Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop Is Coming to Missouri

The futuristic transportation system would shorten a trip across the state to 30 minutes.
by Roger McKinney, Columbia Daily Tribune | October 5, 2019 AT 3:01 AM

(TNS) — At a demonstration Virgin Hyperloop One pod on the Francis Quadrangle, a student was overheard talking with her friends.

"Is this actually happening?" she said.

"It is happening," Kristen Hammer, business development manager for Virgin, said during an interview when told of the student's comment. "This is really happening. There's a lot of procedures that we have to go through."

A Missouri route for the futuristic transportation system would use the Interstate 70 corridor between St. Louis and Kansas City with a stop in Columbia. The trip from one side of the state to the other would take 30 minutes, with a 15-minute trip to either Kansas City or St. Louis from Columbia.

The pods would move inside an enclosed, low-pressure tube and be propelled by magnetic levitation and electric propulsion. They would use electricity, but have no direct emissions.

In a feasibility study, Black and Veatch Engineering wrote that the Missouri route would cost $30 million to $40 million per mile to build, for a total cost of $7.4 to $9 billion. The study suggests a hyperloop route would have enormous economic benefits, including travel time savings of $410 million per year and societal cost savings of $91 million per year from reduced highway accidents and congestion.

A legislative task force also is planning for the Missouri route.

The hyperloop system should be operational somewhere in the country around the 2028 to 2030 time frame, Hammer told a packed audience in Lafferre Hall's Ketcham Auditorium.

"These hyperloop systems are going to take off around the world," said Elizabeth Loboa, dean of the University of Missouri College of Engineering and vice chancellor for strategic partnerships. "This would be the largest innovation in transportation technology in 100 years."

MU is the only university campus Virgin Hyperloop One is visiting, Loboa said.

"It's pretty simple existing technology, but put together in a new way," Hammer said of the passive magnetic levitation and electromagnetic propulsion.

Hyperloop would provide on-demand travel, not scheduled service, she said. The cost to travel on hyperloop would be less than the cost of gas to travel in a car. Pods wouldn't stop in Columbia on the way between Kansas City and St. Louis.

"It's more like a freeway ramp," Hammer said.

Acceleration and deceleration would be gentle, she said. The pods would operate autonomously and could depart several times a minute. The goal is to be able to handle 16,000 passengers per direction per hour.

"We don't want anybody getting sick or uncomfortable," she said.

There have been more than 400 tests in the Nevada desert of the pod displayed on the MU campus. Other routes are planned in Washington state, Texas, Colorado, a Pittsburgh-Columbus-Chicago route and in India. The route between Mumbai and Pune is expected to bring $36 billion in economic benefits to India, she said.

Where it can, Hyperloop will follow existing highway right-of-way.

"Integrating with other forms of transportation is a really big deal," Hammer said. "We really like following highways. We like following old rail lines."

The tubes probably will go over overpasses, she said.

"Of course they'll have WiFi," she said, answering an audience question.

It's not certain they'll have restrooms.

"Give us a little more time to figure things out," she said of the restroom question.

Solar panels atop the tubes could help power the pods, she said. "We're 10 times more energy-efficient than air travel."

Financing probably would come from both private and public sources, she said, adding that there's no appetite for a hyperloop tax.

Interviewed after the talk, Hammer said Europe and Asia have been ahead of the U.S. with high-speed rail for decades.

"In the U.S., we can just leapfrog over them with hyperloop," she said. "The team here is working very hard to make it happen."

Jachelle Powell, an MU freshman from Kansas City, said she was "very interested" in the technology as she looked over the demonstration pod.

"Getting to St. Louis in 30 minutes is amazing," she said.

Ben Chilson, an MU sophomore from Warrenton, also was interested.

"It's pretty amazing," he said. "It seems like the future here."

©2019 Columbia Daily Tribune, Mo. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.