hyperloop will do for the United Kingdom.”

Hyperloop One Global Challenge semifinalists, representing the UK North-South Connector route

The UK has a long history in coming up with innovative ways to use its transportation corridors. Canals that once delivered coal now deliver electricity, mobile signals and high-speed internet through 650km of fibre-optic cable buried under the towpaths that the Canal & River Trust looks after. The money earned from data transmission helps pay for the upkeep of the waterways.

It’s this spirit of innovation and push for economic mobility that make the UK so attractive for a Hyperloop route. “In the UK, we’re operating in a complex system,” says Victoria Crozet, coordinator for the Scotland-Wales route team and a transportation consultant at AECOM. “Maybe this complexity is actually bringing more benefits than issues…it’s a country that has travel demand, that has a strong economy and I think people will support this idea…they’re ready.”

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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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