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Russian Oligarch Is Backing Hyperloop One’s Effort to Reach Moscow

June 21, 2016, 6:36 PM UTC
Day Two Of The Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum 2015
Ziyavudin Magomedov, billionaire and chairman of Summa Group, speaks to attendees between sessions at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) in Saint Petersburg, Russia, on Friday, June 19, 2015. SPIEF is an annual international conference dedicated to economic and business issues which takes place at the Lenexpo exhibition center June 18-20. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Chris Ratcliffe — Bloomberg via Getty Images

Hyperloop One’s futuristic high-speed transport system for people and packages could be headed for Moscow thanks to the backing of Russian oligarch Ziyavudin Magomedov.

The Los Angeles-based startup and Summa Group—the industrial port logistics, engineering, and oil and gas conglomerate owned by Magomedov—announced on Tuesday they have signed an agreement with city of Moscow to explore building high-capacity passenger systems connected to the Russian city’s transport grid.

If Magomedov gets his way, it will be more than a system to move people. Both Magomedov and Hyperloop One co-founder and executive chairman Shervin Pishevar have bigger plans for the region.

“Our longer term vision is to work with Russia to implement a transformative new Silk Road: a cargo Hyperloop that whisks freight containers from China to Europe in a day,” Pishevar said in a statement.

Magomedov, who founded Caspian VC Partners in 2013 to invest up to $300 million into startups, including Hyperloop One, said the transport system could someday catalyze the development of regional economic integration, including the Eurasian Economic Union and the Chinese initiative “One Belt—One Road.”

For now, it’s just a study. Hyperloop One also has feasibility studies underway in Finland, Sweden, The Netherlands, Switzerland, Dubai, the Port of Los Angeles, and the United Kingdom.

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Hyperloop One also announced Tuesday the judges for its a global hyperloop competition. The panel of judges includes Peter Diamandis, founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation; Bassam Mansour, an international railway industry advisor; Clive Burrows, a transport engineer; Alan Berger, professor of landscape architecture and urban design at MIT; and Ulla Tapaninen, a senior advisor of economic development at the city of Helsinki.

The panel of judges will review the entries towards the end of the year and determine a shortlist of projects to be examined in greater detail. Three winners to be announced in March 2017.

Hyperloop One, which was founded by Brogan BamBrogan and Pishevar and now led by ex-Cisco President Rob Lloyd, is just one of several companies trying to build the transportation system that theoretically will send people and cargo through depressurized tubes at speeds of up to 760 mph. The idea for hyperloop was first floated in 2013 by Tesla Motors (TSLA) and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who challenged others to pursue and potentially develop the concept. Hyperloop One and competitor Hyperloop Transportation Technologies were among the first to jump at the idea.

Last month, Hyperloop One held its first open-air test of its propulsion system in North Las Vegas, Nev. At the event, the company announced a number of new global partnerships. Multinational engineering firm AECOM, underground engineering specialists Amberg Group, U.K.-based engineering and design company ARUP, German railway and logistics giant Deutsche Bahn, FS Links Ab, and KPMG are just some of the companies partnering with the startup.

Under the partnerships, Hyperloop One will evaluate specific passenger and freight routes. Hyperloop One is working with FS Links to study the viability of a Hyperloop route linking Helsinki, Finland, and Stockholm, Sweden, which could theoretically reduce the travel time from more than 16 hours by ferry to approximately 30 minutes.

Competition to build the first hyperloop has been heating up in recent months. Earlier this year, rival company Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, or HTT, announced it had reached an agreement with Slovakia to explore building a 50-mile hyperloop route between Bratislava and Vienna. The system could potentially connect European cities Bratislava, Vienna, and Budapest.

HTT also announced in May that it has licensed passive magnetic levitation technology for its transport system that was originally developed by Dr. Richard Post and his team at Lawrence Livermore National Labs. The startup has worked with the national lab over the past year to develop and build test systems using the technology, according to HTT.