Virgin Hyperloop One said Tuesday that an ultra-high speed route linking Kansas City to Columbia and St. Louis is one of its top 5 routes and it has begun a feasibility study on making it a reality.
The Missouri Hyperloop Coalition, a group of public and private concerns that are advancing the idea of a hyperloop route from Kansas City to St. Louis, has picked Overland Park engineering firm Black & Veatch to conduct the study to explore what it would take to connect the two cities along Interstate 70.
“This is a route that, on paper, looks great and Black & Veatch is going to test that proposition,” Dan Katz, director of North American projects for Hyperloop One, said in an interview with The Star.
Hyperloop is a transit system where pods carrying passengers and cargo use magnetic levitation to glide above a track system. Virgin Hyperloop One completed a test run in Nevada about 30 miles north of Las Vegas where a hyperloop pod reached 240 miles an hour. Hyperloop in theory can reach speeds of 640 miles an hour.
The Missouri hyperloop feasibility study is expected to take seven to nine months, said Black & Veatch chief executive Steve Edwards.
Katz said Hyperloop One is exploring route possibilities in Colorado and the Middle East. But unlike Colorado, Missouri possesses a clear idea for alignment along Interstate 70, where the Missouri Department of Transportation owns much of the land on which a hyperloop tube could be built.
“We like Interstate 70,” Katz said. “It’s an idea that (the Missouri Department of Transportation) presented to us a couple of years ago.”
It was two years ago that Missouri had proposed the I-70 route to Hyperloop One as part of MoDOT’s “Road to Tomorrow” plan. The route was later incorporated in a summary report by the Governor’s Innovation Task Force.
Hyperloop was offered up as an inducement in Missouri’s unsuccessful bid for Amazon HQ2, a secondary headquarters for the online retail company that is promising 50,000 jobs to whichever city it picks. Kansas City and St. Louis did not make Amazon’s short list for potential sites.
Even so, Hyperloop remained keen on exploring the I-70 route.
“We like the idea of starting in the interior, in the Heartland and building out,” Katz said. “This project has quickly gotten the attention of our company.”
Several details, such as a time line for a commercial hyperloop service and how a new hyperloop route would be paid for and who would pay for it, were not immediately clear.
“That’s part of the feasibility study,” Edwards said.
MoDOT suggested a hyperloop project in Missouri could be a public private partnership.
“This is not something that’s going to be funded entirely by the government,” said Michael Demers, innovative partnerships and alternative funding director for MoDOT.
The hyperloop concept, one of business magnate Elon Musk’s ideas, has been the subject of skepticism based on claims it can transport people at speeds rivaling or exceeding commercial aircraft.
The initial tests in Nevada were deemed an early success.
“We’ve proven it works,” Katz said. “We’ve proven the fundamentals of the system.”
The Kansas City Tech Council, an association of technology companies, is banking on economic benefits to the region if leaders in Missouri can pull off the Kansas City-St. Louis line early on.
“This plays to the strength of the region,” said Ryan Weber, president of the KC Tech Council. “We’ve been a leader in transportation for more than 100 years.”
Hyperloop One expects that the service could serve both leisure and business travelers.
“The system is not going to work unless it’s accessible to the public,” Katz said. “This is not an elite service.”