Virgin Hyperloop visits the Triangle

The Triangle is a possible site for the Hyperloop

October 11, 2019 

Virgin Hyperloop can transport cargo and people in a tube a high speeds

It’s not exactly the warp speed of Star Trek fame. And it doesn’t go as fast as the superhero The Flash (Barry Allen runs at Mach 3.3 or 2532 mph). But the transportation system known as Virgin Hyperloop One, which promises to whoosh people and cargo through a tube at 670 miles per hour sounds a bit like a mix of science fiction and comic book lore. Except the technology is real and the Triangle is being considered as a possible site to build the hyperloop.

The company behind the project is taking its test pod, called XP-1, on a much slower, more traditional tour around the country to build excitement for the project. The pod is stopping at the Chatham County Agriculture and Conference Center in Pittsboro and at The Frontier in Research Triangle Park. The XP-1 is about 33 feet long, 10 feet wide and 13 feet tall and can carry about 28 people. Viewers couldn’t see inside the pod during the visit to the Triangle but they could ask questions of company representatives.

The biggest question…. So how does it work? Virgin propels the pod inside what is essentially a vacuum tube, using electro-magnetic levitation to keep it floating above the track. The company says with little drag or friction, the pod can move at the speed of a jet plane, although it promises passengers will feel a smooth ride. However the speed isn’t quite there yet.

Hyperloop One reached 240 mph inside a 550-foot-long prototype in the Nevada desert. The company says with a longer test track that allows for acceleration and braking, faster speeds are possible. By the way, there’s a North Carolina link to that test. The company calls the first run in December 2017 as its “Kitty Hawk test,” a reference to the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight on the Outer Banks in 1903.

The Regional Transportation Alliance, part of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, helped bring the pod to the Triangle. The Alliance brought Virgin Hyperloop One’s marketing director and senior civil engineer to Cary this summer to meet with business and government leaders. The response was positive and the company agreed to include the Triangle on its national tour.

Virgin Hyperloop One doesn’t expect to have federal approval to build a hyperloop system in the U.S. until at least 2024. The company admits it will take state and local governments to plan and finance construction. Virgin says the Triangle is one of several regions in nine states that have expressed interest in the project. And while the company is developing the technology, it would take state and local governments to plan and finance construction.

—Frank Graff 

 Frank Graff is a producer/reporter with UNC-TV, focusing on Sci NC, a broadcast and online science series.