Take me home, country pods: West Virginia gets hyperloop test track as Missouri misses out

Virgin Hyperloop announced Thursday that the certification track for its high-speed transportation technology will be built in West Virginia, putting an end to Missouri’s hopes of drawing the 15-mile test route.

Government and business leaders have worked to get Virgin Hyperloop, a private company developing the tube-based “hyperloop” transportation system, to build in Missouri. Backers say the technology could someday carry passenger pods between Kansas City and St. Louis in about 30 minutes.

Hear more: The Speaking Startup podcast explains the hyperloop

In a report published last October, a special hyperloop panel called by Missouri House Speaker Elijah Haahr prioritized attracting the certification track. The panel viewed that as a key step to solidifying Missouri’s place in line for the first commercial track.

“The state or region that successfully builds the certification track will virtually guarantee themselves as a key ‘node’ on a future network. … (Missouri) must focus on becoming the regulatory certification site for this new technology,” the report said.

But with Virgin Hyperloop’s decision to create the certification center in West Virginia, the first phase of the Missouri panel’s report is moot. The certification track was projected to bring more than a billion dollars and at least 7,000 jobs to Missouri, and set the state up as a center for the research, development and innovation of hyperloop technology.

Missouri was not originally on the short list for the first stretch of hyperloop, but it re-entered consideration when Kansas City-area engineering firm Black & Veatch created a feasibility study, the first for the technology in North America. Afterward, the state put together the hyperloop panel to produce a report on the steps Missouri needed to take to get hyperloop technology.

Virgin Hyperloop’s Kristen Hammer said during a promotional visit to the University of Missouri last year that strong interest from the state had helped Missouri. “We’re always looking to work with enthusiastic people who have promising routes,” Hammer said. “So Missouri came to us right after we narrowed it down to our winning routes and said, ‘Wait, we want in on this.’ Since then, they’ve just worked very hard and very productively.”

Earlier this year, hyperloop technology crossed an important barrier in its development when the U.S. Department of Transportation announced hyperloop projects would fall under the authority of the Federal Railroad Administration, providing some regulatory clarity. Previously, hyperloop technology had no regulatory body.

Virgin Hyperloop said in its release Thursday that the announcement of the certification track builds off this momentum. The company hopes to have the first commercial track available by 2030.

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