Today, executives from the Los Angeles-based startup Hyperloop One will gather in Washington, DC, to make two announcements: one is that its test track in the Nevada desert is finally complete and ready to host the first full-system test in the next few months; and the other is that Hyperloop One is eyeing less than a dozen regions in the US as possible future locations for its ultrafast, futuristic transportation system.
The event in the nation's capitol is being billed as the company's official US launch. Previously, despite being based in LA and building its test track in Nevada, Hyperloop One has mostly focused its attention outside the US.
The company has feasibility studies underway in the United Arab Emirates, Finland and Sweden, the Netherlands, Switzerland, Moscow, and the UK. Meanwhile, Hyperloop One's main competitor, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (also LA-based), is currently exploring building hyperloops in a half-dozen countries in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East.
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All of which led to the perception that the hyperloop was going to be built anywhere but the US. But in an interview with The Verge, Hyperloop One's senior vice president for global operations said that North America was never off the table for the country. The company was waiting for the dust to settle from the 2016 presidential election before announcing its US-based intentions.
"We wanted the political situation to settle down a little bit before our big launch," Earle said. "We always thought that North America is going to be our biggest market globally."
Earle noted that President Trump has spoken of wanting to spend up to $1 trillion to improve infrastructure in the US — even though the details of that plan have yet to be announced (and Trump's own views on infrastructure are pretty incoherent). Hyperloop One is hoping to sway members of Trump's administration to include the 760-mph transportation system in its plan to give America's infrastructure a facelift.
Earlier this year, Hyperloop One announced the winners in a "global challenge" it launched to find possible routes across the world. Over 2,600 submissions were whittled down to 35 semifinalists from 17 countries. 11 of the finalists are from the US. One route suggests a triangular hyperloop linking Austin, Dallas, and Houston. Another would build a hyperloop between Orlando and Miami.
Of the 11 finalists, Earle said the plan is to select two or three for further study. "We only have a certain bandwidth to build the hyperloop in North America," he said. "We don't want 10 projects. Maybe just two. The question is where are we going to get the most collaboration and willingness to work together to jointly define the regulatory framework. Because we can design the product in our development to meet the regulations."
One of those collaborators is Alice Bravo, director of public works for Miami-Dade County in Florida. Bravo is proposing a hyperloop between Orlando and Miami, which could be a huge boon not only for moving freight from the busy Miami port, but also tourists back and forth between Disney World and Miami beach.
A hyperloop trip between the two cities would last just over 26 minutes, as compared to 3 hours and 40 minutes by bus or 55 minutes by plane. Additional phases of the project could see the Florida hyperloop extend to Atlanta and then Chicago. "We think this is a corridor that could serve as a national stimulus," Bravo said, "for this area of innovation and human capital intellect."
Meanwhile, the announcement that its test track in the desert north of Las Vegas, dubbed the "DevLoop," is now operational represents a huge milestone for the company, which has seen its fair share of turmoil since its first public test in May 2016. That test featured a nondescript metal sled accelerating several dozen yards down a train track before crashing into a pile of sand.
Hyperloop One started building the DevLoop back in October of last year. Now finished, the company says it will send a capsule rocketing through the nearly airless two-mile track — a test the company has dubbed its "Kitty Hawk" moment — sometime in the next few months. The exact date for the test is still unknown.
"We've built a pod, we're going to accelerate it," Earle said. "Levitate it. Have it glide, not touch the sides. Decelerate it, have it settle back down, and most importantly, stop."
He added, "We won't have the big pile of sand like we did last time."