HyperloopTT signs deal for first commercial system in China

(This version of the July 19 story corrects the headline and paragraph 1 to say HyperloopTT is building a commercial system, not a test track, in China)

SHANGHAI (Reuters) - California-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HyperloopTT) has signed a deal with the southwestern province of Guizhou to build its first commercial system in China, the U.S. firm said on Thursday.

A hyperloop uses magnets to levitate pods inside an airless tube, creating conditions in which the pods can propel people and freight at speeds of up to 750 miles (1,200 kms) per hour.

HyperloopTT and government-owned Tongren Transportation Tourism Investment Group will set up a joint venture that will build a hyperloop track and conduct research into the technology, HyperloopTT said in a statement.

HyperloopTT will provide technology, engineering expertise, and essential equipment in the venture, while Tongren will take charge of relevant certifications, regulatory framework, and construction of the system, it said.

The venture will be a public private partnership in which 50 percent of the funds will come directly from Tongren, it said.

The joint venture will build a 10 kilometer-long track in Guizhou’s Tongren city as part of the first phase, the People’s Daily newspaper said in an earlier report, adding that the two parties will co-own any intellectual property developed during the project.

An executive at Tongren Transportation Tourism Investment Group confirmed to Reuters that a deal had been signed but declined to provide details. The Guizhou government did not immediately respond to request for comment.

While still an unproven technology, the hyperloop concept was popularized by Tesla founder Elon Musk. Last week, Tesla signed a deal with the Shanghai government to build the electric car maker’s first plant outside the United States.

HyperloopTT also has agreements to build systems in other countries such as Ukraine and is currently building a test track in France.

China runs the world’s longest high-speed rail line and is itself looking to build its own supersonic transport network. HyperloopTT’s main other competitor is Virgin Hyperloop One, which is backed by British billionaire Richard Branson.

State-owned China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC), one of the country’s major space contractors, is working on a system that can shuttle trains at a maximum speed of 1,000 kilometers per hour and is eyeing technologies that could go as fast as 4,000 kilometers per hour in the future.

Reporting by Brenda Goh and Shanghai Newsroom; Editing by Sunil Nair and Jan Harvey