Overland Park, Kan.-based engineering firm Black & Veatch released a feasibility study Oct. 17 that said building a hyperloop transportation system along the 1-70 corridor—connecting the cities of St. Louis; Columbia, Mo.; and Kansas City—would be buildable and commercially viable and could cut travel times by three hours and generate $410 million in economic development locally.

Black & Veatch’s study, which has not been fully released yet, was commissioned by public stakeholders and Virgin Hyperloop One, a Los Angeles-based company that seeks to build the first such system in the U.S. A hyperloop is an elevated vacuum-tube system that transports people and cargo in pods at supersonic speeds at a fraction of the cost of air travel or even gasoline for driving.

“We are in the business of giving people time back,” says Ryan Kelly, head of marketing and communications at Virgin Hyperloop One. “The study showed that what’s currently a three-and-a-half hour trip between Kansas City and St. Louis, which could be up to 4.5 by driving depending on traffic, would be reduced to less than 30 minutes by hyperloop.”

The study found the average trip would be reduced to 28 minutes. Black & Veatch also found that the proposed corridor is straight and relatively flat, making construction straightforward. Highway rights of way are federally owned, making land acquisition easier.

1-70 Corridor
1-70 Corridor found to be strong candidate for hyperloop. Missouri Coalition eyes 2019 for P3 deal.

“There are places in the route where curves will need to be built and there are engineering challenges associated with any such project,” says Drew Thompson, director of data center and mission critical facility solutions at Black & Veatch, who headed up the feasibility study, “but the overall route is relatively flat and we do not believe it will necessitate tunneling or other underground infrastructure solutions.”

Thompson said Black & Veatch’s study examined several different routes connecting the three cities and settled on the 1-70 corridor route as the most viable. Virgin Hyperloop One software determined the path met minimum requirements for moving people and cargo safely through horizontal and vertical curves at up to 170 miles per hour.

Kelly said that Virgin Hyperloop One is interested in completing a public-private-partnership (P3) deal by 2019 via the Missouri Hyperloop Coalition, which comprises the Missouri Dept. of Transportation, the University of Missouri, the Kansas City Tech Council and other public stakeholders.

“The next phase will be a little longer and a little less exciting, quite frankly,” says Ryan Weber, president of the KC Tech Council. “By the end of next year we would like to have a P3 deal done for design and construction of the hyperloop.”

Virgin Hyperloop One would construct and operate the train as the P3 owner-contractor. The study assumes hyperloop ridership of 16,000 to 51,000 riders per round trip. Black & Veatch recommended Kansas City and St. Louis portals be able to handle 6,000 peak hour riders.

Another interesting claim from the study was that a trip from St. Louis to Kansas City would be cheaper via hyperloop than driving, based on the cost of gas.

Virgin Hyperloop’s Kelly said the next steps would be to evaluate portal location, further define portal requirements, identify possible locations of routing auxiliary structures, and further explore pricing and demand model economics.