The 760mph freight train: Richard Branson unveils new Dubai venture to move cargo on ‘levitating’ Hyperloop pods by 2021

  • London-based Foster and Partners has helped design pods that can move cargo at 760mph (1,223km/h)
  • It claims the Hyperloop service will be the same price per kilogram as a lorry delivery but with less pollution
  • As part of its vision, shown in a new video, drones would be used to complete the final leg of the journey
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Hyperloop technology that will transport people on ‘levitating pods’ at 760mph (1,223km/h) could transform the way we travel.

But it’s not just passengers that will feel the benefits.  

Architect Foster and Partners has designed concept pods that can move cargo at these incredible speeds at the same cost as existing systems and with less pollution.

The London-based firm has teamed up with Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop One, one of the two consortiums developing the technology.

Alongside ports operator DP World, they plan to develop the first intercontinental Hyperloop cargo route through Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

The consortium says they will have three ‘production systems’ in service by 2021.

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    Hyperloop technology that will transport people on ‘levitating pods’ at 760mph (1,223km/h) could transform the way we travel. But it’s not just passengers that will feel the benefits. Architect Foster and Partners has designed pods that can move cargo at these incredible speeds at the same cost as existing systems and with less pollution

    ‘If you look at the history, whenever there’s a new transportation technology, it’s usually the cargo that comes first,’ said Stefan Behling, head of studio at Foster and Partners.

    ‘People want to see the technology proven and now it can be proven through cargo.’

    The cargo system, which is being designed alongside a possible passenger service by Virgin Hyperloop One, will be called the DP World Cargospeed. 

    The plan would enable delivery on the Hyperloop system from huge warehouses to consumers many miles away at the same price per kilogram as a lorry.

    As part of their vision, drones would be used to complete the final leg of the journey.

    The entire system would be powered by renewable energy to avoid producing direct emissions.


    London-based firm, Forster and Partners, has teamed up with Richard Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop One, one of the two consortiums developing the technology. Alongside ports operator DP World, they plan to develop the first intercontinental Hyperloop shipping route through Asia, the Middle East and Europe


    The consortium says they will have three ‘production systems’ in service by 2021. As part of their vision, drones would be used to complete the final leg of the journey

    ‘The movement of people and goods is part of the vital infrastructure that binds all our cities together – and cities are the future of our society,’ said Norman Foster, founder of Foster and Partners. 

    ‘As hyperloop looks to reinvent urban transport and logistics, the city of the future is closer than we think,’ he continued.

    ‘It is important we develop an integrated sustainable vision of infrastructure that will enable us to evolve and adapt our existing cities, and design new ones that will be in harmony with nature and our precious planet.’

    WHAT IS THE HYPERLOOP?

    Hyperloop is a proposed method of travel that would transport people at roughly 700mph between distant locations.

    It was unveiled by Elon Musk in 2013, who at the time said it could take passengers the 380 miles (610km) from LA to San Francisco in 30 minutes – half the time it takes a plane.

    It is essentially a long tube that has had the air removed to create a vacuum. For safety reasons, Hyperloop tunnels need escape hatches in case of fire. 

    The tube is suspended off the ground to protect against weather and earthquakes. 

    There are now a number of firms vying to bring the technology to life, including Elon Musk himself, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, and Virgin Hyperloop One.  


    As several firms vie to create the first operational Hyperloop, Elon Musk’s vision of a radical transport system that could ferry passengers above land at 760 miles per hour continues to inch closer to reality

    Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, the port operator’s CEO and chairman revealed the system at a glitzy announcement alongside billionaire Mr Branson earlier this month on the floating hotel Queen Elizabeth 2 in Dubai.

    A hyperloop involves levitating pods, powered by electricity and magnetism, hurtling through low-friction pipes at a top speed of 760mph (1,220km/h). Tesla co-founder Elon Musk first proposed the idea in 2013. 

    ‘Today things are changing. Today our role is not in the port,’ bin Sulayem said. ‘Our role is from the time the cargo leaves the factory before it reaches the consumer’s door.

    Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who also serves as the Emirates’ vice president and prime minister, also made an unannounced appearance at Sunday’s event, showing the importance his government puts in the new technology.


    ‘If you look at the history, whenever there’s a new transportation technology, it’s usually the cargo that comes first,’ said Stefan Behling, head of studio at Foster and Partners. ‘People want to see the technology proven and now it can be proven through cargo’


    The entire system would be powered by renewable energy to avoid producing direct emissions and would cost the same as a lorry delivery


    A hyperloop involves levitating pods, powered by electricity and magnetism, hurtling through low-friction pipes at a top speed of 760mph (1,220km/h). Tesla co-founder Elon Musk first proposed the idea in 2013

    ‘Dubai is on the cutting edge of everything,’ Mr Branson said.

    Models in white jumpsuits and capes stood at every winding turn on the way to board the Queen Elizabeth 2, which recently became a floating hotel after nearly a decade-long dockside wait. 

    Slick graphics bearing an April 29, 2025 date showed pods coming in from a series of tubes and racing past a Dubai skyline featuring a solar panel farm.

    Hyperloop One officials suggested in 2016 the travel time by hyperloop between Dubai and Abu Dhabi would be only 12 minutes – significantly down from the hour-plus journey it now takes by car between the two cities.

    Hyperloop TT, another firm based in Los Angeles, announced plans earlier this month to build a test track within a 6.2-mile property near Abu Dhabi’s border with Dubai. Its partner is the largely state-owned developer Aldar Properties.

    But Dubai’s Roads and Transportation Authority recently issued a statement denying any plans to build a Hyperloop track between the emirate’s new Al Maktoum International Airport and Abu Dhabi International Airport. 


    The plan would enable delivery on the Hyperloop system from huge warehouses to consumers many miles away at the same price per kilogram as a lorry. Shown here is a screenshot of the video showing the cargo hyperloop concept


    A concept of a hyperloop cargo port is shown here.  ‘The movement of people and goods is part of the vital infrastructure that binds all our cities together – and cities are the future of our society,’ said Norman Foster, founder of Foster and Partners. ‘As hyperloop looks to reinvent urban transport and logistics, the city of the future is closer than we think,’ he continued

    Branson, who Forbes Magazine estimates has a net worth of $4.9 billion (£3.62 billion), became Virgin Hyperloop One’s chairman in December.

    Hyperloop One’s former chairman and co-founder, the venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar, took a leave of absence after facing a series of sexual misconduct allegations, which he denied. 

    Russian billionaire Ziyavudin Magomedov, a board member and early investor, also left after facing unrelated charges accusing him of embezzling money from Russian government infrastructure contracts.

    Asked about the boardroom challenges, Branson only said that ‘the previous chairman has left and I stepped in.’


    Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, sits with Sir Richard Branson, CEO of the Virgin group, in Dubai

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      ‘I’m ready for a new challenge and it’s a very exciting new challenge,’ he said.

      As one of the world’s largest port operators, DP World has looked at the potential of using hyperloop technology to speed cargo from its Jebel Ali port operation in Dubai to storage areas further out into the surrounding desert to free up space.

      Bin Sulayem refused to say how much DP World has spent across three different funding rounds with Virgin Hyperloop One. However, he did describe the port operator as ‘the largest investor in hyperloop.’

      Virgin Hyperloop One in total has raised some $276 million (£200 million) in funding rounds, according to the business information website crunchbase.com. 

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        Richard Branson talks next to Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem during the Hyperloop One presentation aboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 in Dubai

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