Virgin Hyperloop wants to revolutionize freight transport

Virgin Hyperloop wants to accelerate the global supply chain using battery-powered pods gliding through sealed tubes at speeds of up to 670 mph.

The company is in discussions with airports and port facilities around the world to create a pilot program for cargo shipment services, said Ryan Kelly, Virgin Hyperloop’s vice president of marketing and communications.

“We aim to execute these projects by the end of 2024,” Kelly told FreightWaves. “The U.S. is definitely one of the places where we have multiple airports that have shown interest in the pilot, a vision of what we were proposing for the next decade. There’s also a lot of conversation going on in India and there’s also conversations going on in Europe as well.”

The Virgin Hyperloop pilot will most likely begin with connecting airports to logistics warehouses or connecting one airport cargo facility to another airport.

“Obviously COVID-19 has changed the world, especially in the cargo industry and supply chain,” Kelly said. “It has had humongous effects on an infrastructure that has been updated in some ways and in other ways, for big infrastructure and mass infrastructure, it has not.”

The pilot projects, which will be privately funded, aim to get more trucks off roads around airports and port facilities to lessen congestion while also providing logistics operations with cost-saving benefits.

“We’re hearing from our potential pilot project clients that there’s huge congestion on the road and they’re getting pushed back on the amount of trucks on the road,” Kelly said. “It’s also about land acquisition as well. If you need to build a warehouse on very expensive land next to an airport, it might not be efficient. We’re going to create this pilot system where you can have your warehouse further away where the real estate is less costly.”

Other potential benefits include less pollution from trucks, as well as more efficient automation and safer supply chain logistics. Virgin Hyperloop’s sealed tube system could be used for cross-border shipments, which might cut down on cargo theft.

The cargo would be transported in Virgin Hyperloop’s pods, using levitation engines containing electromagnets that lift and guide the pod within the hyperloop system of sealed tubes at hundreds of miles per hour.

Kelly could not reveal the amount of cargo each pod could potentially carry, saying it was proprietary information.

“In general, the system is designed to carry multiple palletized freights with high-capacity throughput in a secure tube environment,” Kelly said.

To help steer Virgin Hyperloop’s evolution to cargo transportation, the company recently hired Pierre Chambion as vice president of engineering. Chambion served in a similar role at Safran, one of the world’s largest airline equipment manufacturers.

“Pierre comes to Virgin Hyperloop having a 96% on-time rate in first time quality checks and being able to deliver over and over again at a place like Safran,” Kelly said. “He’s managed over 400 engineers in the past. The way that we’re looking to expand and grow, that’s really where engineering is going to be at some point in the near future.”

Los Angeles-based Virgin Hyperloop, formerly Virgin Hyperloop One, has raised more than $400 million in private capital since its founding in 2014.

British billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson helped found the company, envisioning Virgin Hyperloop as a high-speed mass transportation system for passengers and freight. In November 2020, the company carried out the first successful tests of the system involving human passengers at its test track in the desert near Las Vegas, Nevada.

Today, Dubai-based global port operator DP World holds a majority stake in Virgin Hyperloop. DP World CEO Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem is also chairman of Virgin Hyperloop.

Several other companies are aiming to use hyperloop technology to revolutionize freight, including Los Angeles-based HyperloopTT, Hardt Hyperloop (the Netherlands), TransPod (Canada) and Swisspod (Switzerland).