Hyperloop One pod in Nevada testing facility

Politicians and investors back hyperloop technology in US and Middle East

Image credit: Hyperloop One

A partnership of Russian investors is planning a large investment in a hyperloop system for Neom, a planned high-tech megacity in Saudi Arabia. This follows the announcement by Maryland officials that they have granted a permit for a hyperloop tunnel to be dug in the state.

Hyperloops – originally conceived by Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk in a 2013 white paper – are a proposed form of transportation which could allow for travel through sealed tunnels at near-aeroplane speed.

These tunnels would contain near vacuums, in which pods containing passengers, vehicles or cargo are accelerated to extremely high speeds, potentially while suspended above the tracks with magnetic levitation technology. This could reduce the time it takes to travel from London to Edinburgh to mere minutes.

The technology has not yet been proven to work on a scale anywhere near the national or international scale proposed by Musk and other supporters. So far, the longest journey completed using a hyperloop has been a 5.3 second test run by Virgin Hyperloop One on a 500m track in the Nevada desert.

Despite the uncertainty surrounding the functionality and safety of the technology, hyperloop start-ups have attracted considerable funding, in addition to interest from government officials. Hyperloop One, which was recently acquired by Virgin, is reportedly planning hyperloop routes in North America, Northern Europe and the Middle East.

Larry Hogan, the Governor of Maryland, has recently granted a permit for digging to begin for a hyperloop tunnel intended to stretch between Baltimore and Washington DC. This permit was granted to ‘The Boring Company’, a Musk-led construction company intended to dig the enormous tunnels necessary for underground hyperloop systems.

At present, digging tunnels is an extremely slow and expensive process, with some projects costing $1bn (£760m) per mile. According to The Boring Company’s website, this could be streamlined by automating the machinery, converting to electric-powered machinery and digging narrower tunnels.

The Boring Company will begin by digging a 10.3 mile (16.6km) tunnel under the public Baltimore-Washington Parkway, starting in Anne Arundel County near Fort Meade. According to Peter Rahn, Maryland Transportation Secretary, the company will eventually be able to dig two 35 mile (56km) tunnels between the cities.

The government of Maryland will not contribute funding towards the project.

Musk made headlines in June when he prematurely announced that he had been granted “verbal” government approval to begin digging a hyperloop tunnel system connecting four cities on the East Coast of the US – Baltimore, Washington DC, Philadelphia and New York City – the longest tunnel system in the world. He later qualified that there was “still a lot of work needed to receive formal approval”, though this could be achieved before the end of 2017.

Meanwhile, futurists on the other side of the world have also taken steps towards making ambitious proposed technologies – including hyperloops – a reality.

At the Future Investment Initiative in Ridayh, Saudi Arabia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has overseen the announcements of various future-facing projects to diversify the economy of the kingdom. The key announcement has been the plan to build an autonomous high-tech megacity, Neom, at the cost of $500bn (£382bn), which would be entirely powered by solar and wind power, equipped with automated public services, and populated heavily by robots.

Now, Russia’s Summa Group has announced its support for the project, and stated that – in partnership with the Russian Direct Investment Fund, the sovereign fund of Russia – it plans to invest billions of dollars in a food hub and hyperloop system for Neom.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund has committed funds to hyperloop technology, having announced an investment Hyperloop One in June 2016.

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