A "certification track" in Missouri could be the start of a future Kansas City to St. Louis hyperloop route, the Missouri Blue Ribbon Panel on Hyperloop recommended in a report released Monday.
The 12- to 15-mile track would cost between $300 million and $500 million.
"Missouri would position itself as the natural epicenter for the research, development and commercialization of hyperloop technology" by building the certification track, the report reads. A 31-member panel, chaired by Lt. Gov. Mike Kehoe, included lawmakers, business leaders and academics, including University of Missouri System President Mun Choi and Dean of Engineering Elizabeth Loboa and began working in March.
Members of the panel touted the hyperloop plan in a stop on the MU campus. Announcements also were held in Kansas City and St. Louis to release the report.
"We believed from day one that we would get this accomplished — and right here in Missouri," Choi said.
The report recommends the UM System convene a consortium of universities to establish an International Tube Transport Center of Excellence. MU has more than 10,000 engineering students who could benefit, Choi said.
"We believe this is the next step in transportation," said House Speaker Elijah Haahr, R-Springfield.
Missouri is competing with many other states to have the first operational system, he said.
"It would be transformative to the state, to the university and to everyone involved in it," Haahr said.
State Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden, R-Columbia, another panelist, said the hyperloop transcends political differences.
"This is a generational, transformative conversation," he said.
Virgin has proposed a possible hyperloop route from Kansas City to St. Louis, with a stop in Columbia. The trip from one side of state to the other would take 30 minutes, with a 15-minute trip to Columbia. With hyperloop, promoters say, pods would move inside an enclosed, low-pressure tube, propelled by magnetic levitation and electric propulsion at up to 670 miles per hour.
Pods traveling directly from St. Louis to Kansas City wouldn't stop in Columbia. Virgin has a goal of handling 16,000 passengers per direction per hour when it becomes operational sometime in the late 2020s.
A Virgin Hyperloop One pod was displayed at MU earlier this month.
The Kansas City to St. Louis route would cost $30 million to $40 million per mile to build, or $7.3 billion to $10.4 billion, according to a feasibility study conducted by engineering firm Black & Veatch.
Asked about public support for increasing taxes for such a project, Haahr noted that lawmakers found ways to fund transportation without increasing taxes. This project would require private participation, he said.
Greg Steinhoff of Columbia, a member of the panel and a former director of the Department of Economic Development, said after the presentation that the tube transport center will put the university at the center of technological development of hyperloops. One role for the center would be to advise the federal government on the regulations needed to insure safety at high speeds, he said.
"That is where the University of Missouri can really play a major role and there is almost a greater interest by Virgin than actually the test track," Steinhoff said. "Whether the test track is in mid-Missouri or Kansas City or St. Louis, the University of Missouri will play a major role in pulling together all the transportation resources in the higher education community to make it happen."
The first recommendation in the report is to build the certification track and to establish partnerships to build and operate a commercial hyperloop route connecting the three cities and to ensure money is reinvested to maintain the commercial route.
A second recommendation is for the state to appoint a project sponsor to oversee development, procure private partners and reduce risks to taxpayers, organized by the state Department of Transportation and Department of Economic Development.
The third recommendation is for the project sponsor to develop a financial plan.
The certification track would be built in phases. The length would allow a pod to approach maximum velocity and the alignment would include a significant curve and variation in elevation. It's meant to be sufficient for regulatory review and safety certification. The certification track also would position Missouri as the natural location for further development of the system, the report reads.
The report states a commercial hyperloop route could establish Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia as an "economic megaregion" with an annual economic impact of $1.67 billion to $3.68 billion, creation of between 7,600 and 17,200 jobs and increased real estate values around the stations.
Risks listed in the report include the potential that the technology doesn't work as intended over long distances; that it's not commercially self-sustaining and would require a public subsidy to operate; and that if the Missouri route isn't the first, it won't be part of a future national network.
The report and the feasibility study keeps Missouri front and center, Haahr said.
Kehoe also talked about the importance of remaining in front of the crowd.
"There's really no prize for second place," Kehoe said.
The benefit to MU and its students of the project would be immense, said Chancellor Alexander Cartwright.
"It's a grand challenge," Cartwright said. "We don't think small. We think big. We think 'what can our future be?'"