Last January, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) announced it had filed permits with Kings County in California to build "the world's first passenger-ready Hyperloop system." But the company never completed its planning application, according to a recent feature story in Wired.
Turns out there’s a bit more to it than that. Back in January, HTT said it would build its Hyperloop as part of Quay Valley, a proposed development meant to house 75,000 people located halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. The company said it would start principal construction in the middle of 2016. But HTT has yet to submit its environmental review application, which is delaying its building process. "This is nothing unusual," Sandy Roper, the principal planner at the Kings County Community Development Agency, told The Verge "There’s no set timeline" for projects such as these, Roper added.
Roper tells The Verge that last January, his agency received a permit from HTT to establish a "Hyperloop Research and Demonstration Center" located on the east side of Interstate 5, a few miles south of Kettleman City, California. The company hasn’t yet submitted an environmental review document for the project, and the agency can’t act without it. HTT would also need to overcome several more bureaucratic hurdles before it could be issued a building permit, such as a public comment period and approvals by both the board of supervisors and planning commission.
In an email, HTT CEO Dirk Ahlborn said that all the necessary work, like mapping and surveying, is already underway. "At the moment we are finishing the environmental studies and expect to be able to break ground later this year," he said. "These are buerocratical [sic] procedures we don’t influence."
Still it shouldn’t come as a surprise that questions are swirling about the viability about the Hyperloop. The idea was first submitted as an open-source project by Elon Musk in 2013. Since then, the Hyperloop has spawned two Los Angeles-based startups, numerous partnerships with former governments, and a whole cottage industry of fans and doubters who wonder if the super-fast, futuristic transportation system can ever be built.
Of the two startups that are attempting to build commercially viable hyperloops, HTT was was always regarded with more skepticism. Unlike its main competitor, Hyperloop One, HTT only has two paid employees, Ahlborn and chief operating officer Bibop Gresta. In lieu of paid staffers, it relies on a network of volunteers from NASA, Boeing, Tesla, and SpaceX who work on the project in exchange for stock options. And while Hyperloop One has conducted a public test of its technology, HTT insists on keeping its prototype under wraps in fear of having its ideas stolen by its rivals.
Ahlborn said the lack of permits shouldn’t distract from the progress his company has made toward bringing the Hyperloop into reality. "The county is as supportive as they can be," he said, adding that the land use procedures could take several years at best. Which is to say the Hyperloop itself may be very fast, but the process of getting it built most certainly won’t be.
Update September 6th, 3:15PM ET: Ahlborn pushed back against the notion that his project was delayed, arguing that "these are buerocratic processes, so you always have to count with a couple of month of delays... Once we start construction we can influence the timeline."