Going Places: Virgin Hyperloop One’s new chief executive, Jay Walder, in the company’s downtown office

Going Places: Virgin Hyperloop One’s new chief executive, Jay Walder, in the company’s downtown office Photo by Thomas Wasper

Virgin Hyperloop One

Industry: Transportation

Year Founded: 2014

Location: Downtown

2017 Revenue: Would not disclose

Total Funds Raised: Between $300 million and $350 million

Imagine sitting in a pod with several other passengers, speeding through a tunnel at nearly airplane speeds, propelled by powerful motors. There’s little noise and even less pollution.

At Virgin Hyperloop One, a downtown transportation company, this vision is slowly becoming reality. The company, launched four years ago from a garage in Los Feliz, has completed what it claims to be the world’s first operational hyperloop system: a one-third-milelong test track outside Las Vegas that opened last year. The hyperloop pod has reached a top speed of 240 miles per hour; only the short length of the track prevented it from going faster.

And the company is now trying to secure an agreement to build the first hyperloop track to connect two population centers, traversing the 60 miles between Mumbai and Pune in India. If an agreement is reached, a 7-mile test track could be completed within two years, and the entire tunnel system a few years after that.

It’s all part of a plan to revolutionize travel and goods movement over distances between 50 and 500 miles.

“In a nutshell, we have not really had a new form of mass transportation in over 100 years,” said Jay Walder, the new chief executive of Virgin Hyperloop One. “Hyperloop is a new way of imagining travel that connects cities and urban areas much more tightly and closely. The benefits of that can be realized in both passenger travel and also cargo movement. It’s an extremely fast, on-demand form of travel.”

The hyperloop system uses electric motors to propel passenger or cargo pods to speeds of several hundred miles per hour through tunnels that have had most of the air evacuated to reduce aerodynamic drag. Magnetic levitation is used to keep the pods suspended off the bottom of the tunnel to allow for faster movement than conventional wheeled vehicles can achieve.

Old idea, new life

The concept of high-speed train travel through vacuum tubes or tunnels has been around for more than a century; according to Virgin Hyperloop One’s website, rocket pioneer Robert Goddard sketched out the concept in 1909. But the concept mostly languished until Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of Tesla Inc. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) released a white paper in 2013 claiming hyperloop technology using low-pressure tunnels should be used to connect urban areas within 900 miles of each other and called it a preferred alternative to California’s high-speed rail project. (Maintaining tunnels at complete vacuum, while best to eliminate drag on the travel pods, would be too costly and impractical, Musk said in the paper.)

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