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State chosen for Hyperloop center

CHARLESTON – After spending nearly a year wooing executives with Virgin Hyperloop, the company selected West Virginia out of 17 other states for its certification center.

Virgin Hyperloop will construct the Hyperloop Certification Center on 800 acres of land between Tucker and Grant counties. The property owned Western Pocahontas Properties will be donated to the West Virginia University Foundation in partnership with Virgin.

Sir Richard Branson, the billionaire founder of Virgin Group, made the announcement Thursday morning.

“Today is one of the most exciting days in Virgin Hyperloop’s history,” Branson said. “The Hyperloop Certification Center is the start of the hyperloop journey for West Virginia, for the United States, and for the world. We’re one step closer to making hyperloop travel a reality for people everywhere.”

The Virgin Hyperloop project proposes a high-speed passenger and cargo transportation system using pods that travel through vacuum tubes using a proprietary magnetic levitation system. Pods would move up to 28 people at a time and bring down the cost of transporting goods, while having a lower environmental impact.

The goal is to reach speeds up to 1,000 kilometers per hour, or 621 miles per hour, sending people and products three times faster than high-speed rail and 10 times faster than the traditional rails that crisscross the state. So far, the project has reached speeds of up to 387 mile per hour. Virgin hopes to receive a safety certification for Hyperloop by 2025 and start commercial operations by 2030.

“Today is a fantastic day for the state of West Virginia, and I’d like to be the first to officially welcome the folks from Virgin Hyperloop to their new home,” said Gov. Jim Justice. “For years, I have been saying that West Virginia is the best kept secret on the East Coast, and it’s true. Just look at this announcement and all it will bring to our state – investment, jobs, and tremendous growth. It’s a true honor and privilege to be selected as the site for the Hyperloop Certification Center and lead the nation in this next step forward for transportation.

The Hyperloop Certification Center will involve the construction of a 6 mile testing system to reach benchmarks for speed and turning, as well as set the certifications and specifications for hyperloop systems across the U.S. and worldwide, Virgin said. According to Virgin Hyperloop CEO Jay Walder, the project recently received a regulatory framework from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which opens the doors for federal grants and possible deployment of hyperloop systems.

“Particularly as we look to emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, it’s clear that we need a 21st century solution that will propel us forward, allowing us to not just rebuild, but actually evolve,” Walder said. “Hyperloop is that solution, and we look forward to working with our partners across the country – in places like West Virginia, Ohio, Texas, Missouri, Washington, and North Carolina – to connect the country from coast to coast.”

Virgin plans to start construction in 2021. The facility will include a welcome center, a certification track and operations center, a pod final assembly facility, a production development test center and an operations, maintenance and safety training center. The project is expected to create thousands of jobs in its construction and an annual economic impact to the state of $48 million.

The project will also bring together WVU and Marshall University, giving students at the state’s two higher education institutions an opportunity to help develop the new state-of-the-art transportation system.

“I am committed to building a consortium of universities from around the country, which will lend their expertise to further develop the vision of hyperloop,” WVU President E. Gordon Gee said. “We will also create educational and institutional opportunities for students, faculty, and staff to be a part of this program. There is no greater learning lab than what we will build here in West Virginia.”

Higher Education institutions are hubs for research, innovation and talent, said Jerome Gilbert, president of Marshall University.

“Colleges and universities help build and strengthen our communities and, in this partnership with Virgin Hyperloop, the awesome opportunity to build the communities of the future is now at our doorstep,” he said.

West Virginia was among 17 states submitting proposals for the Hyperloop Certification Center. Virgin Hyperloop officials joined Justice and officials with the Department of Commerce, Department of Revenue, Department of Transportation, Department of Environmental Protection and the West Virginia National Guard at West Virginia University last November to discuss West Virginia as an ideal location for the certification center.

Justice also praised the Virgin Hyperloop project during his 2020 State of the State address to open up the annual legislative session.

“We’re reaching out in every way, shape, form or fashion, and it’s a possibility. It is an absolute possibility,” Justice said. “We have the terrain. We have the willingness from all of our people. It is so phenomenal, it’s off the chart. I will do anything and everything I can.”

Virgin Hyperloop, headquartered in Los Angeles, was founded in 2014 at Hyperloop Technologies. The company was founded by Branson, the founder of Virgin Records, the Virgin Atlantic airline and Virgin Galactic, whose goal is creating an industry for space tourism. Forbes Magazine lists Branson’s net worth at $4.1 billion.

Sens. Joe Manchin and Shelley Moore Capito and Reps. David McKinley, Alex Mooney and 3rd District Congresswoman Carol Miller of West Virginia also were involved.

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