Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 15 October 2019

Virgin Hyperloop One to develop world's longest test track in Saudi Arabia

The futuristic transportation company will look at setting up a manufacturing facility in Jeddah

A Virgin Hyperloop One XP-1 pod. Journey times between Riyadh and Jeddah could be reduced to 76 minutes from over 10 hours currently according to the firm. Bloomberg
A Virgin Hyperloop One XP-1 pod. Journey times between Riyadh and Jeddah could be reduced to 76 minutes from over 10 hours currently according to the firm. Bloomberg

Virgin Hyperloop One, the futuristic transportation company that wants to use magnetic levitation to revolutionise travel, will undertake a study with Saudi Arabia's Economic City Authority to develop the world's longest test track.

Virgin Hyperloop, which counts Dubai logistics company DP World as its biggest shareholder, is also considering plans for a research and development centre as well as a manufacturing and certification facility north of Jeddah.

“Having Hyperloop at King Abdullah Economic City is going to act as a catalyst for a Saudi Silicon Valley effect and galvanise our software development, high technology research and manufacturing industries,” ECA secretary general, Mohanud Helal, said.

Hyperloop technology relies on depressurised tubes carrying passenger or cargoes in pods at speeds of up to 1,080 kilometres per hour, nearly three times faster than a conventional high-speed rail.

The study would include development of a 35-km test and certification track; look into opportunities to develop local expertise; as well as commercialise and scale the technology in Saudi Arabia. Development of localised hyperloop supply chains and setting up more innovation clusters across the kingdom will be part of the study, which is focused on the King Abdullah Economic City, located 100km north of Jeddah.

Virgin Hyperloop’s interest in installing its technology in Saudi Arabia is a result of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman's efforts to bring the company into the fold of Vision 2030.

In April 2018, Prince Mohammed unveiled a proposed transit pod that could shrink journey time between Riyadh and Jeddah to 76 minutes from more than 10 hours. It could position Saudi Arabia as the gateway to three continents, the company said. Travel time from Riyadh to Abu Dhabi would take 48 minutes compared to more than 8.5 hours today.

The kingdom is ramping up investments in technology as it seeks to modernise its economy and reduce dependency on oil revenues under its economic road map Vision 2030.

Saudi Arabia and British tycoon Richard Branson, who stepped down as the chairman of Virgin Hyperloop last year, announced in 2017 that the Public Investment Fund, the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, planned to invest around $1 billion (Dh3.67bn) into Virgin's space ventures.

There are other companies also attempting to bring the technology to market, including Tesla’s Elon Musk and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies.

Updated: October 14, 2019 04:09 PM

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