Missouri has signed an agreement with Virgin Hyperloop One to investigate the potential cost and economic impact of a high-speed transportation system linking the state's three largest cities.
The proposed Missouri Hyperloop would follow the I-70 highway, connecting St. Louis, Columbia, and Kansas City. The parties involved estimate the Hyperloop would serve a population of 5 million people, and would cut the travel time between the three cities to under half an hour. It currently takes approximately four hours to travel between St. Louis and Kansas City on I-70.
A feasibility study will look at the potential cost of the project and identify engineering challenges, which will be weighed against the forecast economic impact of a high-speed link between the three cities. The study will be prepared by Virgin Hyperloop One, in concert with engineering firm Black and Veatch, and the University of Missouri. A St. Louis-Kansas City route was one of 11 possible U.S. routes the company announced last year. It has also discussed India as a possible location for its first Hyperloop.
Missouri probably isn't on many people's lists of possible Hyperloop routes, but it may be a good place for Hyperloop One to start. While the terrain isn't perfectly flat, engineers won't have to contend with any mountains or steep valleys. By paralleling I-70, Virgin Hyperloop One already has a potential route through populated areas that won't require complex negotiations for real estate. Missouri also lacks high-speed rail or any other competing transportation system.
Since Elon Musk first proposed the Hyperloop in a 2013 white paper, several startups have been created to build versions of the futuristic transportation system. Virgin Hyperloop One was founded in 2014 as Hyperloop One, and changed its name after Richard Branson's Virgin Group began investing last October. Branson is now the startup's chairman.
Virgin Hyperloop One has conducted several high-profile tests, but neither it nor its competitors are really that close to building a full-scale Hyperloop. It may seem like a cool idea, but coolness alone won't make the Hyperloop a viable transportation system.