Richard Branson steps down as chairman of Virgin Hyperloop One

Richard Branson has reportedly stepped down from the chairman role of Virgin Hyperloop One.

In a statement, cited by Reuters, Branson said the company would require more time than he could devote to the company:

At this stage in the company’s evolution, I feel it needs a more hands-on Chair, who can focus on the business and these opportunities. It will be difficult for me to fulfill that commitment as I already devote significant time to my philanthropic ventures and the many business within the Virgin Group.

What wasn’t mentioned was the cancellation of a planned project with Saudi Arabia after Branson criticized the kingdom and suspended negotiations around an intended $1 billion investment from the nation’s Public Investment Fund into Virgin’s space operations.

Branson is one of several business leaders who have cut ties with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia following the alleged assassination and dismemberment of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

Virgin Hyperloop’s largest investor is the United Arab Emirates shipping and logistics company DP World. Earlier this year, the two companies launched a logistics joint venture that would bring hyperloop technologies to the industry. DP World first invested in what is now Virgin Hyperloop back in 2016.

Earlier this month, Virgin Hyperloop released the results of a feasibility study conducted with Black & Veatch of the company’s planned route through Missouri to link St. Louis and Kansas City.

The independent report, authored by global infrastructure solutions company Black & Veatch, analyzes a proposed route through the I-70 corridor, the major highway traversing Missouri, and verifies the favorable safety and sustainability opportunities this new mode of transportation offers.

“A feasibility study of this depth represents the first phase of actualization of a full-scale commercial hyperloop system, both for passengers and cargo in the United States,” said chief executive Rob Lloyd, at the time. “We are especially proud that Missouri, with its iconic status in the history of U.S. transportation as the birthplace of the highway system, could be the keystone of a nation-wide network. The resulting socio-economic benefits will have enormous regional and national impact.”

In the U.S., Colorado and Ohio are also examining feasibility studies for Virgin Hyperloop technologies, while other projects are underway in India and the United Arab Emirates.

Hyperloop technology developers like Virgin Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies got their inspiration from early plans drawn up by Elon Musk.

As we wrote at the time:

The Hyperloop features tubes with a low level of pressurization that would contain pods with skis made of the SpaceX alloy inconel, which is designed to withstand high pressure and heat. Air exiting those skis through tiny holes would create an air cushion on which the pods would ride, and they’d be propelled by air jet inlets. And all of that would cost only around $6 billion, according to Musk.

We’ve reached out to a spokesperson from Virgin Hyperloop One for comment and will update when we hear back.