In scuffle over federal funding of hyperloop development, Manchin wins in a tie

U.S. Senate Energy Chairman Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and his ranking committee counterpart today were on opposite sides of whether the federal government should fund superspeed transportation of passengers and freight through vacuum tubes.

That’s an important issue for Manchin’s home state, which was selected as home base for a hyperloop certification center on 800 acres of land crossing Tucker and Grant counties.

That project is spearheaded by Virgin Hyperloop, which is developing a high-speed transportation system to send pods whooshing through tubes at 600 miles an hour. The big challenge is developing the technology in a way that is cost-efficient.

During debate over a broad, $95 billion energy infrastructure and technology bill today, U.S. Senator John Barrasso, R-Wyo., offered an amendment to halt U.S. Department of Energy loan program eligibility for hyperloop technology.

John Barrasso

Barrasso, the ranking Republican on the energy committee, compared hyperloop to high-speed rail programs that he characterized as boondoggles.

“Hyperloop would be high-speed rail on steroids,” Barrasso said. “If high-speed rail is any guide, this bill would allow millions in taxpayer money to be loaned to companies that will end up being hyperloops to nowhere.”

To Manchin, Barrasso said, “Mr. Chairman, we’re all supportive of technologies of the future. We shouldn’t be supporting expensive science fiction at this time.”

Manchin disagreed.

Joe Manchin

“I believe the hyperloop technology is a giant leap forward into the future of transportation and will truly change the way we travel or the way we move goods across this country,” Manchin said.

“It also provides opportunity for domestic manufacturing and jobs, which is why I believe we need to support the emerging technologies.”

Barrasso’s amendment led to a 10-10 tie vote, which resulted in its failure.

Hyperloop technology hasn’t been proven to work at scale, but it’s a big deal right now for West Virginia.

In October 2020, Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop announced West Virginia had landed a $500 million development center for high-speed pod-and-tube transportation. The certification center would be a hub to lay the groundwork for research and regulation.

The project is expected to involve expertise and resources from West Virginia University, Marshall University and other state assets.

The company’s presence in West Virginia is expected to include a planned welcome center, certification track and operations center, pod final assembly facility, production development test center, and operations, maintenance and safety training center.

WVU’s Bureau of Business and Economic Research predicts the total economic impact of the center’s ongoing operation on the West Virginia economy to be $48 million annually.

One of the developers spearheading the project on the ground in West Virginia is Kelsey Kirby, the project development lead and Manchin’s granddaughter. 

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