It's been more than three years now since Elon Musk unveiled his Hyperloop concept to the world. Could it finally be getting up to speed?
So far, two separate companies have been formed to explore Hyperloop development. (This is in addition to Elon Musk's SpaceX itself, which has hired engineering firm AECOM (NYSE:ACM) to help build a Hyperloop test track outside SpaceX HQ.)
Slovakia has announced it may build a Hyperloop (in cooperation with Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, or HTT). Finland, Sweden, and Switzerland, too, are conducting feasibility studies, along with the Netherlands, Dubai, and the United Kingdom (all in cooperation with Hyperloop One, HTT's competitor).
If you're counting, that's seven separate countries that are vying to become the first to build a Hyperloop transportation system (eight, if you count the feasibility study at "the Port of Los Angeles"). And the list got a little longer this week...
Russia joins the club
This week, an eighth country -- Russia -- announced that it, too, is interested in building SpaceX founder Elon Musk's magical, 800-mile-per-hour, floating electromagnetic train concept.
Hyperloop One announced on Tuesday it has partnered with Russia's Summa Group, a construction conglomerate founded by Russian billionaire Ziyavudin Magomedov, on a Hyperloop project in Russia. Together, the companies signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Moscow "to explore building high-capacity passenger systems connected to Moscow's transport grid." This is Hyperloop One's first official memorandum of understanding signed with a foreign government, tying it with HTT, which has an MoU with Slovakia.
Russia takes the lead
Indeed, you could argue that with this announcement, Hyperloop One (and Russia) have stolen the lead from HTT and Slovakia, and pulled to the head of the pack of all countries vying to build the first Hyperloop. Representatives of Slovakia, who signed with HTT, have cast cold water on the chances of their project actually being implemented. (Slovak Transport and Economy Institute head Ondrej Matej went so far as to question whether "anything about this was real..")
In contrast, Russian President Putin has been quoted predicting that Hyperloop "will fundamentally change the global economy," and Russian officials are considering the technology for construction of their commercial "Silk Road" route for transporting cargo from China all the way across Russia to Europe.
What it means to investors
Whether that actually happens may be out of Russia's control, however. Just indicating interest in building a Hyperloop isn't enough to build it, you see. Instead, Hyperloop's several would-be builders are being asked to submit proposals for review by a blue-ribbon panel of judges assembled by Hyperloop One -- a panel including such famed names as Peter Diamandis, founder and executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation, transportation engineer Clive Burrows, and MIT professor Alan Berger.
Hyperloop is requiring countries interested in building Hyperloop systems to submit applications to this panel before the end of this year. Hyperloop will announce three winners in March 2017. These winners will be the teams that "best demonstrate the transformative power of Hyperloop and will be most likely to receive government, financial and regulatory support." And only these winners will be given access to Hyperloop One's "ecosystem, technology, coaching [and] guidance" in getting their projects off the ground.
One thing is still certain, however. While the actual location of the first Hyperloop remains to be determined, engineering company AECOM is the one company that all participants say will be part of the team doing the actual construction -- whether by Hyperloop One, HTT, or Elon Musk himself.
If you want to invest in Hyperloop, AECOM continues to be the one sure way to do that.
Rich Smith has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.