Bullet train to nowhere. Tube travel. Train of the future. A fifth mode of transportation. These are some of the monikers attributed to the hyperloop. And in a race to build hyperloop systems in different parts of the world, India is set to become one of the first countries, if not the first, to have such a futuristic transportation system.
Last Wednesday, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), a California-based company, and the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh agreed to build a 27-mile hyperloop that will connect the cities of Amaravati and Vijaywada. Travel time is expected to be drastically cut from 1 hour to just 6 minutes. Talks for this project, which is the first among several planned to be constructed in India. started in December last year.
“We are extremely delighted to have entered into a MoU with the Government of Andhra Pradesh to bring the HTT Hyperloop to India,” said Bibop Gresta, chairman and co-founder of HTT. “In partnering with Andhra Pradesh, HTT will work with local stakeholders to build the regulatory standards necessary for safe and efficient operation.” A six-month feasibility study will start in October to study possible routes, followed by actual construction that will generate around 2,500 jobs.
Back in 2013, Tesla (NASDAQ : TSLA) and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk released a 57-page white paper called “Hyperloop Alpha” that detailed his idea of a long-distance, high-speed transportation. The design of the transit system is to send pods with cargo or people through a long tube that is in a near-vacuum state. Combining maglev (magnetic levitation) and reduced-pressure tubes, a pod could move as fast as 700 miles per hour. Musk had his hands full with Tesla and his other companies at the time so the hyperloop idea was open-sourced. This led to the birth of several start-ups like HTT, Hyperloop One, Transpod and Arrivo. Recently, Musk decided to enter the hyperloop business himself through ‘The Boring Company’.
To build the hyperloop, HTT (and any hyperloop company) has to contend with several challenges. There are obviously several ones like building and maintaining the near-vacuum state across the tube’s length (which could stretch to miles), propelling levitating capsules through the tube, movement of people or cargo into and out of the pod. But these challenges can be easily dealt with and solved by HTT’s force of 800 engineers and scientists.
The biggest challenge though lies in the economics. Any hyperloop company has to find ways to make ticket prices competitive against more established modes of transportation like airlines, trains and cars. “Ideally, we would like it to be free (for the passenger). I don’t believe that a ticket is the right way to make money on transportation,” said Dirk Ahlborn, CEO and also a co-founder of Silicon Valley-based HTT, adding that there could be other ways to monetize the technology.
For the time being however, the priority of most companies is focused on building their hyperloop systems. Hyperloop One, the largest player and a rival of HTT, just completed a successful pod test in its 1,600-foot tube in the Nevada desert. It has feasibility studies already in Dubai, Los Angeles, Finland, Netherland and Russia. Musk’s Boring Company started to build its own version as well. China Aersopace Science and Industry Corporation (CASIC) have also announced plans for a high-speed train project that operates similarly to hyperloop.
If HTT gets to the finish line first (which is a possibility), India will have the distinction of having the world’s first operational hyperloop and this could lead to an economic boon in the region. The company also has plans to build hyperloop systems in Europe, Canada, Dubai and South Korea.
In 2013, we mentioned the Hyperloop Alpha project and how that plan was uncertain if it would ever happen. Four years later, and it looks like science fiction is about to become science fact.