The company Sir Richard Branson just invested in, Hyperloop One, is the one to beat in the race to build a super-fast underground transportation system, say experts. Fred Katayama reports.
Hurtling yourself in a pod at hyperspeed underground may not be your idea of a comfortable ride, but the Hyperloop concept championed by entrepreneur Elon Musk just got another big name backer on board: his archrival in space, Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson. He's investing in Hyperloop One. And he envisions making money off the soon-to-be-rechristened Virgin Hyperloop One by first using them to move freight, then perfecting the safety behind Hyperloop before moving people. SOUNDBITE: SIR RICHARD BRANSON, FOUNDER, VIRGIN GROUP, (ENGLISH) SPEAKING: "10:35:00 I would say building can start in two years. And three to four years, hopefully, we'll have a system up and running. I suspect intiialy a freight system and then bed that down, test, test and test it, and then when we're 100 percent sure of its safety record, then we can start putting people on later on." The hyperloop system propels pods in vacuum tubes atop magnetic cushions - either below or above ground. Other startups competing to build it include Los Angeles-based firms Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and Arrivo, and Musk's Boring Company. Musk says he got approval to begin drilling tunnels that would link New York and Washington, cutting travel time to about half an hour from Amtrak's three hours. Northwestern University Transportation Center director Hani Mahmassani says Hyperloop One has the edge. SOUNDBITE: HANI MAHMASSANI, DIRECTOR, NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY TRANSPORTATION CENTER, (ENGLISH) SAYING: "It seems like Hyperloop One at this point has been the most advanced in terms of moving their plans forward. And they at least seem to be getting at least more of the attention of the city. They seem to have more sort of practical milestones that are ahead at this stage. So I would probably say they're leading the pack at this point." To attract people, experts say Hyperloop has to be safe, comfortable and affordable. The mogul who signed the Rolling Stones and Janet Jackson thinks he can also add one more element. SOUNDBITE: SIR RICHARD BRANSON, FOUNDER, VIRGIN GROUP, (ENGLISH) SPEAKING: "I believe that entertainment's important, even if it's quite a short journey. And so we we'll make sure it's the sexiest looking pod you can ever come across. And we'll make sure that while you're being transported, you'll feel loved and cared for and I think Virgin knows how to do that." And he envisions the equivalent of flight attendants catering to their needs.