A file photo of a Hyperloop One test vehicle (Photo: Handout via Reuters)
A file photo of a Hyperloop One test vehicle (Photo: Handout via Reuters)

A train or plane? India’s maiden Hyperloop project seeks a regulator

  • The Pune-Mumbai Hyperloop project is yet to find a regulator who can oversee its construction, safety aspects as it races to become the world's 1st operational hyperloop project
  • In 2018, Maharashtra had approved Virgin Hyperloop One-led consortium's plans to develop a high-speed line between Mumbai and Pune

MUMBAI : The ambitious Pune-Mumbai Hyperloop project is yet to find a regulator who can oversee its construction and safety aspects as it races to become the world's first operational hyperloop project ahead of cities like New York, Abu Dhabi and Mexico City, which are also working to set up their own lines.

In 2018, the Maharashtra government had approved Virgin Hyperloop One-led consortium's plans to develop a high-speed line between Mumbai and Pune. Hyperloop is still an untested fifth mode of transportation, based on an idea mooted by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk. It involves building a near-perfect vacuum tunnel or tube, a railway track and a vehicle that floats above the track on magnetic levitation. A payload - passengers or cargo then accelerates through electric propulsion and picks up speed due to extremely low friction in vacuum.

Given the complex dynamics of the Hyperloop, experts say that the project currently falls in the domain of both train and air travel because while passengers will travel on rails like in a conventional train but they will do so in a high speed near-vacuum environment also making it an aerospace travel.

Virgin Hyperloop One, which is advising the Indian project, estimates that the top speed for a passenger vehicle or light cargo will be 1,080 km per hour, which is 2-3 times faster than high-speed rail and magnetic levitation trains, and 10-15 times faster than traditional rail. If the technology can prove itself, hyperloops might one day become the fastest transit option with the lowest fuel (electricity) consumption rates. The Pune-Mumbai line, roughly 150 km long, will run from the Bandra-Kurla Complex commercial centre in Mumbai to Wakad, a suburb in Pune. It can shrink the travel time between the two cities to under 30 minutes, instead of 3.5 hours spent on road to currently cover the distance between the two cities.

“There are a few different processes through which the hyperloop project can be regulated. We have been working with the central government on this," Naushad Oomer, Director – Operations, India, Virgin Hyperloop One, told Mint in a recent interview.

“There is a committee formed at the level of the Principal Scientific Advisor’s office where they are looking at the technology, doing the due diligence and deciding whether there should be cross-functional group of regulators or whether it should be from a single ministry. Our view is that it should be regulated by a body that has the skill set and background to look at all these areas" Oomer said.

Mint reported in July 2018 that the state government expected construction on the demo stretch to start in December 2018. To this question, Oomer said: "There have obviously been some delays and that is completely expected in a large project like this. We will get through the procurement process by mid-next year and we aim to start construction by mid-2020," he added.

Kaustubh Dhavse, officer on special duty to the chief minister, government of Maharashtra told Mint: “There has not been any scheduled delay on the project but due to general and state elections, certain policy decisions had to be pushed forward. The project has gone through a detailed evaluation, a project report, feasibility analysis and a proposal came to the government.

“The government put this through the Swiss Challenge process by a committee headed by the chief secretary. Till now, hyperloop as a technology doesn’t exist under the legal definition of infrastructure," said Dhavse.

“We have given it infrastructure status. We were not sure whether we should classify this as urban transport, as railways or in the experimental category. There is no safety regulator, so a safety framework had to be defined. This cannot be compared to a normal process where the template is already ready, like it is with the metro rail, monorail or even high-speed rail or bullet trains" he added.

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