Source: The Economic Times, Feb 19, 2018
MUMBAI: Come 2024, the travel time between Mumbai, the financial capital of India to Pune, a leading manufacturing & IT hub will be drastically shortened to just 14-25 minutes. What’s more the cost of travel will be pegged at almost the same price as travelling in a cab or airplane, as Richard Branson backed Virgin Hyperloop One signed the framework agreement with the Maharashtra government on Sunday to build a hyperloop between Pune and Mumbai beginning with an operational demonstration track.
Virgin Group Founder and Virgin Hyperloop One chairman Sir Richard Branson announced the framework agreement in the presence of the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to initiate the development of the route under the auspices of the Magnetic Maharashtra event.
The key investors of Hyperloop One, including Branson are Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, CEO and Group Chairman of DP World, and Ziyavudin Magomedov, Chairman of Summa Group.
What is interesting is India may well be the first market for Hyperloop One and will debut even before Middle East, Northern Europe or United States of America, where Hyperloop One is considering rolling out its service.
Speaking on the sidelines of the event, Branson termed India as a gigantic opportunity, and his plans to make India an export hub for the Hyperloop tubes. These tubes will operate autonomously and will be electric powered.
“Mumbai-Pune is one of the most busiest routes in the world, anybody who uses it regularly knows it can be unpleasant route to travel on. The study just shows that the opportunity is enormous and the government is welcoming it with open arms and they are working very closely with us to make it happen. Three years from now we will finish the test run on this route and six to seven years from now the route will be commercially opened,” informed Branson.
Most of the spends will be privately funded, the government will help Virgin in moving to the next stage of feasibility study, the company is currently in discussion with various business houses and groups, and sees the project to be put in fruition with an Indian partner.
“We are in discussion with lot of different people in lot of different areas. I dont think we can give you anything specific right now. But we are going to tap into the best brains in India to make it possible,” said Branson.
Virgin Hyperloop has a capability of going up to 1000 kms per hour, but the study done currently has been based on an average of 350 kms per hour. In time, with the evolution of infrastructure the speeds can be taken upto to 600-1000kms per hour.
As per the initial study, the company said a person can travel from Mumbai to Pune in 14-25 minutes and it will be an affordable transport solution may be priced in line with an airfare or a cab transport in half to one-fifth of time take by air or road.
Virgin claims that they will be able to move 10,000 passengers along this route in an hour two ways and they could potentially move 150 million people in a year once operationalised in full scale, this is basis the preliminary report concluded by the company.
And Virgin claims that this will delivered at an affordable price giving access to masses as against making it a privilege for a select few.
“Price point will be at level of any other alternative mode of transportation. We are not pricing this as something only for wealthy, this will be available to the masses and I think it will have an impact on peoples lives, it will increase the number of peoples jobs, in this mega region of 26 million. This has a potential to change the economic status of this state, you could employed in Pune and live in Mumbai or vice versa,” informed Branson.
The project may entail an investment of over a billion dollars and may lead to employment generation of thousands of people. The manufacturing facility for the tubes to ply on the route is likely to come up in and around Pune the manufacturing hub and the company claims amongst various manfacturing bases studied around the world, India offered the best cost.
This route is likely to come up in parallel to Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Without any resettlement, initial study highlighted that a 140 kms stretch can be covered in 25 minutes, however with some resettlement of houses, the speed could go upto 14 minutes for the entire stretch, which however is basis government’s clearance.
Branson was not specific on the numbers, but said Hyperloop has potential to transform how one travels in this century.
Approximately 120 million vehicles ply between Mumbai and Pune annually and it is considered as one of the most active economic corridors in the world. Add to this about 25% of the cargo imported into Mumbai port moves towards Pune, signaling a huge potential opportunity of not just transporting people but goods in one fifth the time. And Branson claims the hyperloop can be set up at much lower cost that high speed rail network.
“Preliminary study showed that Mumbai-Pune was one of the most economically viable route we have ever studied. It is one of the most economically powerful routes, which is why, construct of PPP will be well received. We have looked at numerous routes around the world. But this was the most viable and lucrative option seen,” added Branson.
On the importance of rapid hyperloop transport mode in Indian context Branson recalled how it is an unpleasant experience to travel in traffic prone roads.
“If I was an Indian, a lot of my life, would have been spent sitting in traffic jams. It is a miserable ways of spending ones life in traffic, it is waster of ones life and waste of productivity, there are better way in which one can spend ones life or time,” added Branson, which hyperloops can address.
Branson said if it was trains that opened up India in the last century, he believes it could be Hyperloops in the coming century.
Rob Floyd, CEO of Hyperloop One credited state government for its active interest which has helped Virgin Hyperloop to swiftly work on its initial feasibility study. In the coming six months Virgin will come out with a detailed framework on engineering, sourcing, PPP etc. Apart from Maharashtra, Virgin Hyperloop has been in active discussion with Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka state government to introducing hyperloops in those markets.