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Is this the future of transportation? The Hyperloop pod visits the Triangle this week.

The idea behind Virgin Hyperloop One, which promises to whisk people and cargo through a tube at more than 670 miles per hour, sounds like science fiction or perhaps something from “The Jetsons.”

So to try to show that the technology is real, and to generate some buzz, Virgin is taking its test pod around the country so people can see it up close. After stops in Ohio, Texas, Kansas, Missouri and New York City, the hyperloop roadshow comes to the Triangle on Thursday and Friday.

The test pod known as XP-1 will be on display at the Chatham County Agriculture and Conference Center in Pittsboro from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday. You can see it Friday between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at The Frontier, at 800 Park Offices Drive in Research Triangle Park.

Virgin propels the pod inside a tube from which most of the air has been removed, using electro-magnetic levitation to keep it floating above the track. With little drag or friction, the company says, the pod can move at the speed of a jet plane on less energy. Virgin says acceleration will feel like a jumbo jet taking off, but because the environment inside the tube is controlled there won’t be any turbulence.

A hyperloop hasn’t achieved those speeds yet. Hyperloop One got up to 240 mph inside a 550-foot-long prototype in the Nevada desert; the company says higher speeds are possible in a longer tube, where there’s enough room to accelerate and brake.

Virgin refers to its first test run in December 2017 as its “Kitty Hawk test,” a reference to the Wright Brothers’ first powered flight in North Carolina in 1903.

The Regional Transportation Alliance, a program of the Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce, helped arrange the pod’s visit to the Triangle. The alliance brought Virgin Hyperloop One’s marketing director and senior civil engineer to Cary this summer to speak to a ballroom full of business and government leaders, and the company agreed to include the Triangle on its national tour.

“They must have liked what they saw and what they heard,” said Joe Milazzo, the organization’s executive director.

The XP-1 is about 33 feet long, 10 feet wide and 13 feet tall and can carry about 28 people. You won’t be able to see inside the pod during its stops in the Triangle, Milazzo said, but representatives from the company will be on hand to answer questions.

“This is more looking at the outside, getting a sense of it,” he said.

Virgin Hyperloop One doesn’t expect to have federal approval to build a hyperloop system in the U.S. until at least 2024. And while the company is developing the technology, it would take state and local governments to plan and finance construction.

The Triangle is one of several regions around the country that are exploring the technology. In Columbus, Ohio, where the national roadshow began in early August, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission is spending $2.5 million on a feasibility study. Virgin says nine states have expressed interest, including Missouri, Texas and Colorado.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.
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