Another state is looking at propelling people through tubes at 670 mph

Another state — this time North Carolina — has been enticed by the idea of hyperloop, the futuristic and still theoretical transit platform that will shuttle people and packages at speeds of up to 670 miles per hour between cities.

Virgin Hyperloop One and North Carolina’s Regional Transportation Alliance announced Friday the beginning of “an exploration” into using hyperloop to connect the state’s research triangle of Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill.

There is still a long way to go before hyperloop or this particular route that Virgin Hyperloop One is exploring  becomes a reality. Theoretically, if this one were built, it would take less than 10 minutes to travel between Raleigh and Durham or Chapel Hill, according to a pre-feasibility study carried out by AECOM. That would be a lynchpin for the area, which is home to some of the country’s top companies, universities and healthcare centers.

How this plays out is now in the hands of the North Carolina Department of Transportation. But based on comments at an event Friday, the state agency is not only interested in the research triangle; it also plans to look at expanding on the original idea and investigate a line that would connect to Charlotte and Washington, D.C.

The process from here on out will be a slow one. While state agencies investigate the feasibility of building hyperloop, Virgin Hyperloop One (VHO) is working on certifying the technology to carry humans. That certification process, which currently doesn’t exist, will likely take years. VHO aims to be certified by 2023 and have one of its hyperloop platforms in place by 2029.

The announcement follows a few milestones for VHO, including a recent demonstration in Washington, D.C. and the funding of NETT, or the Non traditional & Emerging Transportation Technologies Council, which will research and fund hyperloop nationally.

VHO raised $172 million in May. The company also has a new CEO — Jay Walder, who ran bike-sharing operator Motivate. Walder took over at VHO in November.

Sir Richard Branson, who stepped down as chairman in October, has been replaced with Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, chairman and CEO of the United Arab Emirates shipping and logistics company DP World.

DP World is the company’s largest investor. DP World first invested in the company in 2016. The two companies launched a logistics joint venture in 2018 to develop hyperloop transport for cargo.