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 on-board to lead in Hyperloop transport globally? Or, is the entire Hyperloop story a mere hype created by startups to fantasize sci-fi movies?
Naushad Oomer, Business Development Head – India, Hyperloop One, in an exclusive interaction with Debashis Sarkar of News18.com shares the company’s India plans and the challenges it is facing. Excerpts...
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 wide corridor of up to 150 feet land or build expensive tunnels. At Hyperloop One, we are always trying to scale down the construction in terms of costs.(Image: Debashis Sarkar/ News18.com)
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 aircrafts. 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 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 aircrafts. 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 thepassengers. 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.
What kind of response are you receiving from the government?
We are already in talks with Ministry of railways, NITI Aayog among other ministries. There is excitement and we are ready to showcase the proof of concept in the coming months.
Hyperloop One has already showcased it DevLoop in Nevada Desert. Are you planning to build local demonstration zones in India as well to convince the government?
There is no point building the same “test track” that is already there in Nevada in some rural area in India to prove the technology to the government. Instead of building test tracks, which goes from nowhere to nowhere, we are happy to invite government stakeholder to come and look at the Hyperloop system at the Nevada Desert Development Site.
Once the government is convinced, we can work on a “proof of operations” project by connecting two cities at a later date.
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There is no dedicated ministry catering to the Hyperloop transport system yet. Whom are you reaching out to?
We are in talks with the Railways because it’s the closest thing to Hyperloop. Also, aviation is pretty close and not to miss the surface road transport department. So, I think it is going to be a combination of experts from different ministries that we will need to talk to. In order to regulate something like this, we need experts from different ministries to form a panel.
Do you think you will have to wait for that panel or ministry to be formed first to go ahead with your plans in India?
Not necessarily. We could definitely work with one particular ministry to take things forward to a certain level and then involve other ministries as and when needed. Eventually, we need all the ministries to work in sync.
We will need a group of experts from around the world to go ahead with our plans and if India wants to take the first step then it definite needs to provide the right people from different departments to get the plan on track.
If the government, by chance, is not much moved by the Hyperloop technology, will you look at e-commerce player to transport cargo in the country?
Of course. For cargo, we are open to work with logistic players including e-commerce companies. But for passengers, we obviously need government support. We are totally dependent on how fast the government takes things forward.
By when can we expect the first fully-functional Hyperloop system
We are expecting to have a fully-operational Hyperloop transport system by 2021. It can come up anywhere in the world. If India wants to take the lead then the government needs to act fast now. We are actively looking are local manufacturing as well and India could take the lead and be the global exporters of this technology.
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