Richard Branson is upgrading his board seat to that of chairman at Virgin Hyperloop One, the futuristic transport company developing 700mph electric trains.
The move comes just weeks after Branson and his Virgin Group led an $85M funding round into Hyperloop One, implementing a rebranding. Then, Branson said he looked forward to "helping turn this cutting edge engineering into a global passenger service," after joining the company as a board member in November.
A brainchild of Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk, hyperloop is a new type of high speed train which uses magnetic levitation, electric motors and a tunnel with most of its air removed to whisk passengers between cities at the speed of a commercial airliner. Branson believes a hyperloop could travel from London to Edinburgh — a distance of 400 miles, in 50 minutes.
Described by Musk as a cross between Concorde, a railgun and an air hockey table, it is easy to see why Branson is interested in making hyperloop technology a reality.
"I am excited by the latest developments at Virgin Hyperloop One and delighted to be its new chairman," Branson said in a press release. "The recent investment by our partners Caspian Venture Capital and DP World sets up the company to pursue opportunities in key markets in the Middle East, Europe, and Russia as it develops game changing and innovative passenger and cargo ground transport systems."
The news comes as Virgin Hyperloop One sets a new speed record during testing, of 240mph, the fastest speed yet achieved by a hyperloop system.
The businessman tried — and failed — to buy the British Airways Concorde fleet before it was taken out of service in 2003. Since then, he has worked to bring space travel to the (admittedly well-heeled) masses with Virgin Galactic and its $250,000 flights.
Branson sold off Virgin America, and also Virgin Group's majority stake in the Virgin Atlantic airline, retaining 20 percent in 2017. He still maintains a railway portfolio, which contains Virgin Trains and its 50 percent ownership of the UK west coast main line connecting London with Glasgow.
Los Angeles-based Virgin Hyperloop One was running low on funds — despite the $85M investment — and the jobs of 300 staff were at risk, according to Axios, which originally broke the news via an unnamed source. Branson's promotion to chairman, however, brings additional funding of $50M from Russia's Caspian Venture Capital and Dubai's DP World.
As well as keeping the company alive, the investment strengthens its ties with two key countries, both keen to start construction on local hyperloop routes in the coming years.
Branson's ship-steadying promotion comes just two weeks after venture capitalist Shervin Pishevar took a leave of absence from Virgin Hyperloop One. Pishevar said he plans to focus on pursuing a defamation lawsuit he filed in the wake of a sexual assault allegation made against him.