Living in Abu Dhabi and commuting to work in Riyadh? Embarking at Jeddah for a two-hour journey to Dubai? A day trip from Riyadh to Makkah?
These futuristic notions could become reality in the age of the hyperloop, the fast-transit technology that is set to change everyday life in the Middle East, and the rest of the world, over the next decade.
Harj Dhaliwal, managing director for the Middle East and India at the Virgin Hyperloop Group, is more convinced than ever that hyperloop technology is the transport system of the future after the successful first passenger-carrying tests at a desert track in Nevada a couple of weeks ago.
“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 told Arab News.
Coming from Dhaliwal, that is quite a claim. His career, originally focusing on transport projects in the UK, has evolved into developing advance rail systems in the Middle East, including the Etihad Rail project in the UAE and the Riyadh Metro in Saudi Arabia, for the US group Parsons. But hyperloop will change the fundamentals of travel 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 asked.
Dhaliwal concedes that rail will still have a role in the region — in the movement of heavy bulk goods and petrochemicals, for example — but hyperloop is the technology of the future, and nowhere more so than in Saudi Arabia.
Earlier this year, the company signed a deal with the Kingdom’s transport ministry for a study of hyperloop’s potential, involving the building of a test-track facility and other technology infrastructure.
That agreement could herald a closer financial relationship between Saudi Arabia and Virgin Hyperloop, which so far has raised $400 million from investors including DP World, the UAE ports and logistics company, but which needs more resources to fund the next stages of its evolution.