Traveling by Vacuum

Indian states have started exploring the revolutionary idea of Hyperloop travel, in collaboration with U.S. companies.  

Science fiction writers and visionary innovators have long dreamt of ways to travel at high speeds through futuristic low-pressure vacuum tubes. Exploratory ideas about these high-speed trains have been floated by various experts, dating back to the early 1900’s. But, the concept never fully realized. Not until 2013, when innovator and entrepreneur Elon Musk unveiled his preliminary idea for Hyperloop—a major update on the idea of moving trains at high speeds through low-pressure tubes. Musk is the founder of SpaceX, an aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company, and co-founder of Tesla Inc., automaker, energy storage company and solar panel manufacturer, both based in California. 

Musk’s basic plans quickly gained momentum, and created overwhelming excitement throughout the industry. His proposed Hyperloop system has been further developed by companies like the Los Angeles-based Hyperloop One, which aims to have operational systems in place by 2021, to validate the “ability to design, finance and build a safe, revolutionary transportation technology that scales.”

The concept

Musk’s reimagining of the Hyperloop system involves moving freight and people quickly, safely, and directly from origin to destination. Passengers or cargo will be loaded into Hyperloop vehicles and accelerated via electric propulsion through a low-pressure steel tube. The vehicle will float above the track using magnetic levitation and glide at airline speeds for long distances, with ultra-low aerodynamic drag. Hyperloop One says the underground tubes carrying the vehicles will be fully autonomous and enclosed, eliminating pilot error and being immune to most potential weather hazards. It will be environmentally safe and clean, with no direct carbon emissions.

Hyperloop One estimates that the top speed of its passenger vehicle will be 1080 kilometers per hour. This is two to three times faster than high-speed rail, and 10 to 15 times faster than traditional rail. Based on the physics of the Hyperloop system, its experts anticipate that the noise one would hear from outside the tube would be equivalent to the sound of a speeding truck on a freeway—simply a “big whoosh.”

Forward movement

Since piggybacking Musk’s Hyperloop concept and charging itself with making the implementation a reality, Hyperloop One has achieved huge milestones in a very short period of time. After officially forming as a start-up in 2014, Hyperloop One established its Innovation Campus in Los Angeles’ downtown Arts District. Shortly afterward, the company successfully raised $8.5 million (Rs. 55 crores approximately) in investment funds. By 2016, Hyperloop One had developed a test and safety site named Apex, and also developed Metalworks, the first Hyperloop manufacturing plant in the world, both in Las Vegas, Nevada. 

The dream of a Hyperloop high-speed system gets closer to reality with every passing month. In March 2017, Hyperloop One unveiled Development Loop, or DevLoop, at its Apex testing site, the world’s first and only full-scale Hyperloop test simulation track. Just a few months later, it completed two successful rounds of testing of its high-speed Hyperloop pod inside the DevLoop vacuum tube; setting new electric propulsion speed records. The company’s latest investment round raised $85 million 

(Rs. 550 crores approximately) in additional funding, bringing the total financing raised by Hyperloop One to $245 million (Rs. 1,580 crores approximately) since its founding. 

Hyperloop for India

In September 2017, another company, Los Angeles-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, signed a memorandum of understanding with the Andhra Pradesh Economic Development Board to develop a Hyperloop route between the city centers of Vijaywada and Amaravati, potentially turning a trip of more than one hour into a six-minute ride. The project plans to use a public-private partnership model, with funding primarily from private investors.

In mid-November, Hyperloop One announced updates to its plans for a national Hyperloop network in India.

The company signed memorandums of agreement with three states for preliminary feasibility studies for the construction of Hyperloop routes, to identify which ones are most utilized. “Maharashtra, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, home to several of India’s largest economic centers including Mumbai, Bengaluru and Visakhapatnam, are conducting studies with Hyperloop One to understand Hyperloop’s feasibility and economic impact in the regions,” says a company press statement.


Constructing Hyperloops would have a direct impact on the local economy. While Hyperloop One builds the core technology, it would rely on a broader India-based ecosystem of partners to build, operate and maintain the systems. “Investments in Hyperloop One systems will create local jobs in construction, manufacturing, research and development, and services and can have a profound secondary impact on wider industries in India,” says Nick Earle, senior vice president for global field operations, in the press statement. “Imagine the potential impact on people’s lives and commerce if travel between Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Visakhapatnam and Amaravati could take place in under two hours. Hyperloop could change the face of India just as trains did during the Industrial Revolution.”

Jason Chiang is a freelance writer based in Silver Lake, Los Angeles.


The Hyperloop One Global Challenge

In May 2016, Hyperloop One announced a global challenge, calling for comprehensive proposals to build Hyperloop networks in cities and regions around the world. The Hyperloop One Global Challenge drew support from government leaders, and inspired exciting new ideas from some of the world’s most creative companies, engineers and urban planners. More than 2,600 teams registered from around the world, out of which 10 winners were selected in September 2017. Two of the winning teams are from India: Hyperloop India and AECOM India. Hyperloop One’s plan is to work closely with each of the winning teams or routes to determine their commercial viability in the future. 


Hyperloop India (Mumbai to Chennai)

Founded in 2015 by a small group of students from Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) Pilani, Team Hyperloop India is a multidisciplinary think tank consisting of over 60 student volunteers from various engineering, business and design schools interested in reinventing transportation in India. Their proposed Mumbai-Chennai Hyperloop route would cover 1,102 kilometers in just 63 minutes, and provide a crucial East-West connection. A potential Hyperloop system would catalyze new economic opportunities and industry linkages, and ease the movement of passengers and goods between Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai.


AECOM India (Bengaluru to Chennai)

With over 2,500 employees located in six regional offices and project offices in 26 states across India, AECOM India is involved in designing and completing Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified projects, highways, metro and sea ports. The Chennai-Bengaluru Industrial Corridor is among the fastest growing economic regions in India, anchored by two of the region’s crucial urban centers. AECOM India’s proposed Hyperloop system would strengthen economic development along the route, and provide new opportunities for intercity travel and living. AECOM India projects the 334-kilometer Bengaluru-Chennai trip in a Hyperloop transport system to take just 23 minutes. —J.C.