Complex Made Simple

Why Hyperloop and Saudi are a match made in travel heaven

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was in Silicon Valley, California, looking at the future of Saudi transport.

Saudi already has a $22.5 billion Riyadh metro transit system underway, with 6 metro lines, spanning 176 km and 85 stations, to be fully operational by 2021.

Also about ready to launch is the $8.2bn Haramein high-speed rail project linking Mecca and Medina via King Abdullah Economic City, a 453 km long train that can make the trip in 2h, 52 minutes, stopping in 5 stations along the way.

But what’s coming will likely change the landscape of transport in Saudi: Hyperloop.

Video: How realistic is Elon Musk’s Hyperloop?

Need for speed

USA Today published a recent report saying that a potential tube-based magnetic levitation transportation system in theory able to reach speeds of 700 mph known as Hyperloop is looking more and more likely to land in Saudi.

Last Sunday, Richard Branson, the chairman of Silicon Valley Virgin Hyperloop One, was unveiling a sleek hyperloop pod painted with the Saudi flag at the Mojave test site of Branson’s space company Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Hyperloop One’s current top pod speed is 240 mph, reached during a test in December.

As Vision 2030 plans a shift from an oil-based to a renewable energy based economy, Hyperloop runs on electricity that could be powered by solar photovoltaic cells.

“Hyperloop is the catalyst to enable all fourth-generation technologies to flourish in the Kingdom while creating a vibrant society and thriving economy through visionary cities and high-tech clusters,” the Saudi defense minister Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz said in a statement.

Virgin Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd added that the visit and talks “kick off the next phase that will make  a reality in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

“In Saudi Arabia, the 10-hour trip between Riyadh and Jeddah would take 76 minutes, says Virgin Hyperloop One and others that put together a feasibility study.

Read: Trump era US visas keeping Saudis out as Kingdom hastens to bring tourists in

Investment and ROI

Building a hyperloop system, on average, costs anywhere between $20-$40 million dollars per km with estimated ROI from 8-10 years but varies according to population density, so that in places like India, ROI takes less time as more people use the system.

Saudi Arabia is among a handful of countries including Russia, India, and Scandinavia that have entered into feasibility studies with the tech startup, which ultimately aims to sell its engineering services to anyone willing to plunk down billions to make the radical transportation concept a reality, according to USA today.

Noiseless, green and needing little right of way as it is built on pylons, Hyperloop projects could increase the value of the land around them. In California, an 8 km2 of desert land in Quay Valley,  where approval to build the first hyperloop rose property values more than 4 times from $2 to $9 per m2.

Abu Dhabi entered into talks in 2017 with Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) for a link between the emirate and Al ain.

Hyperloop was proposed in a 2013 white paper by Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

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Tech-driven Saudi

Over the weekend, Saudi’s crown prince went to Los Angeles to meet with representatives of Hollywood studios, Snap Inc. and Virgin Hyperloop One,  looking to meet with executives from Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Uber Technologies Inc. and Apple Inc., Bloomberg reported.

“The prince’s agenda includes a push for Amazon to consider working with Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Energy on building a data center in the country, which would be the first in the Middle East for the world’s largest cloud provider,” Bloomberg reported.

Arab News said meetings with Silicon Valley’s Apple and Google-parent Alphabet, will help build Saudi Arabia’s technology sector. The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year that Alphabet discussed a joint venture with Saudi Aramco about potentially building several technology hubs and data centers in Saudi Arabia, and it looks like a preliminary deal was struck on this trip.
“Several agreements were signed by leading Saudi entities such as Saudi Aramco, the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), the King Abdul Aziz City for Science and Technology (KACST) and Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC),” said Arab News.