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Virgin Hyperloop has selected West Virginia as the home for a $500 million certification center and test track for an innovative — but yet to be authorized by federal regulators — high-speed transportation system. The company, owned by billionaire Sir Richard Branson, announced Thursday that it will locate its new Hyperloop Certification Center on nearly 800 acres of land in the state.
The technology offers high-speed travel at speeds exceeding 600 miles per hour, using magnetic levitation. Passengers would travel in a fashion once only imagined in science fiction, in floating pods moving at speeds twice as fast as a commercial jet flight and four times faster than high speed rail.
Travel time between Pittsburgh and Chicago would be reduced to 41 minutes. Trips from New York City to Washington D.C. would take only a half hour.
Construction on the test track and certification center — which will sit on a former coal mine stretching across Grant and Tucker counties — is expected to break ground in the coming year, with safety certifications expected by 2025 and commercial launch by 2030.
The land, owned by Western Pocahontas Properties and located near Mt. Storm, is being donated to the West Virginia University Foundation in partnership with Hyperloop. WVU and Marshall University will both be involved in developing the project.
Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson was joined virtually by John Chambers, a West Virginia native and former chairman of Cisco Systems, and U.S. Labor Secretary Elaine Chao to make the announcement.
The company picked West Virginia after reviewing applications from 17 other states hoping to host the testing hub. West Virginia has been vying for the project for nearly a year, with officials from Virgin Hyperloop visiting West Virginia University in November last year.
“You took a risk on our state, my home state,” Chambers said to Branson in a video.
Branson congratulated Chambers and other West Virginians as the announcement was made.
“You put more than your best foot forward to try to sort of build an already fantastic innovation center in your state. It could make a big difference in the future,” Branson said.
The U.S. Department of Transportation will use the center and six-mile track to establish regulatory standards, while Virgin will run tests on the site. While the federal regulators have not yet authorized the Hyperloop, they recently laid out a framework for regulating such a means of travel.
“Hyperloop technology is one of the many new developments during this historic period of transportation,” Chao said in video. “This wave of innovation also includes drones, electric cars, autonomous vehicles, reusable rockets and quiet supersonic air travel.”
Top officials representing the state celebrated the announcement, including officials from government, business and higher education.
“For years, I have been saying that West Virginia is the best kept secret on the East Coast, and it’s true. Just look at this announcement and all it will bring to our state – investment, jobs, and tremendous growth,” Gov. Jim Justice said. “It’s a true honor and privilege to be selected as the site for the Hyperloop Certification Center and lead the nation in this next step forward for transportation.”
Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Manchin took part in the virtual announcement.
“Virgin Hyperloop’s decision to make West Virginia the home of their Certification Center is a testament to our people and proves that when West Virginia competes, we win,” Joe Manchin said in a news release.
Republican U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito also echoed excitement over the project. Capito also took part in the virtual announcement.
“Over the last several years, West Virginia’s economy has begun to diversify into new sectors,” Capito said. “The announcement that Virgin Hyperloop’s Certification Center and test track will be located right here in our state will help us continue this growth in the knowledge-based economy. I’m glad that Virgin Hyperloop views West Virginia as a state on the edge of the tech economy.”
Virgin Hyperloop also has a research and development test track near Las Vegas, Nevada.