Saudi Arabia set to host training track for ‘unprecedented’ transport system

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The hyperloop transport system promises to allow people to travel around 1,000 kph, which is roughly twice as fast as Japan’s bullet trains and expected to cut land travel time between Riyadh and Jeddah. (Photo/Supplied)
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The hyperloop transport system promises to allow people to travel around 1,000 kph, which is roughly twice as fast as Japan’s bullet trains and expected to cut land travel time between Riyadh and Jeddah. (Photo/Supplied)
Updated 07 October 2019

Saudi Arabia set to host training track for ‘unprecedented’ transport system

  • The hyperloop transport system, famously proposed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, promises to allow people to travel around 1,000 kph, which is roughly twice as fast as Japan’s bullet trains

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia is set to become the first country with a long-range test track for the planned hyperloop transport system.
The US-based Virgin Hyperloop One (VHO) announced in July a partnership with the Kingdom’s Economic City Authority to build a 35 km certification track at King Abdullah Economic City, 100 km north of Jeddah. Speaking to Arab News at the GITEX Technology Week show in Dubai, the company confirmed construction will start by the end of 2020, and said it was in talks with the Saudi government to agree on a specific timetable for the project.
“We are working with the government right now in terms of timetable. We expect, if everything goes to plan, that we would start building our test and certification facility in the backend of 2020. In terms of when it will finish, we are looking at 2024 and 2025,” said Harj Dhaliwal, managing director of Middle East and India at VHO. The project also includes a research center and a manufacturing facility for the advanced components of the futuristic transport system, also expected for 2024.
“It puts Saudi Arabia at the forefront of transport technology. It makes them the leader in the manufacturing of hyperloop technology,” Dhaliwal said.
The hyperloop transport system, famously proposed by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, promises to allow people to travel around 1,000 kph, which is roughly twice as fast as Japan’s bullet trains.
“We are going twice as fast for less energy,” Dhaliwal said. It is expected to reduce land travel time between Riyadh and Jeddah from 10 hours to 76 minutes.
Although cargo and human testing has not been started by VHO, Dhaliwal said they are “close to moving on to very advanced testing with passengers on board.
“We have tested the hyper structure, vacuum, control systems, levitation systems, technology systems and the vehicle. The next step will be to move into carrying cargo and people,” he said, adding that their testing site is in Las Vegas, where people can see the hyperloop in action.
“We still need to go through a process. Passengers will be in a vacuum condition. They will be in space conditions. We want to make sure that if we put cargo or people in, and when we start with our next generation high-speed testing, nothing goes wrong. It’s not just a matter of putting somebody in and hoping for it to work — that will be a disaster for our business,”
he added. Although the technology promises unprecedented high-speed travel, it has never been tested with human passengers, and many scientists remain skeptical about its safety and viability.

BACKGROUND

The project also includes a research center and a manufacturing facility for the advanced components of the futuristic transport, also expected for 2024. It puts Saudi Arabia at the forefront of transport technology.

“People are already traveling enormous speeds in an aircraft. People travel 900 kph up in the air at 40,000 feet, in a pressurized vessel. These pods are designed to aerospace standards. Imagine an aircraft with no wings, that’s what we have here,” Dhaliwal explained.
He said they are “not inventing everything all over again,” pointing out how a lot of the standards they are using to build the hyperloop system “are already in place.”
“There are a lot of lessons, data and information available from adjacent sectors like aerospace and high-speed rail that we utilize,” he added.
Dhaliwal also mentioned how they have gathered massive support from investors to build the hyperloop technology, raising over $400 million.
“We have investors who actually believe this is going to happen. We’ve got a team of some of the world’s brightest engineers working with us to take us to the level of technology development,” he said. “This is happening, and it’s happening now.”


Saudi Arabia loses 120,000 hectares of trees every year

Awareness campaigns highlight the importance of trees. (Shutterstock)
Updated 21 February 2020

Saudi Arabia loses 120,000 hectares of trees every year

  • The fine for cutting down a tree can reach SR5,000 ($1,333) while the fine for transporting logs is SR10,000

MAKKAH: Saudi Arabia loses 120,000 hectares of trees every year through destruction and tree logging.
Trees help stop desertification because they are a stabilizer of soil. In the Arabian Peninsula, land threatened by desertification ranges from 70 to 90 percent. A national afforestation campaign was launched in Saudi Arabia last October, and there is a national plan set to run until this April.
The Ministry of Environment, Water and Agriculture said that although natural vegetation across the country had suffered in the past four decades, modern technologies such as satellites and drones could be used to track down individuals or businesses harming the Kingdom’s vegetation.
“Harsh penalties should be imposed on violators such as the seizure or confiscation of transport and hefty fines,” Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Sugair, chairman of the Environmental Green Horizons Society, told Arab News.
These were long-term solutions and they needed coordination with authorities to ensure warehouses and markets did not stock logs or firewood, he said. Another solution was sourcing an alternative product from overseas that was of high quality and at a reasonable price. A third was to provide support to firewood and coal suppliers.
“The general public needs to be more aware of the importance of trees and should have a strong sense of responsibility toward these trees,” Al-Sugair added.
“They should also stop buying firewood in the market. We can also encourage investment in wood production through agricultural holdings as well as implement huge afforestation projects and irrigate them from treated sewage water.”
The fine for cutting down a tree can reach SR5,000 ($1,333) while the fine for transporting logs is SR10,000. These fines could not be implemented as they should be because there were no available staff to monitor and catch violators and, to make matters worse said Al-Sugair, there was a weak level of coordination between authorities.
Most of the Kingdom’s regions have suffered in some way from tree felling, and some places no longer have trees. These violations are rampant in the south and Madinah regions, as well as in Hail and Al-Nafud Desert.
Riyadh is the most active and the largest market for firewood. Many people in Al-Qassim use firewood as do restaurants in some parts of Saudi Arabia.
Omar Al-Nefaee, a microbiology professor at the Ministry of Education in Taif, said the reason behind the widescale destruction of the environment could be attributed to a supply shortage of imported firewood.
“Tree logging causes an environmental disequilibrium,” he told Arab News. “The Ministry of Environment, Agriculture and Water has launched an initiative raising public awareness on the issue and is asking people not to use local firewood. Several awareness campaigns have been launched for the same purpose to educate people about the importance of using imported wood instead of the local wood in order to protect the Kingdom’s vegetation.”
Official reports warn that the Kingdom has lost 80 percent of its vegetation and that the drop will have a detrimental effect on its biodiversity, as well as causing great damage to the environment.
The general public should use other heating options during the winter and stop using firewood, Al-Nefaee said.
Some local studies have called for farms that can produce wood from plants that do not consume too much water and do not affect vegetation, while at the same time reducing the pressure on other regions in the Kingdom that are rich in animal resources.
Falih Aljuhani, who runs a business that imports wood from Georgia, encouraged Saudi firms to import wood from the Balkans because it was a competitive market and the trees had low carbon percentages.