Mass transit system Virgin Hyperloop One is likely to operate 10- to 14-person pods, acting as an integrated transport system alongside airlines.

The Hyperloop concept was originally introduced by US-based entrepreneur Elon Musk and SpaceX’s white paper in August 2013. It uses electric propulsion and magnetic levitation to move pods, carrying passengers and cargo, through a low-pressure tube. The pod lifts above the track, enabling it to glide at airline-type speeds of 671mph (1,080km/hr), quicker than any mass ground transport available today.

Speaking at Future Travel Experience Europe in Dublin, Virgin Hyperloop One head of marketing and communications Ryan Kelly said: “We not here to talk about how we are looking to get rid of airports or airlines. We feel very strongly we can complement and enhance the airport experience. Our vision is about collaboration. We don’t want put walls up; we want to take modern transport to the next level.”

Kelly said Hyperloop will be autonomous, operating point-to-point on-demand, with no direct emissions. “When people want to leave, they leave,” he said.

While there have been “tonnes of different approaches” to pod design, Kelly said: “We are expecting the majority of pods to run with 12 to 14 people.”

Smaller pods will help maintain a cost-effective on-demand service. “If this is not affordable to the average consumer, we haven’t done our job correctly,” Kelley said. “We need to make it affordable for commuters to use every day.”

Virgin Hyperloop One aims to integrate with other transport modes through an app, where passengers will be able to book their complete journey, including taxis, Hyperloop, flights, travel to the hotel and even a meal at the end destination. Passengers could clear security at the Hyperloop station and arrive at the airport airside, or check in at one airport and fly from another.

Kelly said—hypothetically—a Hyperloop system could connect London Heathrow with London Stansted to the north and London Gatwick to the south, with a transfer time of just 15 minutes. “I’m not saying this is happening,” he stressed. “But we feel we could create a virtual mega-airport of Heathrow, Stansted and Gatwick for less than the cost of an extra runway at Heathrow.”

Hyperloop has a smaller footprint than a maglev and there is no noise outside the tube, making it suitable for running through urban environments. Kelly said the tube can travel in a curved line, although this would require reduced speeds.

Several Hyperloop feasibility studies projects are underway, with India, Saudi Arabia, the US, the UAE and others that cannot be named all considering using the technology. Colorado is looking at a system that would run from Cheyenne down to Pueblo, hubbing through Denver Airport for onward international travel.

Meanwhile, India has signed an intent to build a Hyperloop system, which could cut the 2.5-hour journey between Mumbai and Pune to just 25 mins. Dubai is also in phase two of a feasibility study.

“We are talking years, not decades. The fifth mode of transport is closer than you think,” he said. “We have a bit of a space race going on,” in terms of which project will come to fruition first.

In December 2017, a Hyperloop pod achieved a top speed of 387km/h at the 500m-long DevLoop test site, outside Las Vegas. Kelly said this test provided statistically significant data, demonstrating that the planned speeds of over 1,000km/h can be safely achieved.

By next year, Virgin Hyperloop One is hoping to break ground on a 10km system, enabling it to test faster speeds. Kelly said the “sweet spot” for a hyperloop system seems to be 100km, although it could go further.

“We see ourselves more as the technical operator. While there is some intellectual property in the construction, constructing tubes is not the business we want to be in, so we will leave that to the pros,” he said.

Victoria Moores victoria.moores@informa.com