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"Malaga will be the epicentre of R+D for Hyperloop in Europe"

Ryan Kelly, speaking at the South Summit in Madrid.
Ryan Kelly, speaking at the South Summit in Madrid. / SUR
  • Ryan Kelly, Director of Marketing and Communication at Virgin Hyperloop One, was speaking at a recent conference in Madrid

"We are trying to create a new form of transport which will change the way in which people are connected and travel: our whole way of life, in other words," says Ryan Kelly, who is the Global Marketing and Communication Director for the Virgin Hyperloop One company. Kelly, who lives in Los Angeles, USA, is also a professor of digital marketing and has been with the company since September 2016. We caught up with him recently in Madrid, when he was attending the South Summit 18 conference.

How much still needs to be done before Hyperloop becomes a reality as a means of transport?

We have been carrying out tests in the Nevada desert for the past year, with a 'pod' (as the cabin is called), and with real infrastructure, so I suppose we could say that Hyperloop is already a means of transport. It's truly exciting: four years ago we were in a garage and now we are working with the Railway Authority in the Spanish parliament. Probably the greatest challenge we face at present is the regulatory scenario. More than two-thirds of the Hyperloop systems conform with existing standards: in the aerospace, railway and automotive sectors. For the other third, we will need a new standard. We have started the first stages of the certification process and we hope to continue our work with the regulators, to comply with existing legislation when appropriate and collaborate on creating new regulations where necessary. It is important for people to know that the G-force (the level of resistance which passengers' bodies will notice during the journey) is the same as that of a high-speed train.

When will we see it in commercial service for the first time?

We calculate that it will be in the middle of the next decade.

Where will that be?

We are working with organisations all over the world to study potential routes, and we are having continual conversations with governments and governmental organisations to advance the first projects. So far, our company is focusing on the highest levels of participation and involvement by governments such as the USA, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and India. We are also working with and meeting numerous government organisations in Europe.

(During his presentation in Madrid, Ryan Kelly said the first line is expected to be finished in India in 2026).

What will the development of the Hyperloop mean for the laboratory in Bobadilla, in Malaga?

That new centre will enable us to continue advancing our project at the fastest speed. It's where they will develop, test and certify components and sub-systems which need to be ready when the Hyperloop comes into service in the mid 2020s. The capacities of the laboratory will help us to work with the regulators to certify systems. In the end, they will allow us to fulfil our first commercial agreements and scale up production so we can satisfy future demand. That centre will act as an R+D hub in Europe, a region which is very important for us because of its own importance at global level in terms of innovation in the transport sector, and for the work in that sense which can be carried out with the authorities in the European Union.

How many engineers will be working there?

We estimate that there will be about 250 to 300 highly qualified engineers.

Why did you decide to set up in Malaga, with all the other options available to you round the world?

There were several reasons. Spain is a leader in the transport sector, so it is an ideal place for an R+D centre like this one. It operates the second biggest high-speed rail infrastructure in the world; it is the second biggest car manufacturer and has the fifth largest aerospace sector in Europe. Also, the region of Andalucía has an excellent ecosystem and an extensive base of highly qualified talent. With more than 9,000 transport and logistics companies, the second biggest aerospace cluster in Spain and 20,000 employees in R+D, Andalucía is becoming a hub for the transport and aerospace sectors at a global level. Antequera is situated in the geographical centre of Andalucía, and is also a hub for the transport sector.

When could the laboratory in Bobadilla start operating?

We're working on completing the facilities by the end of 2019, and then we'll be able to start carrying out the first contracts.

What will be the role of the Railway Technology Centre, on the PTA in Malaga?

Right now we are considering all options, but nothing has yet been decided.

The financial assistance for which you have applied, where will that be coming from? The government, the Junta de Andalucía, the EU, or a combination?

We are having discussions at the very highest level with all these institutions.

Do you have guarantees that you will be able to access this public funding?

We want to be respectful of the whole negotiating process. Although there are no guarantees, we are convinced that the benefits of this type of investment in Malaga province, and Andalucía and Spain by extension, will far outweigh the costs involved.

If you didn't obtain this funding, would you cancel the project in Malaga?

As we said when we announced the agreement, the total investment is contingent upon us obtaining 126 million euros in public funding. However, we are convinced that we will obtain it because, as I said, the benefits of this project are much greater than the costs in terms of the creation of wealth, employment, the driving force on the local economy, etc.