The ambitious Pune-Mumbai Hyperloop project that seeks to become the first operational high-speed Hyperloop line in the world is faced with a regulatory problem. More precisely, it is yet to find a regulator for itself, who can oversee construction and safety aspects as it races to beat cities like New York, Abu Dhabi and Mexico City that are also working to build their own lines.
In 2018, the Maharashtra government approved Virgin Hyperloop One-led consortium’s plans to develop a high-speed line between Mumbai and Pune. To be sure, Hyperloop is a still-untested 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—accelerates through electric propulsion and gains speed due to extremely low friction.
Given the complex dynamics, 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 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 1,080km 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, which will be roughly 150km long, will run from the Bandra-Kurla Complex commercial centre in Mumbai to Wakad, a suburb of Pune. It can shrink the travel time between the two cities to under 30 minutes, instead of the 3.5-hour drive that it currently is.
“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, said in a recent interview. “There is a committee formed at the level of the Principal Scientific Advisor to the government of India where they are looking at the technology, doing the due diligence and deciding whether there should be a cross-functional group of regulators or whether it should form 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," he 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 will aim to start construction by mid-2020."
Kaustubh Dhavse, an officer on special duty to the Maharashtra chief minister said: “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" Dhavse said. “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.