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Dubai's Interest in the Hyperloop Is Shockingly Sensible

It’s all about the massive Jebel Ali port.

Hyperloop technology is tested in North Las Vegas earlier this year. (Steve Marcus/Reuters)

The race continues to develop the Hyperloop, the science fiction-like system that would propel passengers or goods through low pressure tubes at speeds faster than some airplanes. A trip from Los Angeles to San Francisco, normally a six-hour drive, would be reduced to 30 minutes. The Silicon Valley startup Hyperloop One is testing the technology in a patch of Nevada desert, and competitor Hyperloop Transportation Technologies is building a test track in California.

But the latest in the Hyperloop story is that it’s going global. While there are rumblings of Hyperloop development in Russia and India, among other countries, the emirate of Dubai is particularly interested in the technology. Dubai’s government will host a two-day competition in September in which teams from around the world will present Hyperloop designs to judges.

Hyperloop technology may someday be used at Dubai’s Jebel Ali, the Middle East’s biggest port. (STR New/Reuters)

The technology would be used for passenger transport among the different emirates, but there are also plans to assess the feasibility of using the Hyperloop at Dubai’s massive Jebel Ali port. DP World, a port operator, and Hyperloop One just announced a partnership to research the viability of dispatching container cargo from the port to an inland hub through the tubes. The Hyperloop could be situated either under or aboveground. It could also be submerged under water to connect Jebel Ali’s Terminal 4, which will eventually be located on a manmade island, to onshore destinations.

Jebel Ali handles around 19 million shipping containers annually, and is looking to the Hyperloop to help increase this number. Other goals for the technology are to free up space at the port for additional activities and to reduce Dubai’s traffic congestion and the resulting carbon emissions.

Dubai’s interest in the Hyperloop has helped shine a light on the potential use of the technology to move things rather than people. Criticisms of the Hyperloop have often focused on how the quest to develop it risks overlooking what’s needed for public transportation in the here and now. As Eric Jaffe wrote for CityLab last year:

The tech industry can spare a few dreamers, and even a few billion dollars, to pursue the Hyperloop if it so desires. But why such a fantastical project would spark a race of rich resources and sharp minds while a conventional high-speed rail effort (not to mention basic bus service in cities) struggles to secure public support is a bit of a curious case.

Focusing the Hyperloop race more toward the movement of freight ostensibly makes a lot more sense, not to mention the fact that it eliminates the problem that traveling in it may very well make people vomit.

The possible use of Hyperloop technology to move freight is also being explored in the United States. Hyperloop One and the Los Angeles-based engineering firm AECOM are conducting a study to determine how the technology could improve the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach.

About the Author

  • Mimi Kirk
    Mimi Kirk is a contributing writer to CityLab, with a focus on the Middle East and Asia. She lives in Washington, D.C.