Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman is on a three-week tour of the U.S. to reciprocate President Donald Trump’s high-profile visit to Saudi Arabia last May and (more importantly) to seal a few major deals with his business partners in the free world.
This week, the heir to the Saudi throne met with billionaire Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Hyperloop One, at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California to unveil the “Vision 2030 Hyperloop Pod,” a project that would bring a high-speed Hyperloop transportation system to Saudi Arabia.
The commitment is part of the Crown Prince’s grand “Vision 2030” plan to modernize the economy of the Middle Eastern oil kingdom by 2030.
A Hyperloop system would help position Saudi Arabia as a “gateway to three continents” by dramatically speeding up transportation in the region, Virgin Hyperloop One said in a statement.
The tube-based system, two to three times faster than high-speed rail, will reduce the travel time between Saudi’s capital Riyadh to the country’s commercial hub Jeddah from 10 hours (by train) to 76 minutes. Currently, a direct flight between the two cities takes about 95 minutes.
“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,” Prince Mohammed said in a statement through Virgin Hyperloop One.
Branson, founder of the British business conglomerate Virgin Group, invested in Hyperloop One in 2017 and added “Virgin” to the company name. He played a key role in helping the startup raise its latest investment.
The high-speed transportation concept, proposed by Elon Musk in 2013, while groundbreaking, has been struggling to take off in the U.S. due to complex regulatory hurdles and the absence of transportation infrastructure to support it.
To solve the infrastructure problem, Musk founded the Boring Company in 2016 to build underground tunnels from scratch, which a Hyperloop system could be built upon.
A few weeks ago, Musk ranted on Twitter about the growing bureaucracy and a broken incentive system in the U.S. for the private sector that has hindered the expansion of a Hyperloop system. In one tweet, he claimed, “China’s progress in advanced infrastructure is more than 100 times faster than the U.S.,” citing a news article about a train station in China that was built within nine hours.
In that sense, Saudi Arabia might actually be a better land for the Hyperloop, as the Crown Prince’s authoritarian government frees the country of all the problems that have frustrated Musk in the U.S.