Amjad Almkhalalati, director of operations at Virgin Hyperloop One, wants to build “a big hyperloop network between the GCC”.
Almkhalalati told Construction Week he was hopeful the revolutionary high-speed system – which can theoretically transport people between Abu Dhabi and Dubai in 12 minutes – will one day stretch across the region.
“I am hoping to see a big hyperloop network between the GCC, definitely between the UAE and Saudi, one day in the future,” he said, adding: “I honestly hope to see a demo track in Saudi Arabia and in Dubai built within the next five years.”
Hyperloop is a disruptive form of autonomous travel that uses magnetic levitation to propel pod-shaped vehicles through steel or concrete tubes at speeds of up to 300m per second. It has captured the attention of many industry leaders, with Saudi Arabia and the UAE among the countries interested in the concept.
Out of the two countries, the UAE has made more progress so far.
Virgin Hyperloop One conducted a feasibility study with Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) in 2017. Progress has continued, with the firm working on the physical prototype pod to focus on the passenger experience. Plans are now in the offing to move the project to the next phase, which involves determining the preferred alignment.
“We are now in discussions with RTA to move the project to the next phase, which is design work on the preferred alignment to link the Emirate of Dubai with a hyperloop system,” Almkhalalati said.
“This step would include concept and preliminary engineering for the next design stages. RTA is the regulator, so it will support us on the regulatory approvals and safety certifications, which are key milestones for us to achieve.”
Talks between Saudi Arabia and Virgin Hyperloop One are believed to be at an advanced stage. In April, billionaire business tycoon Sir Richard Branson, the chairman of Virgin Hyperloop One, said "Saudi Arabia will happen quite soon".
While construction plans for Saudi Arabia or the UAE have not been revealed yet, a 10-15km demo track in India could start construction in Q1 2019. The 140km route between the Indian cities of Pune and Mumbai will be the first large-scale Virgin Hyperloop One project to be built in the world.