Explained: After hype over Hyperloop, why there’s a question mark over ultra-modern project
Written by Atikh Rashid | Pune | Published: January 19, 2020 5:05:23 am Currently, nine companies are working on the technology, and they have announced construction of test tracks as well as intercity transport systems in various parts of...
The proposed Pune-Mumbai Hyperloop project, an ultra-modern transport system that will reduce the travelling time between the two cities to 25 minutes from 2.5-3 hours, may be scrapped by the state government. Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar on Friday expressed reservations about the project that was still in its experimental stage, and had not been “implemented anywhere in the world”. ATIKH RASHID explains the ‘capsule’ technology behind the transport system, the plans to implement it in Maharashtra, and the distance between the idea and reality.
What is the Hyperloop technology?
In July 2012, entrepreneur Elon Musk, co-founder of Tesla, Inc and several other firms, unveiled his vision of the new transport system, which he called a ‘Hyperloop’. Musk envisioned a transport system which would never crash and would be immune to weather’s vagaries. It would also be thrice or four times as fast as a bullet train, with an average speed that would be twice of an aircraft.
A year later, Musk released a detailed idea about the technology, stating that it could be passenger-packed pods which would travel through long tubes at 760 mph (1,220 km/h), using solar energy.
With this system, the travelling time between Los Angeles and San Francisco could be reduced to 30 minutes (it is currently three hours in high-speed trains). According to Musk,
the Hyperloop project could be the right solution for high-traffic city pairs which are about 1,500 km apart.
The high speed is achieved as the pods, which carry passengers, move using magnetic levitation. The speed increases further due to the near-vacuum conditions inside the tubes, which reduce resistance to the pod as it travels within the tube. Musk open-sourced this idea and called upon companies and individuals, with the right resources, to take it forward.
Among the several companies formed to develop the idea, Hyperloop One, founded in 2014, emerged as a major player. In 2017, Hyperloop One received a major investment from billionaire Richard Branson, and was rebranded as Virgin Hyperloop One.
How was Pune-Mumbai Hyerloop envisaged?
In February 2018, Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Hyperloop One, attended the Magnetic Maharashtra Convergence organised by the then state government, headed by Devendra Fadnavis. Branson announced that his company will set up hyperloop connectivity in Maharashtra, between central Pune and the Navi Mumbai airport.
The responsibility of the project was given to the Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority (PMRDA), which later announced that the project will be implemented in two phases.
In the first phase, a test track will be built on an 11.4-km corridor from Gahunje to Ozarde, and if that worked out, a final track of 117.5 km will be built in the second phase. It was said that the service, once operational, would connect 1.5 crore people from the two cities by undertaking 15 crore passenger trips per year. The service was also expected to cut greenhouse gas emissions by up to 86,000 tonnes over 30 years.
What’s the status of the Pune-Mumbai project?
In September 2018, the PMRDA had submitted a proposal to the Maharashtra Infrastructure Development Enabling Authority, seeking to allot part of the Hyperloop project work to interested private players. The agency said it intended to award a contract for the work using the ‘Swiss Challenge Method’, by announcing DP World FZE and Hyperloop Technologies Inc as the ‘original project proponents’ and inviting other players to come forward with better proposals.
In November 2018, the state Urban Development Department accorded the Hyperloop project the status of a ‘Public Infrastructure Project’ and gave the go-ahead to award the work using the Swiss Challenge Method.
In January 2019, PMRDA invited suggestions and objections on the project from the public.
But a senior PMRDA official said on Saturday, “Nothing has been finalised yet. We had sought some clarifications from Virgin Hyperloop One about some issues a few months ago and are yet to get any response. We had made a conditional announcement of DP World FZE and Hyperloop Technologies Inc as Original Project Proponents, but that’s not final. We are yet to finish the processes that have to be completed before the announcement of a DPR.”
Which other cities are exploring a Hyperloop?
Currently, nine companies are working on the technology, and they have announced construction of test tracks as well as intercity transport systems in various parts of the world.
Prominent among these companies are US-based Virgin Hyperloop One, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies and Canada-based TransPod. An Indian company, called the DGWHyperloop India, has also entered the arena.
In the last few years, various companies have announced a number of routes, with the leading projects being the Pune-Mumbai hyperloop, one connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco, one between Abu Dhabi and Al Ain, another from Amravati to Vijayawada, a track connecting Missouri’s largest cites including St Louis, Kansas City and Columbia, and several routes in Canada including Toronto-Montreal, Toronto-Windsor and Calgary-Edmonton.
Progress on all these projects has, however, been slow.
What’s the future of Pune-Mumbai hyperloop?
In Pune on Friday, Pawar had said, “The Hyperloop project has not been undertaken anywhere in the world. Let it first be implemented somewhere, where at least 10 km of it should be completed. If it is successful, then we will consider implementing it in the state”.
Given the comments made by the NCP leader, who also holds the purse strings of the state as its finance minister, the much-hyped project may, however, be put on the backburner by the new government.