World's first hyperloop? Indian route promises Mumbai to Pune in 25 minutes

The agreement between Virgin Hyperloop One and the Indian government, lays the groundwork for building a hyperloop system within seven years.

    • Hyperloop is the name given to a proposed ground-transport system that could potentially travel faster than a commercial airliner and at a fraction of the price.
    • The proposed route will allow passengers, and possibly cargo, to travel between the Indian cites of Pune and Mumbai in 25 minutes.

    A deal has been signed that paves the way to build what could be the world's first hyperloop track in the Indian state of Maharashtra.

    The announcement by Virgin Hyperloop One, lays the groundwork for a hyperloop system capable of travelling between the Indian cities of Pune and Mumbai — about 100 miles by road — in 25 minutes. Under the proposal, the final route would be built within seven years, following the successful completion of a test track.

    Hyperloop is the name given to a proposed ground-transport system that could potentially travel faster than a commercial airliner and at a fraction of the price.

    The concept is for a system that would carry passengers and freight on board a vehicle travelling at up to 760mph. These fantastically high speeds would be made possible by two key differences to modern trains. The vehicle would be raised above the track, using either magnetic levitation or a cushion of pressurized air, removing resistance as the wheels turned. Secondly, the vehicle would travel inside a tube where most of the air had been pumped out, massively reducing the speed lost to friction.

    SEE: Hyperloop: A cheat sheet

    While 760mph is the maximum speed for a hyperloop system conceptually, it seems the vehicle between Pune and Mumbai would be travelling slower than this. In tests to date, Virgin Hyperloop One has successfully accelerated a magnetically levitated capsule to almost 240mph through a 500-meter long tube.

    The hyperloop between Pune and Mumbai would also stop at Navi Mumbai International Airport, and could be used to rapidly move light cargo between the Port of Mumbai and Pune.

    The first step under the agreement between Virgin Hyperloop One and the Indian government, announced today by Virgin Hyperloop One chairman Sir Richard Branson in the presence of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, will be building an operational demonstration track.

    "The Pune-Mumbai hyperloop route will be an economic catalyst for the region and create tens of thousands of jobs for India's world-class manufacturing, construction, service, and IT sectors and aligns with Make in India initiatives," said Devendra Fadnavis, chief minister of the Maharashtra region.

    A study conducted by Virgin Hyperloop One estimated that the Pune-Mumbai route could eventually support 150 million passenger trips each year and over 30 years of operation could result in $55bn (INR ₹350,000 crores)-worth of socio-economic benefits — via time savings, emissions and accident reduction, and operational cost savings.

    However, the project is still years from getting started, and will require the successful completion of several phases before construction on the final track gets underway.

    The Pune-Mumbai hyperloop project will begin with a six-month in-depth feasibility study, which will analyze and define the route, examining issues such as the environmental impact, economic and commercial aspects, the regulatory framework, and cost and funding model recommendations.

    After the public-private partnership for building the track has been established a demonstration track will be built, and is expected to be complete within two-to-three years. The construction of the full route with follow, and is expected to be completed in five-to-seven years.

    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.

    Branson said that in the future, a national hyperloop network could reduce travel times between India's major cities to "as little as two hours".

    That's not to say that hyperloop concept doesn't have critics, many of whom cast doubt on its viability. Proposals for similar systems have been attacked for being unproven, likely far more expensive than projected and impractical.

    A common criticism is that travel on board a hyperloop vehicle would be hugely uncomfortable, with passengers submitted to nausea-inducing levels of g-force, approximately double what they would experience during take-off on a commercial flight. Another potential problem is that the vehicle would be travelling at such high speed that any disturbance in the cushion of air the vehicle sits upon could result in severe bumps, again causing discomfort.

    However, changes to hyperloop designs since the initial concept have lessened g-forces, with Hyperloop One saying they would be no worse than take-off, and adding that additional mitigations would make the journey as smooth as riding an elevator.

    Image: Virgin

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    About Nick Heath

    Nick Heath is chief reporter for TechRepublic. He writes about the technology that IT decision makers need to know about, and the latest happenings in the European tech scene.

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