Virgin Hyperloop lays off 111 employees, ditches passengers for cargo only

The Virgin Hyperloop
The company had previously said it would be used by "hundreds of millions" of people. Photo credit: Reuters

The grandiose hype surrounding the Virgin Hyperloop has all but disappeared with news the company has made half of its staff redundant and ditched plans to carry passengers.

In May last year co-founder and Chief Executive Josh Giegel told Reuters commercial operations would start as early as 2027, saying it could be the first form of transport in 100 years to revolutionise travel.

"We're at like the very bleeding edge of what a high-speed autonomous battery-powered vehicle is," Giegel said.

"It starts off with two people riding a Hyperloop. It ends with hundreds of millions of people riding on a Hyperloop and that's what the 2020s, the roaring '20s will be."

The hyperloop was designed to have passenger pods hurtling through almost air-free vacuum tunnels using magnetic levitation at 1200 km/h.

However those passengers have now been replaced by cargo, brought about by "global supply chain issues and all the changes due to COVID".

The US-based company said 111 people were laid off at the end of last week, with a cargo version of the hyperloop now its focus, the Financial Times (FT) reported.

The layoffs were announced via a video conference, the paper reported, quoting one worker who lost their job as saying the cuts were "definitely not expected".

The company said the decision wasn't taken lightly. "It's allowing the company to respond in a more agile and nimble way and in a more cost-efficient manner," it told the FT. 

Virgin Hyperloop, which partner's with Richard Branson's Virgin Group, was looking to develop passenger routes in India to support the overloaded transport system and then in Saudi Arabia.

Part of the change can also be put down to Giegel's departure from the company, the FT said.

He quit, causing "internal turmoil' and a mass exodus of executives, one former senior employee said.

"Morale is low and there is no confidence in the new direction," they added.

DP World, which owns ports around the world as well as part of Virgin Hyperloop, said a cargo option in Saudi Arabia was still on the cards and it was in discussions with 15 customers worldwide.