You can’t buy tickets yet, but research into a possible high-speed regional “hyperloop” connecting Pittsburgh with Chicago and Columbus is taking another step forward.

The Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) has chosen two companies as lead consultants for feasibility and environmental impact studies of their Rapid-Speed Transportation Initiative (RSTI) exploring the use of either traditional passenger rail or Virgin’s Hyperloop One technology to connect these cities.

“This is the first route in the world that incorporates Hyperloop technology into both a feasibility study and an environmental impact study,” MORPC Executive Director William Murdock said in announcing the studies.

“MORPC and its public and private partners in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania are excited to take this important next step in moving innovative transportation technology forward in Central Ohio and across the Midwest,” Murdock said.

Virgin Hyperloop One’s DevLoop test track. Image courtesy of Virgin Hyperloop One.

AECOM, a design, engineering, construction and management firm, will conduct the feasibility study exploring two potential route alignments.

One follows the rail corridor featured in the Hyperloop One Global Challenge Midwest Connect corridor proposal. The other alternative will be developed as the study unfolds. At a minimum, potential routes will include the following cities: Chicago, Fort Wayne, Lima, Marysville, Columbus and Pittsburgh.

The study is expected to be completed by March 2019. No word yet on specifics, like where a Pittsburgh station might be located.

WSP USA, an engineering firm, will conduct Tier One of the environmental impact study. They’ll also work with AECOM on the feasibility study.

The Midwest Connect proposal was one of 10 global winners of the Virgin Hyperloop One Global Challenge.

It included the only route selected in the U.S. to cross four states: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. It’s also the first in the U.S. to focus on leveraging the major freight assets in the Midwest, the epicenter of freight movement in North America.

Virgin Hyperloop One, sponsors of the global challenge, is right now the only company in the world to have a fully operational Hyperloop system.

Virgin Hyperloop’s XP-1 test pod parked on the DevLoop test track. Image courtesy of Virgin Hyperloop One.

“It is because of visionary transportation agencies like MORPC that hyperloop is moving forward in the United States. We are excited to collaborate with these world-class public and private sector partners to connect the Midwest with rapid speed transport that will fuel future economic activity,” said Virgin Hyperloop One CEO Rob Lloyd. “The potential is enormous — to connect some 20 percent of the nation’s population and economic activity and create a vibrant, globally-competitive Great Lakes Megaregion.”

Virgin Hyperloop One grew out of Elon Musk’s call for scientists and tech experts to pursue hyperloop technology. Last fall, CMU students unveiled their winning design for the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod competition.