COLUMBIA, Mo. - A U.S. company behind Hyperloop transportation technology is considering where to build a small stretch of track, and Missouri is a "strong contender" to be the project's host.
"We've seen a lot of great energy from the people of Missouri for this project. We've seen a lot of great energy from the government, from the private sector," said Ryan Kelly, the head of global marketing for Virgin Hyperloop One. "We wouldn't be here in Missouri if Missouri wasn't a strong contender for this test track."
Virgin Hyperloop One is expected to distribute a request for proposals, or RFP, across the country for the construction of a certification track. The track will be small, about six miles or more, according to Kelly, and will serve as a testing ground for the regulation of Hyperloop technology.
Meanwhile, a blue ribbon panel established by Speaker of the House Elijah Haahr (R- Springfield) in March is nearly complete with its report on the new technology. The panel was tasked with researching the various costs of Hyperloop technology and its potential economic impacts, as well as what policy items would help entice companies to move to the Show-Me State.
"I wouldn’t trade Missouri’s position for any other state’s... we’ve got a lot of momentum," said Andrew Smith, the vice-chair of the panel. Smith said Missouri is in a strong position to compete for Virgin Hyperloop One's test track.
"We’ve probably got 90 to 95% of the information that we need to make a really strong response to that" request for proposals, Smith said.
The importance of a certification track lies with the lack of current state or federal regulation on the technology. Transportation via Hyperloop does not currently fit neatly into any federal department's purview, Kelly and Smith noted.
"We need to get this safety certified, and third-party validators are needed to do that," Kelly said.
"There is no such (regulatory) organization for Hyperloop transport. So it begs the questions, who is ultimately going to be in charge of this?" Smith said.
The new technology could lead to a new phase of transportation. The company claims that with Hyperloop, a trip from St. Louis to Kansas City (a distance of about 250 miles) could take as little as 30 minutes to complete.
It does, however, come with a significant price tag. According to a recent feasibility study completed by a Kansas City engineering firm, one mile of Hyperloop track could cost $30-40 million. A Kansas City to St. Louis line would cost $7-10 billion, according to Smith.
Although commercial use of a Hyperloop pod is far from reality at the moment, a public-private partnership between the company and the state government would be the likely route to funding such a project.
"It’s not going to be cheap. It’s almost certainly not going to be something that is... funded by taxpayers," Smith said, adding that VHO would have to provide a portion of the funding.
"I think there’s an assumption that the technology players, like the Virgin Hyperloop Ones of the world, that their very survival depends upon being able to demonstrate this technology, that they and their investors would bring money to the table," Smith said.
Kelly did not say how much the company is willing to pay to construct a testing track, which could cost hundreds of millions depending on its length. "It’s just really going to depend on the partnership. The cost of doing something like this is going to vary from state to state," he said.