Richard Branson-backed Virgin Hyperloop One has signed an agreement with the Maharashtra government to build a superfast transportation system that would cover the 150-km between Mumbai and Pune in 25 minutes.
According to Branson, as part of the agreement the company will build an operational demonstration track. “I believe Virgin Hyperloop One could have the same impact on India in the 21st century as trains did in the 20th century. The Pune-Mumbai route is an ideal first corridor, and is part of a national hyperloop network that could dramatically reduce travel time between India’s major cities to as little as two hours.”
The inaugural hyperloop route, which will link central Pune, Navi Mumbai International Airport, and Mumbai, mostly running alongside the Expressway, is expected connect 26 million people.
“Price point will be at the level of any other alternative mode of transportation. We are not pricing this as something only for the wealthy. It will be available to the masses and I think it will have an impact on peoples’ lives,” Branson was quoted by The Economic Times.
“It will increase the number of jobs in this mega region of 26 million. This has a potential to change the economic status of the state, and you could be employed in Pune and live in Mumbai, or vice versa.”
The high-capacity passenger and cargo hyperloop route is eventually expected to make 150 million passenger trips annually, saving more than 90 million hours of travel time. It is also likely to deliver $55 billion (Rs 3.5 lakh crore) in socio-economic benefits over 30 years of operation, according to an initial pre-feasibility study carried out by the company.
Hyperloop One said the state government could also consider rapid movement of palletized freight and light cargo between the Mumbai port and Pune.
“With Virgin Hyperloop One, we can create a sustainable infrastructure that will enhance the state’s competitiveness and attract new investment and businesses,” said Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis. “It will be an economic catalyst for the region and create tens of thousands of jobs for India’s world-class manufacturing, construction, services and IT sectors, and aligns with Make in India initiatives.”
According to Hyperloop One, the Pune-Mumbai project will begin with a six-month in-depth feasibility study to analyse and define route alignments, including environmental impact, economic and commercial aspects and regulatory framework, besides cost and funding model recommendations.
The feasibility study will build upon the findings of the pre-feasibility study signed in November 2017 between the Pune Metropolitan Regional Development Authority and Virgin Hyperloop One, it said.
After successfully completing the feasibility study to determine the public-private partnership structure, the project will enter a procurement stage.
The construction of the Pune-Mumbai hyperloop route will begin with an operational track built between two points on the route, the company said in a statement. “The demonstration track will be constructed in two to three years from the signing of the agreement and serve as a platform for testing, certifying and regulating the system for commercial operations.”
The second phase will target to complete the construction along the route in five to seven years, it further said, adding that future projects could also extend the route to link central Pune with the New Pune International Airport and Jawaharlal Nehru Port in Mumbai with Pune’s industrial economic zones.
“The Pune-Mumbai hyperloop project will ultimately be executed by a public-private partnership which will save taxpayer money, while delivering a transport option that will help the state support economic growth, improve sustainability, and meet the transport demands,” said Kiran Gitte, CEO of the Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority.
Reports also indicate that the basic tubes needed for the route will be manufactured in and around Pune.
Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One, founded by Shervin Pishevar and Brogan BamBroganin, and led by CEO Rob Lloyd, entered India in January. Its executives met government officials to work out ways to implement hyperloop projects to link major cities. In late February, it held a summit in the presence of the then railway minister Suresh Prabhu and NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant to discuss how it can help augment India’s vast transportation network.
“A transportation system like the Hyperloop will undoubtedly ease the pressure on existing infrastructure, while enhancing the quality of life of the people. We are already working with the governments around the world on passenger and freight projects, and we look forward to partnering India,” Lloyd had said.
Earlier, Hyperloop One had kicked off its Global Challenge in May 2016, calling for comprehensive proposals to build networks connecting cities around the world. More than 2,600 teams registered globally, and the company narrowed it down to 35 semi-finalists with a potential pipeline worth $26 billion. India, Hyperloop One said, led the way with the highest number of registrants.
Participants from India includes AECOM, which proposed a 334-km Bengaluru-to-Chennai corridor in 20 minutes; LUX Hyperloop Network, which proposed a 736-km Bengaluru-to-Thiruvananthapuram corridor in 41 minutes; Dinclix GroundWorks, which proposed a 1,317-km corridor connecting Delhi and Mumbai via Jaipur and Indore in 55 minutes; Hyperloop India suggested a 1,102-km route between Mumbai and Chennai via Bengaluru in 50 minutes; and Infi-Alpha proposed a 334-km route between Bengaluru and Chennai in 20 minutes.
Last September, the company zeroes in on 10 routes and teams as winners of the Global Challenge. AECOM’s Bengaluru-Chennai route and Hyperloop India’s Mumbai-Chennai route made the cut.
“This network could create the largest connected urban area in the world by linking nearly 75 million people across the three metropolitan areas of Karnataka, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh to improve global competitiveness, reduce congestion and emissions, and provide citizens with better social and economic mobility,” Hyperloop One had said in a statement.
Plans are afoot to connect spots within and around the city, too. The company has said it was looking to link Bengaluru’s city centre, IT hubs and industrial parks, as also improve connections between industrial hubs in the state, including Tumakuru, Hubli-Dharwad and Hosur.
The company said it has secured $160 million in funding, and is on its way to raise more capital. Some of the key investors of Hyperloop One, besides Branson, are Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, CEO and Group Chairman, DP World, and Ziyavudin Magomedov, Chairman, Summa Group.
However, the company also expects the Indian government to source funds for the two projects.
Hyperloop One’s rival HTT is also planning to start hyperloop tracks in India. In February, the company said it had offers from five Indian states to start feasibility studies and initial work on building hyperloop projects. Apart from Andhra Pradesh, it is in talks with Tamil Nadu, Odisha and Jharkhand.
Reports suggest that the company has roped in at least two Indian companies to build hyperloop projects, including vacuum tube maker Leybold and engineering company AECOM.
Founded in November 2013, HTT uses a crowd-collaboration approach, and promises completion of a hyperloop network in 38 months once all approvals are in place.
HTT’s co-founder Bibop Gresta said his company uses a technology different than One’s, and its approach is greener – it uses passive levitation against One’s active levitation. He also said that HTT used an aluminium track, and its capsule was combined with electromagnets in a way so as to work on low volumes of electricity. A ticket for a 500-km distance on HTT’s Hyperloop may cost under $30 (about Rs 2,000), Gresta explained.
Gresta, however, seems wary of the costs involved in setting up the infrastructure. He said that laying a kilometre of Hyperloop track would cost $20-40 million.
HTT claims to have invested $32 million so far across projects in the UAE, Slovakia and the US. It has raised $100 million so far – $30 million in cash and $70 million in land rights and services.