New Delhi to Mumbai via Jaipur and Indore in just 80 minutes. Or, Bengaluru to Chennai in 21 minutes. These transportation speeds can change the way India moves its people and cargo. While we will wait for the half-a-century old 300 kmph bullet train to be a reality, the 1,300 kmph plus future in transportation is already knocking at our doors.
Called the Hyperloop, startups like Hyperloop One and Hyperloop Transportation Technologies are taking baby steps to showcase what the future of transportation could be.
With the need for cleaner and faster transportation, both the companies have India in its crosshairs. However, there is no ministry or body to have serious talks to ideate the Hyperloop vision in the country and ultimately take things beyond the initial exaltation.
Is it time that the government stops chasing the missed bullet train opportunity and get onboard to lead in Hyperloop transport globally? Or, is the entire Hyperloop story a mere hype created by startups to fantasize sci-fi movies?
Q: Getting a full-scale transportation infrastructure involves a lot of challenges. What are the major roadblocks you are facing right now?
There is no particular challenge which is unique to India. Any project like this, globally, brings along with significant challenges related to local and environmental constraints along with land acquisition and other urban hiccups. There is no new challenge to build Hyperloop in India. It is similar to what any railways or metro rail projects already face.
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How easy or difficult is it to build Hyperloop tracks in urban regions?
Overall, it is going to have a lean construction. The tracks will be elevated and based on pylons. The components are mostly modular. So, you can just bring the tubes and set them in place. The construction can take place with minimal disruption.
Also, as it is all raised on pylons, it will take minimal land as compared to high-speed railway tracks. For high-speed railway tracks, you will need a flat 300-feet wide corridor of land or build expensive tunnels. At Hyperloop One, we are always trying to scale down the construction in terms of costs.
The focus on bullet trains is more prominent for the government compared to Hyperloop transport. Do you think that bullet train and Hyperloop systems can go hand-in-hand in the country?
The fact that the Indian government is looking at bullet trains makes it obvious that they are comparing it with Hyperloop as well. This is mainly because bullet train projects are expensive, and of course, much slower to complete and deliver. Bullet trains projects shouldn’t be seen as a Hyperloop competitor. In fact, they both serve different purposes and can coexist.
We want to work in a way that we integrate all the existing modes of transportation. So, if there is a high-speed rail connection between two points, a Hyperloop system can be built to connect stops to complete the transport network.
You are talking about transport speeds faster than aircraft. Does it mean that the Hyperloop tickets will cost more than airline tickets?
Building the infrastructure is going to be expensive. But once the Hyperloop network is in place it is going to be a different story. We are using a vacuum and magnetic levitation to get high speeds. So, the energy consumption is very low compared to other faster modes of transport like bullet trains or aircraft. The maintenance cost of Hyperloop pod is low as there is no mechanical contact happening real-time. This means there will be less wear-and-tear due to friction. Also, the pods are weather-proof.
Essentially, all these savings from running cost will directly translate to savings for the passengers. Given the mass transport market in India, we are expecting over 20,000 passengers during peak hours. Thus, the cost of tickets can be lower.
While it is too early to comment on the exact ticket prices, our goal is to make Hyperloop tickets cheaper than existing fast modes of transport in the country like airlines and railways.