New hope for UAE hyperloop system as Italian passenger line wins approval

Joint government and private investment plan for Venice resurrects interest

An artist's impression of the Hyperloop Freight Express. Photo: HyperloopTT
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Shelved plans for a UAE hyperloop system could be dusted off thanks to renewed interest in developing a passenger line in Italy by 2029.

The industry was dealt a blow in December when Hyperloop One – the start-up that proposed a high-speed transport system in the Emirates and other countries – announced it was ending its development and selling assets.

Although a long-established means of high-speed travel in theory, the electric-powered tube technology proved expensive and difficult to achieve in reality, despite 1,000kph speeds having the potential to cut travel times and the environmental impact of mass travel.

But the plans in Italy have renewed interest as Andres de Leon, chief executive of HyperloopTT, says “now there is a real project, there is a real opportunity”.

We are changing the world from the point of view of transport infrastructure
Andres de Leon, HyperloopTT chief executive

The proposed hyperloop link between Venice and Padua is a joint venture between the Italian government and private investors.

The €800 million ($862 million) project aims to become the world’s first working passenger system and will incorporate freight logistics in an effort to take heavy goods vehicles off the busy route in Italy’s industrial north.

“Since the announcement of the Italian project and now the signature of the contract, this has reignited the interest in hyperloop elsewhere,” Mr de Leon told The National.

“Now there is a real project, there is a real opportunity. With the pandemic, there was a moment where interest decreased and the conditions to progress the industry were very difficult.

“And because of that, we have relaunched conversations in the region.

“With the environment in this region, we are re-engaging with partners and with people interested about this in the past.

“Now we are seeing a resurgence in worldwide interest.

“If there's going to be this money for the technology development [in Italy], we can capitalise on that worldwide. There are good opportunities.”

The Venice-Padua link

Once complete, it is hoped the Hyper Transfer project will reduce heavy traffic, decrease traditional transport times and energy consumption, improve road safety, and enhance connections between Venice-Mestre and Padua.

Bibop Gresta, founder and chief executive of Hyperloop Italia, said the industry is ready for the next stage of development.

“The hyperloop sector's growth is remarkable, marking a renaissance period,” he said.

“HyperloopTT's decade of technological development, alongside rapid advancements in Europe and China's successful tests, underscores the industry's vitality.

“Italy stands poised to be at the forefront of this eco-friendly, high-speed transport revolution.”

Hyperloop One: a history

Founded in 2014, Hyperloop One – formerly Virgin Hyperloop – had pressed on with research and development, raising more than $450 million in investment and creating a passenger test track in the Nevada desert.

High-profile investors included DP World, which backed the project since 2016 and aimed to introduce the technology to freight operations.

A hyperloop simulator at Expo2020 in Dubai showed the potential of the system to transform logistics.

Meanwhile, rivals HyperloopTT were close to launching the technology in Abu Dhabi in 2020, before the global pandemic derailed plans.

With a development site in Brazil, planned freight operations in Germany and a running test track in France, HyperloopTT had looked the front-runner in overcoming significant financial obstacles, as well as developing a regulatory and insurance safety framework.

Doubters have been too quick to sound the death knell for the technology, according to Mr de Leon, who said the science retains the potential to transform travel.

“The news of the closing of Hyperloop One was not good news for the industry, that’s logical – but on the other hand, we recognised their efforts to advance the industry,” he said.

“The industry is growing, with some small companies in Europe and it's also important to say that China is advancing in the hyperloop.

“The main message is the industry is in good health, it’s also true we have been 10 years in development.

“People ask if this going to arrive or not, and when is it coming?

“It is important to understand we are not just doing a typical start-up, a web application or a mobile app – we are changing the world from the point of view of transport infrastructure.”

The system moves people and goods at air travel speeds safely, efficiently and sustainably.

Scientists claim it has the potential to reduce travel times between city centres from hours to minutes, promoting widespread economic expansion throughout connected regions while replacing current emissions-heavy travel options.

The global picture

High-speed rail networks using bullet trains and magnetic levitation are currently the fastest ground transport systems, reaching around 500kph in Shanghai.

While hyperloops can be faster and aim to run continuously between points, they will carry fewer passengers.

Other players in the industry include Hardt Hyperloop in the Netherlands, Spanish company Zeleros and DGW Hyperloop – India’s first venture that completed a feasibility study to cut travel times from Delhi to Mumbai from three hours to under an hour.

California-based HyperloopTT is now shifting focus from its 300-metre test track in Toulouse to bring the high-speed link to Italy.

Updated: February 19, 2024, 4:56 AM