MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — West Virginia wants in on the ground floor of a space age transportation system that would zip people and packages from place to place in pods at hundreds of miles per hour.
Officials with Virgin Hyperloop One are in town to assess West Virginia as one of more than 20 states lining up as possible locations for a certification center that would involve high-speed testing, improving operations such as the specific step-by-step of getting on board or off, plus transportation regulatory issues.
“We want to hear from the state of West Virginia what this could look like in the state of West Virginia,” said Diana Zhou, director of project strategy for Virgin Hyperloop One.
Gov. Jim Justice and his top staff promised to make an earnest pitch.
“OK, so where do we sign,” Justice told Zhou.
“Bring those people from Los Angeles here and let them experience these incredible season and incredible people, and they will beg you to leave Los Angeles.”
Justice appeared at a Thursday afternoon press conference along with senior adviser Bray Cary, Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch, Revenue Secretary Dave Hardy, Environmental Protection Secretary Austin Caperton, Adjutant Gen. James Hoyer and Transportation Secretary Byrd White.
“We’re going to do any and everything we possibly can to where we hope and pray this will be your next almost heaven home,” Justice said.
“We brought everybody. We brought all the king’s horses and all the king’s men to answer any and all questions and let you see what expertise they have.”
— Governor Jim Justice (@WVGovernor) November 21, 2019
A hyperloop system could connect cities, allowing transportation in pods zipping through sealed tubes at speeds of 600 miles an hour or more.
This is possible because of the magic of a “proprietary magnetic levitation system.”
The development company has a mid-December application deadline, hopes to make a decision by early next year and wants to have the center running within a few years. Officials said it could employ several hundred people.
“Our timetable is aggressive. We’re unapologetic about those ambitions and we’re looking to commercialize as soon as we can,” Zhou said.
Among the factors being assessed are local expertise, available land and facilities. Because it’s early in the process, few specifics were available.
“Financial incentives will be important to us as well,” Zhou said. “We’re prepared to relocate a lot of our employees to build a facility here.”
Zhou said the company is looking at a six-mile swath of land, and that several West Virginia locations are under consideration. None were specified.
Research and academic support are additional factors. West Virginia University officials are heavily involved — and Zhou planned to take a ride on the original hyperloop, the PRT, on Friday. Marshall University is also cooperating with the effort.
And the company is looking for support in navigating the regulatory system, in part because, so far, there’s nothing like it in the world.
“We’re not rail. We’re not like a highway. We’re not like a plane,” Zhou said. “So what are we really?”
It wouldn’t hurt to be near regulatory agencies in Washington, D.C., she said.
“It’s certainly helpful,” she said. “If we could build a Hyperloop between Morgantown and Washington, D.C., it would be a 40-minute ride.”
During a morning appearance on MetroNews’ “Talkline,” West Virginia University vice president Rob Alsop described encouraging possibilities if Hyperloop were to choose the state.
“Working with the state of West Virginia, we think we have a compelling case for why it makes sense for West Virginia to be the site of this certification center,” Alsop said.
“We’ve had some initial discussions with Virgin Hyperloop. We’ve had a tremendous amount of discussions with the state. We think we’re well-positioned to bring that type of activity to West Virginia.”
Justice said the state has to assess some financial and legal aspects of the Hyperloop possibility.
“We’ve still got a lot of hoops to jump through — hyperhoops,” Justice said.
But he said the state would do everything it can without providing too many financial stresses to land the project.
“Please give us a real look because we’ll break our necks to have you. That’s for sure,” Justice said.