INTERVIEW: Virgin Hyperloop’s imaginative and prescient for a linked Gulf

Living in Abu Dhabi and commuting to work in Riyadh? Embarking at Jeddah for a two-hour journey to Dubai? A day journey from Riyadh to Makkah?

These futuristic notions may develop into actuality within the age of the hyperloop, the fast-transit know-how that’s set to vary on a regular basis life within the Middle East, and the remainder of the world, over the following decade.

Harj Dhaliwal, managing director for the Middle East and India on the Virgin Hyperloop Group, is extra satisfied than ever that hyperloop know-how is the transport system of the longer term after the profitable first passenger-carrying assessments at a desert observe in Nevada a few weeks in the past.

“The US secretary for transport (Elaine Chao) said hyperloop is the most exciting thing happening to transportation today, and you have to agree with her. As this technology becomes proven, high-speed rail will become a thing of the past,” he informed Arab News.

Coming from Dhaliwal, that’s fairly a declare. His profession, initially specializing in transport tasks within the UK, has advanced into growing advance rail programs within the Middle East, together with the Etihad Rail undertaking within the UAE and the Riyadh Metro in Saudi Arabia, for the US group Parsons. But hyperloop will change the basics of journey for ever, he believes.

“Why would anybody want to invest billions in technology that is basically steel wheel on steel rail, effectively going back 150 years, when they have the potential of hyperloop?” he requested.

Dhaliwal concedes that rail will nonetheless have a task within the area — within the motion of heavy bulk items and petrochemicals, for instance — however hyperloop is the know-how of the longer term, and nowhere extra so than in Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this 12 months, the corporate signed a cope with the Kingdom’s transport ministry for a research of hyperloop’s potential, involving the constructing of a test-track facility and different know-how infrastructure.


That settlement may herald a more in-depth monetary relationship between Saudi Arabia and Virgin Hyperloop, which to this point has raised $400 million from buyers together with DP World, the UAE ports and logistics firm, however which wants extra sources to fund the following levels of its evolution.

Saudi Arabia shall be one among three strategic facilities for Hyperloop, with one other in India in addition to the US. The firm lately introduced plans to construct a $500 million testing and certification heart in West Virginia. 

“We envisage a similar facility in Saudi Arabia to connect the Kingdom and the wider Middle East, but also to act as a hub for manufacturing, technology and materials. Europe is not that far away (from Saudi Arabia) and you could export the technology and materials there,” he mentioned.

The technique is in keeping with the goals of the Vision 2030 diversification plan, he mentioned, which seeks to construct a technology-driven economic system much less depending on oil revenues, and create high-value jobs for the Kingdom’s residents.


Born: UK 1964

Education: Bachelor of engineering, Nottingham Trent University


  • Various roles in UK transport tasks
  • Project director, Qatari Diar
  • Senior vp, Parsons Corp.
  • Managing director, Middle East and India, Virgin Hyperloop

Dhaliwal sees hyperloop enjoying a vital function in linking a number of the mega-projects deliberate beneath the reform plan, such because the know-how metropolis beneath development at NEOM within the Kingdom’s northwest, the huge theme park deliberate at Qiddiya south of Riyadh, and the maritime hub on the King Abdullah Economic City on the Red Sea.

He has additionally been working intently with the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, close to Jeddah, on detailed points of the hyperloop know-how.

“We are working to know the transport necessities of the Kingdom. As it diversifies, it will increase the alternatives for corporations like ours to work in partnership with it because it appears to develop into a frontrunner in know-how sectors.

“There are lots of spin-offs in other technology areas, such as batteries, electric vehicles, solar and artificial intelligence. It is not just about transport from A to B, there are boundless opportunities for growth in manufacturing and knowledge,” he added.

The Nevada check was a milestone within the know-how’s growth.

Jay Walder, the Virgin Hyperloop CEO, mentioned: “This is a step of historical significance. I don’t think you can overstate it. This is a moonshot moment. I have no doubt this will change the world.”

Dhaliwal took a extra understated view. “It was the culmination of two years’ work. Since we began, lots of people were asking me when would people actually ride in it. Well, we have proved that levitation in a vacuum environment works, and we can safely transport passengers in a pod in a vacuum that levitates,” he mentioned.

Other competing teams are additionally growing vacuum-tube journey much like hyperloop, and operating assessments in varied elements of the world, however the Nevada trial was the primary that carried people within the pods contained in the sealed tube. The unique thought for the know-how got here from Elon Musk, the Tesla billionaire.

Two Virgin Hyperloop workers traveled the size of a 500-meter check observe in 15 seconds, reaching a velocity of 172 kph.

“It felt not that much different than accelerating in a sports car,” one mentioned. The velocity was restricted by the size of the check observe, however Virgin Hyperloop has ambitions to ultimately transfer folks and items at greater than 1,000 kph.

That is about the identical velocity as a business jet cruises at 30,000 ft, and it’s no shock that Dhaliwal makes use of the terminology of plane flight — banking, rolls and pitch — to explain the efficiency of the car in movement.

Safety at such speeds is a primary concern, and Dhaliwal and different Virgin Hyperloop executives spend numerous time in talks with regulators and certification officers as they work towards proving the know-how is passenger-worthy.

There isn’t any international commonplace for hyperloop journey, so the know-how and its related infrastructure is growing its personal guidelines it progresses, mixing primarily US and European rules, together with native necessities within the Middle East.

“As a company, we’ve done what we had to do to get the regulators and authorities talking to the industry,” he mentioned.

While all the eye was on the landmark first passenger experience, Dhaliwal additionally highlighted the cargo-carrying functionality of hyperloop, especial when velocity and effectivity are invaluable for the transport of high-value and perishable items.

“The pods can join up to create a convoy, which is by far the most efficient way to transport goods at high speed, and then decouple electronically, then come together again to continue the next part of the journey,” he mentioned.

The capability to maneuver high-value items was one of many issues that attracted DP World, the bulk shareholder in Virgin Hyperloop. The UAE firm has plans for superior logistics programs in its Jebel Ali hub, and between different facilities within the Middle East and elsewhere through its CargoSpeed operation. Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, the chairman of DP World, can be chairman of Virgin Hyperloop.

Virgin, the enterprise run by entrepreneur Richard Branson, is a minority investor and likewise represented on the board. “Virgin is an intrinsic part of the business and we still get a lot of support from them,” Dhaliwal mentioned.

At some stage, Virgin Hyperloop shall be trying to prime up the $400 million funding it has raised to this point for the costly enterprise of constructing and working extra check services and, finally, for its first functioning service, although that is nonetheless a way off, probably by the top of the last decade.

“The amount we’ve raised is exceptional for a startup that is only six years old, but, yes, we will need more investors and partners. We can always use more,” he mentioned.

With its emphasis on superior know-how and job creation, Virgin Hyperloop appears a pure for Saudi Arabian buyers. The Public Investment Fund, the Kingdom’s rising sovereign wealth fund that’s behind the mega-projects, has prioritized high-tech and automation in its plans to assist the financial diversification technique.

“We’re engaged with the government in Saudi Arabia and with the people who run the big projects. If there was an opportunity for investment, we would be very keen to develop that and that’s where we’re heading,” Dhaliwal mentioned.

Assuming the hyperloop know-how lives as much as its promise — and the Nevada passenger assessments had been an enormous step towards that — it could possibly be a game-changer in Saudi Arabian logistics and transportation, in addition to a major aspect within the Vision 2030 diversification plan.

“When I came to Virgin Hyperloop, I had this vision for a connected Gulf, for creating a ‘virtual region’ where time and distance was no longer a barrier to employment and development. That vision has not waned,” Dhaliwal mentioned.

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