Virgin Hyperloop will not provide passenger transportation. Here’s why it matters

The second prototype, a larger pod with an interior dubbed XP-2, finally completed a manned test in November 2020 with two passengers on board in a real vacuum environment. The pod traveled for approximately 17 seconds at a top speed of 107 mph and came to a stop. At this stage of the company’s development, full-size concept sketches were released, featuring pods that could accommodate up to 28 passengers. Virgin was already conducting feasibility studies around the world.

But progress beyond the initial feasibility study has been continually hampered by the lack of real infrastructure and hard data. The company’s test loop was never built longer than its original 1,620ft span, and throughput issues still plagued the company due to the time-consuming vacuum airlocks that would be required for passenger services. . When cities tried to go beyond route planning or preliminary budget estimates, they found themselves stymied by a lack of data to work with for more arduous impact studies.

For example, the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area has been conducting high-speed transit studies for nearly three years to connect north-central Texas to passenger transportation, and the hyperloop was one of the methods explored. . In a conversation The reader had with the North Central Texas Council of Governments’ senior transportation planner, Brendan Wheeler, he explained that the first step in any infrastructure project such as the hyperloop or high-speed rail is an environmental impact study, which in the case of Texas is an ongoing investigation. The area makes perfect sense for a hyperloop, however, with corridors already established along Interstate 30 for high-speed public transit, and relatively flat, easy-to-level terrain dominating the area.

On Virgin’s website, the Laredo-Dallas corridor was advertised as one of six places in America where the company hoped to build a hyperloop, with claims that a hyperloop could save travelers 14 million hours of transit per year. But on Feb. 17, 2022, the council was forced to drop the hyperloop as a transit option before the assessment window was even over. Wheeler explained that the technology is still in its infancy that trying to perform an environmental survey just isn’t feasible yet. He went on to say that while the technology is still of interest to them, for the transit of passengers within the time frames desired by the state, it is too underdeveloped to advance further, and the proven high-speed rail must be the de facto choice. .

Because Virgin was the only company to ever have performed human tests with his hyperloop, he has left metropolitan areas across the United States reeling after spending years on feasibility studies for a technology whose implementation is now even further away. The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, for example, spent two years on a Virgin-assisted feasibility study for a hyperloop connecting Chicago, Columbus and Pittsburgh. Now, with the company abandoning its passenger transport plans, the MORPC has decided to focus on freight transport as well.

And despite the appetite for high-speed passenger transport, no one seems ready to fill the void left by Virgin. Musk’s Boring Company has its own hyperloop in the works and promises that at some point the concept for its original white paper will come up. Right now, however, the only people mover he has built is an atmospheric pressure tunnel system with Teslas running through it as transport pods in Las Vegas. The system is much slower than the original concept and has been plagued with problems, despite costing taxpayers $50 million.

HyperloopTT, another startup from the 2010s, currently has a test facility in France, but human testing has yet to be undertaken. Even after the Northeast Ohio Regional Coordinating Agency collaborated with the company on a $1.3 million feasibility study, it’s still unclear how quickly HyperloopTT intends to complete. human testing.

Virgin still has a few freight projects in the works, and the company is apparently targeting mid-decade for its UAE-based freight line. The company did not respond to The reader survey for comment in time for publication, and it has not released any schedule changes following the layoffs. But regardless of its future plans, the future of high-speed public transit in America has become much murkier.

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