Is Britain’s Hyperloop a pipe dream? Meet the people behind the UK’s futuristic transport effort

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    Hyperloop, an innovative mode of transport that was initially imagined by billionaire Elon Musk, promises Manchester to London in just 18 minutes, London to Edinburgh in half an hour, and London to Stoke in 14 minutes.

    Musk was late for a speaking engagement back in 2012 when the idea for a “fifth mode of transport” struck him. The next year, he published a 57-page plan outlining a transport system consisting of levitating pods that have the ability to travel at speeds of up to 700mph in a vacuum.

    Instead of starting his own company and financing the moon shot idea, Musk proposed a competition and called for entrants to start working on the project. This move was out of character for Musk, whose other radical ideas have led him to establish SpaceX and Tesla but he surrendered the germ of an idea to a host of academic and private researchers.

    The competition has generated thousands of research groups and startups from around the world. From Hyperloop One, a venture backed up by Silicon Valley, which has raised $160m, to the internet group of engineers who met on Reddit and have developed a prototype with $100,000 and a subscription to the messaging service Slack, rLoop.

    Around 60 organisations have been invited to the SpaceX test track to test their prototypes, and the United Kingdom has two competitors in the race to build a working prototype.

    One of the founding members of rLoop which Musk has invited to demonstrate on the SpaceX test track this weekend was Manchester-based Ilyas Vali. Taking part in a second round competition, following the rLoop demonstration, is a student team called HypEd which is backed up by the University of Edinburgh.

    The interest of Vai in the Hyperloop started in 2013 after he read the white paper while boarded on a train from Manchester to London. It was 2013, and he took the two and a half trip twice a week as part of his role as director of Touch Solar, an energy firm.

    “The idea for a fast train was awesome but the completion time for the HS2 route I wanted to take was 2035 and the journey time would have been cut by only about 40 minutes,” stated Vali. “I read Elon Musk’s white paper and thought ‘If you’re going to spend billions of pounds and years creating a faster and potentially cheaper transport service, you may as well use new technology’.”