Harj Dhaliwal, Managing Director, Hyperloop One, Middle East & India region

India seems set to pioneer hyperloop technology

Can the country leverage their leadership to both improve the transportation network and become a global hyperloop supplier and developer?

Travelers trying to get across the 160 kilometers from Mumbai to Pune - a sprawling city of more than 3 million people - have three choices: they can take a train, a bus or a car. The train trip (while scenic) can take upwards of 4 hours and involves multiple exchanges. Those lucky enough to meet only light congestion on the highway might be able to make the trip in just under 3 hours.

Virgin Hyperloop One promises to bring that travel time down to just 25 minutes within the next 10 years. If everything goes according to plan, it will be the first full-scale commercial hyperloop system in operation in the world.

As most readers of Insight Magazine will know, hyperloop is the radical new transportation technology proposed by Elon Musk in 2012. It uses reduced-pressure tubes to allow pressurized capsules to travel at speeds of up to 1,200 kilometers per hour. There are currently a number of companies and organizations working to commercialize the technology. Virgin Hyperloop One is one of the most advanced.

Hyperloop is the radical new transportation technology proposed by Elon Musk in 2012.

The natural cradle of hyperloop

India is not the only country seeking to pioneer hyperloop technology. Plans are being developed to link Dubai and Abu Dhabi with a hyperloop. Mexico City and Guadalajara are also hoping to be one of the first to showcase the new technology.

India, however, seems like a natural place for the technology to find its roots. “India is home to the fastest growing global economy, a vibrant young workforce, and world-class high-tech engineering skills,” noted Harj Dhaliwal, Managing Director for Hyperloop One's Middle East and India region. “It's an ideal market to launch hyperloop technology,”

The project has also received significant political and governmental support. Devendra Fadnavis, the Chief Minister of Maharashtra (the state where Mumbai and Pune are located) has voiced strong support for the project and has visited the test tracks. The state government signed a framework agreement with HyperLoop One at a global investor meet that was attended by Prime Minister Modi.

The first step in a larger plan

While other markets are also making plans, India seems to be progressing the fastest. The Maharashtra Government recently approved the development plans and named a consortium that includes Virgin Hyperloop One and DP World (the global ports owner and operator) as the Official Project Proponent.

Current plans suggest that the procurement process will close at the end of 2019 and project construction will start as early as 2020. Dhaliwal expects safety certification to be awarded by 2024 and full commercial operations to start on the Mumbai-Pune line by 2029.

The hope is that the system can then be scaled to different city-pairs in India. Mr. Dhaliwal notes that earlier estimates of five viable routes between different Indian cities had evaluated a 55-minute commute for a Delhi-Jaipur-Indore-Mumbai system, 50 minutes for a Mumbai-Bangalore-Chennai commute, 41 minutes for a Bangalore-Thiruvananthapuram commute and 20 minutes for a Bangalore-Chennai commute on the hyperloop system.

“Once a hyperloop network is established, goods, services, education, and people can all zip across the country faster than an airplane with no direct emissions,” noted Mr. Dhaliwal. “We envision a future in which businesses can manufacture in one city and export from another; where people can live in one city and work in another; where friends can live in different corners of a country but meet up for dinner in less than an hour.”

India is home to the fastest growing global economy, a vibrant young workforce, and world-class high-tech engineering skills.

Enhancing the network effect

One of the top priorities for the project team is to ensure that the new technology fully integrates into the existing transportation modes in both Mumbai and Pune.

“Hyperloop is a revolution for intercity travel, yet we are still big fans of traditional metro, monorail, and bus systems for intra-city travel,” said Mr. Dhaliwal. “We recognize that last-mile solutions are increasingly necessary to create clean and efficient transportation webs, not just isolated projects.”

The hyperloop team is working hard to develop integration strategies with existing systems such as the Mumbai Metro, the MMR railway, the Mumbai monorail, PMDRA buses and the proposed Pune metro line. The project also includes an option to add a third station (known as 'portals' in hyperloop-speak) at the Navi Mumbai International Airport once it is completed.

“View this from a multi-modal transport perspective and the real benefits of a system like this come through,” added Dhaliwal.

Creating a Center of Excellence

While commuter convenience is certainly high on the agenda, one of the main reasons that countries are competing to be the first to launch an operating, commercial hyperloop is economic. Simply put, they hope to develop a national hyperloop capability that can then be exported to other markets.

“Maharashtra will create the first hyperloop transportation system in the world and a global hyperloop supply chain starting from Pune,” announced Chief Minister Fadnavis recently. “Maharashtra and India are at the forefront of hyperloop infrastructure building now and this is a moment of pride for our people.”1

Mr. Dhaliwal agrees, noting that the state of Maharashtra boasts the largest gross value-add of any state in India. “The majority of system components can be locally sourced from the state of Maharashtra and exported all over the world,” he noted. “India is well positioned to unlock significant opportunities for growth and careers on the forefront of the next transport revolution and this will create thousands of new hi-tech jobs and add billions in wider socio-economic benefits.”

Advancing into the future

As Mr. Dhaliwal and Chief Minister Fadnavis note, India has set a consistent precedent for technological leapfrogging - the country is a global leader in IT, biometrics, mobile broadband, renewable energy and now space travel. And it has accomplished many of these feats at a fraction of the cost of other countries.

The hope is that the addition of hyperloop technology into the transport mix will catalyze another opportunity to seize the lead globally.

“Hyperloop technology adoption is a real enabler for India to leap-frog to a higher trajectory of growth, akin to the role that mobile phones have played earlier in terms of technology adoption as well as economic growth,” added Dhaliwal. “The race is on to develop and build the worlds first hyperloop system and Maharashtra and our leading the way. How quickly others follow is just a matter of time.”

Maharashtra will create the first hyperloop transportation system in the world and a global hyperloop supply chain starting from Pune.