RTA and Hyperloop One deal to connect Dubai and Abu Dhabi in 12 minutes

James De Vile
James De Vile

Elon Musk's visionary concept has made major gains in the UAE, with a recent collaboration announced by Dubai's Roads and Transport Authority and Hyperloop One

Hyperloop One insists it’s not a transportation company.

“We’re not selling cars, boats, trains or planes”, explains Josh Giegel, co-founder and president of engineering. “We’re selling time.”

The offer to every two-hour commuter of an hour and fifty minutes of his or her life back naturally has universal appeal. And the Hyperloop One team knows a thing or two about making every minute count.

Founded in a Los Angeles garage two years ago, Hyperloop One has already raised more than $160 million, assembled a 200-strong team, moved into a campus in Downtown LA, established a test site in the Nevada desert and constructed a 10,000-sq.m. manufacturing plant in Las Vegas.

By now, Hyperloop needs little introduction; based on open source designs by Tesla and SpaceX founder Elon Musk, the concept sees people and cargo propelled down a vacuum tube in pressurised pods at speeds of up to 1,200km/h. According to Hyperloop One, it’ll be safer, faster, cheaper, more sustainable and less disruptive than any other method of transport.

Right now in Los Angeles I live in a suburb 20km away and it still takes me 45 minutes to get to work. What if I could live in the mountains, or the forest?

Josh Giegel, Co-founder and president of engineering, Hyperloop One

This week, Hyperloop One CEO and ex-Cisco president Rob Lloyd sat down with HE Mattar Al Tayer, Director-General and Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) to sign an agreement to jointly construct a Hyperloop One network between Abu Dhabi and Dubai – potentially operational within the next five years.

At the signing, the Hyperloop One team also revealed the full scope of its vision – a network capable of further uniting the United Arab Emirates, enabling people to live and work wherever they choose. And while the focus is currently on linking the UAE’s two biggest cities, the eventual vision incorporates all seven emirates, as well as cities further afield such as Doha (23 minutes) and Riyadh (48 minutes).

Phase one of the project will look at linking Dubai’s main hubs: Dubai Marina, Downtown, Dubai Airport, Dubai World Central and Jebel Ali. The link with Abu Dhabi will be phase two, linking Etihad Towers and the Saadiyat Cultural District and reducing the currently 90-minute journey between Abu Dhabi and Dubai Airports to a mere ten minutes, with a top speed of around 300 metres per second.

This, says Giegel, could completely change the way people associate where they live with where they work. “Right now in Los Angeles I live in a suburb 20km away and it still takes me 45 minutes to get to work. What if I could live in the mountains, or the forest?”

In the UAE, the likely targets are those that fall outside commutable distance yet offer popular weekend getaways. Fujairah, with its long stretches of mountainous coastline and heritage sites, is one of the UAE’s most picturesque, yet least visited emirates.

hyperloop dubai 2
Hyperloop One CEO and ex-Cisco president Rob Lloyd and HE Mattar Al Tayer, Director-General and Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA)

Reducing the two-hour drive from Dubai through the Hajar mountain range to a ten-minute Hyperloop journey would transform Fujairah into a highly attractive residential location for Dubai’s commuters – improving their quality of life and having a significant effect on the emirate’s economic growth.

But, says Giegel, Hyperloop One’s contribution to humanity need not stop at getting people to work on time or letting them live in their dream location. With great power comes great responsibility – and Hyperloop has the power not only to enrich people’s lives, but save them too. 

“You could have the world’s leading hospital in heart surgery in Dubai, or the leading centre in brain surgery in Abu Dhabi. If I have a heart attack or stroke, I can be in the best place for me in ten minutes. We’re even looking at ambulance pods, so patients can get treatment directly on the move.”

One of the most oft-asked questions since Hyperloop’s inception has been how we, as humans, will cope with being thrust down a sealed tube at such incredible speed.

“We want the experience to feel like the elevator ride you took to get up here”, says Giegel. I suddenly realise why Hyperloop One chose to hold this event on the 112th floor of the Burj Khalifa – for now, that smooth, thirty second trip up the world’s tallest tower is as close as we’ll get to experiencing the effortless speed and comfort that this incredible technology promises.