For five years the two gigantic depots, which the Adif railway infrastructure company built in Bobadilla, near Antequera in inland Malaga province, have lying empty. They were originally built in preparation for the Antequera 'railway loop', but when that project was cancelled these buildings, which together cover over 19,000 square metres, were just abandoned. Now, thanks to an agreement which has just been signed between Adif and Virgin, they are to be used: as the first European development centre of the multinational's Hyperloop supersonic train.
The president of Adif, Isabel Pardo, and the CEO of Virgin Hyperloop One, Rob Lloyd, signed a route map earlier this week. The agreement is for ten years, and can be renewed. Virgin expects the new centre to be operative in 2020; it will develop, test and certify components and technological subsystems for the Virgin Hyperloop One systems.
Once the testing and validation phases are completed, the centre will remain open to provide support for the operations, maintenance and international expansion of the system. In the long term, the aim is to make it "a leading installation where other transport companies can test and certify new technologies," say sources at Virgin. "The capacity of this centre will enable Virgin Hyperloop One to work with regulators to certify systems and, eventually, increase the production capacity to satisfy future demand".
Virgin will be investing about 431 million euros in the project, which will include manufacturing areas, testing platforms and equipment for Virgin Hyperloop One. "In exchange," says the company, it will be given 126 million euros of public funds (in the form of loans and grants for R+D+i for the facilities). Neither Virgin nor Adif have said which administration or authorities will be providing these funds.
Impact on employment
The new centre in Bobadilla will create 250 direct jobs for highly qualified professionals in the next five years, and hundreds of indirect jobs from the creation of the "necessary ecosystem" for the manufacture of Hyperloop systems at world level, according to Adif. The two parties will collaborate on the implantation of this ecosystem, which will enable participating companies to export their products and services to other countries where the Virgin Hyperloop One projects are sold.
Virgin will be renting the Adif buildings which, due to their combined size of over 19,000 square metres, will be able to accommodate the equipment required for the hardware tests needed for the development of this leading-edge technology.
"In order for Hyperloop to be commercially viable it has to be safe and trustworthy; security is our number one priority," said Josh Giegel, the co-founder and head of technology of Virgin Hyperloop One. "We have been testing and improving our technology for the past four years, including the only Hyperloop system to real scale in the world. Eventually this centre will help us to complete our first projects and then go on to satisfy future demand from all over the world," he said.
Why did Virgin choose to come to Spain, and particularly Malaga? "With its solid high-speed transport, aerospace and high technology sectors, plus the excellent talent here, Spain is ideal for the Virgin Hyperloop One testing and development centre," said Rob Lloyd, CEO of Virgin Hyperloop One. With regard to Andalucía, sources at Virgin also stressed that: "With more than 9,000 transport and logistics companies, the second largest aerospace conglomerate in Spain and 20,000 people working in R+D, it is consolidating itself at a global level as an industrial hub for transportation and aerospace innovation. The region has an excellent business ecosystem and access to highly qualified professionals who can support the development of the centre".
This agreement, signed off by the new Spanish government, comes after months of negotiations started by the former minister of Public Works, Iñigo de la Serna. In May there was talk of discussions between Virgin and the Junta de Andalucía about using part of the infrastructure of the abandoned Antequera-Seville railway line, of which 77 kilometres have been built and never used, but this does not form part of the agreement signed this week. Although Virgin is not ruling out the possibility of other collaboration in the future, at the moment it is limiting itself to the Adif buildings in Bobadilla.
Sources associated with the project say it will also seek synergies with The Railway Innovation Hub, a group of companies based in Adif's Railway Technologies Centre (CTF) on the Andalusian Technological Park in Malaga. This is a cluster of 60 companies which are expert in different fields of innovation in railway technology.
The president of the Junta de Andalucía, Susana Díaz, said the agreement between Adif and Virgin for the experimentation centre for the new supersonic hyperloop train is "excellent news" for the region, and reinforces its reputation as a benchmark for innovation and research. "The supersonic trains of the future are to be developed in Antequera," she posted on Twitter.
Meanwhile, the regional government's delegate to Malaga, José Luis Ruiz Espejo, has also described the agreement as "very positive". He pointed out that a few years ago there had been plans for a high-speed experimentation track in Bobadilla, the so-called 'railway loop', but the project was eventually dropped "and the government of the time was not able to come up with anything to replace it; they said there was no interest among the private sector," he said.
The mayor of Malaga, Francisco de la Torre, also expressed his approval of the agreement and said he hoped it would have "the best possible result". He said the news had not come as a surprise to him, because he knew months ago that discussions were being held. "I was told about it by the former minister of Public Works, by the team at Adif and the Railway Technologies Centre," he explained.
The mayor of Antequera
In his response Manuel Barón, the mayor of Antequera, stressed the "quality employment" that this project will bring to his municipality. "I am very happy, very pleased. This is fantastic news for Antequera because it will generate top-level quality technological employment and will place Antequera and the whole of Malaga province at the top of the railway technology sector in Spain," he pointed out.
Barón said that in May Íñigo de la Serna had announced that "very advanced" discussions were taking place between Virgin and Adif, and the agreement signed this week by Virgin Hyperloop CEO Rob Lloyd and Adif president Isabel Pardo was the result of those discussions. He commented that he had been very pleased when Pardo was appointed to the post by the new government, "because she understands the reality of Adif and its projects and she knew that it had participated in others associated with Antequera in the past, he said, referring to the works which were reactivated to build the station for the AVE high speed station in the municipality.
It was back in 2013 that Tesla-founder Elon Musk announced his idea of building an ultrasonic train based on vacuum tubes and magnetic levitation, and strangely enough, that was also the year in which the two giant structures which were to be part of the 'railway loop' project were completed. Now, to everyone's satisfaction, they are to be brought together.