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Will India Soon Hyperloop?

By Dhruvaksh Saha
March 29, 2024 11:02 IST
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Will we see a Chennai-Bengaluru hyperloop?

IMAGE: Union Minister for Railways, Communications, Electronics and Information Technology Ashwini Vaishnaw inspects the demonstration of the Hyperloop pod model during his visit to the Indian Institute Of Technology-Madras Research Park, in Chennai. Photograph: ANI Photo
 

While India's first bullet train is expected to chug off by the end of 2026, an early move has now been made for what is being touted as the future of transport -- Hyperloop.

Once called the 'fifth mode of transport' by Elon Musk -- the originator of the concept -- the technology uses magnets to levitate pods inside an airless tube, creating conditions in which the pods can shuttle people, and freight, at speeds up to 1,000 kmph.

Last fortnight, Swiss hyperloop startup Swisspod Technologies and India's TuTr Hyperloop, incubated by Indian Institute of Technology-Madras, signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate for making Hyperloop a reality in India.

In an interview with Business Standard, Swisspod's CEO Denis Tudor said the two companies share the same vision -- to build a sustainable and practically implementable hyperloop model for India, which is energy efficient and cost effective.

With Swisspod's technology likely to be tested at a full scale in the coming two years, Hyperloop could soon become a reality for India as well, Tudor said.

As a stepping stone, Tudor wants to collaborate with the IIT-Madras startup to build a freight transport solution based on the moonshot technology, which could cover 100-200 km at a speed of 200-300 km per hour.

According to Tudor, the capsule under his model is energy autonomous in terms of power generation and does not require separate electrification infrastructure, which can significantly reduce the cost of operating the hyperloop.

Both Swisspod and Tutr's concepts are expected to cost around $8 million per kilometre, which is much less than the cost of building high-speed rail ($27 million per km).

Tudor says this cost will reduce significantly in India, making two assumptions -- economies of scale reducing prices, and labour and commodities in India being cheaper.

IMAGE: An IIT student-M explains the working of the Hyperloop to Ashwini Vaishnaw. Photograph: ANI Photo

At an average speed of 600 km per hour, Hyperloop's consumption will be 50 watt hour per passenger per km, compared to a high-speed rail, which is nearly double in consumption.

A plane's consumption on the same scale is 12 times that of a hyperloop.

"While it is more sustainable than other modes of transport, the only stumbling block is that it requires major investment. But then, it is an investment, which will eventually beget a return," the Swiss innovator said.

"In India, a hyperloop line along with stations and allied infrastructure would cost $2 billion," Tudor said. "Considering India invested $30 billion in infrastructure just last year, a $2 billion investment in Hyperloop would make sense."

However, several officials in the ministry of railways and sector experts have pointed out in the past that the technology will take a long time to see the light of day.

In December 2023, Hyperloop One, earlier known as Virgin Hyperloop, shut its operations citing financial constraints and its inability to secure any contract for a working Hyperloop system.

"(Questions on feasibility) are not fully wrong, but they may be missing how much the technology and our company has grown over the years. A few years down the line, we will also have a solution for India," Tudor said.

In 2022, the ministry of railways had given a grant of Rs 8.34 crore (Rs 83.4 million) to IIT-Madras to delve deeper into the technology.

According to people in the know, more funding is likely to be pumped into the venture, which is working on building a Chennai-Bengaluru hyperloop channel.

The freight project would be a stepping stone for eventual usage in passenger transit, as the technology is too nascent for a high-stakes affair like passenger movement.

Swisspod is currently building a full-scale model of its own hyperloop. A few tubes are in place, but the model has not been finalised, Tudor said.

Swisspod has been financed by the Swiss government to the tune of 8 million Swiss francs, and has 25 private investors.

The final tests of the company's full-scale facility are likely to fructify over the next couple of years, after which on-ground movement on the freight transport project may take place.

Feature Presentation: Ashish Narsale/Rediff.com

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Dhruvaksh Saha
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