DUBAI: A nationwide hyperloop transport network could reduce traveling times in Saudi Arabia from hours to a matter of minutes under plans by Sir Richard Branson, the Virgin entrepreneur.
Speaking exclusively to Arab News on the sidelines of an event in Dubai to launch a new cargo logistics system in partnership with UAE ports group DP World, Branson said he had discussed the proposed Saudi hyperloop with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the US and now was in advanced talks with the Saudi government.
A hyperloop project for the Kingdom could be announced later this year, he said.
“We are talking about linking Saudi cities across the country. It is a vision that allows people to be able to travel quickly, securely and comfortably with completely clean technology,” Branson said.
The ultra-fast network could cut travel time between Riyadh and Jeddah — currently about 10 hours by car — to less than an hour, he estimated.
The hyperloop system would probably be launched on the Red Sea coast, possibly to connect the Red Sea Resort, a partnership between Branson and the Saudi government, with the rest of the region. It could also potentially link Neom, the $500 billion high-tech city in the northwest of the Kingdom, and be extended to Riyadh and the rest of the country.
“It will cost half the price of conventional high-speed rail networks, and can carry cargo as well as passengers. The crown prince visited the Virgin Hyperloop site in America and I think he liked what he saw. I think the project in Saudi Arabia will happen pretty quickly,” Branson said.
After the US meeting, the crown prince said: “Hyperloop is the catalyst to enable all fourth-generation technologies to flourish in the Kingdom while creating a vibrant society and thriving economy through visionary cities and high-tech clusters.”
Branson was speaking at an event in Dubai to mark the launch of DP World Cargospeed, a transport system based on hyperloop technology that will allow much faster delivery times in the global logistics business, and has the potential to revolutionize global trade in the same way that containerization did 50 years ago.
“Goods can be delivered anywhere in the world in 14 hours, cargo from Dubai to Saudi Arabia within less than an hour,” said Sultan bin Suleyam, chairman of DP World.
“The technology has been developed to connect cargo delivery around the world at the speed of air travel but the cost of land transportation,” he said.
I think the project in Saudi Arabia will happen pretty quickly
Sir Richard Branson
The system uses comparatively small pallets that can be loaded on to special pods for movement between logistics centers. Cargo and passengers can be transported together and separated at the point of arrival.
A pilot test of the system will take place on a 10-kilometer stretch of track near Mumbai within a few weeks, Branson said. “I think Saudi will begin not too long after that,” he said.
Rob Lloyd, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop, held out the prospect of a GCC-wide, high-speed transport system. “We think it’s feasible to think about a hyperloop network that will connect Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh and Jeddah for cargo and passengers.”
Virgin completed a feasibility study with the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority this year to explore the viability of a UAE-wide hyperloop system.
“We are aligned with the RTA to create a feasible and well-thought-out system that will create the maximum benefit for passengers and cargo,” Virgin Hyperloop One said in a statement.
Several other hyperloop projects have been mooted in the UAE, but so far none has been officially approved.
The RTA recently denied rumors that it had approved a link between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, citing the need for careful planning and research to “reduce the potential risks and maximize the potential of the project.”
The authority also denied approval for a link between Dubai International Airport and the new Maktoum airport that would reduce a 30-minute road trip to a six-minute journey.