The Virgin Hyperloop One isn’t a pipe dream. India’s first-ever hyperloop project will materialize along the Mumbai-Pune Expressway, and the company is targeting construction to start by next year with the public procurement project for the project that is currently underway with the government of Maharashtra. The Virgin Hyperloop One is designed to propel at a speed of 1,100 kilometers per hour. This not only beats all our existing railway systems by a long shot, but it is also faster than air travel in most cases. Think of a pressurized pod in which 24-25 people sit at a time. It stops from point-point, leaves multiple times in a minute, and it can do the 200-kilometer long commute between the financial hub Mumbai and its manufacturing-extensive neighbouring city, Pune, in just 25 minutes. But for all that it promises, it is a comfortable eight-ten years away before you can ditch your car ride for the Hyperloop pod. There isn’t a regulatory body in place to test the safety of the system yet, and land acquisition in the crowded Indian market is a bottleneck that the company must navigate too. CNBC-TV18 caught up with Naushad Oomer, director of operations, India at Hyperloop One to understand the timelines Hyperloop One is working with in the country, the challenges in execution, and finding adaptability and dealing with resistance in the Indian market. The Hyperloop One Cheatsheet
Imagine a tube, and that you’ve taken out all the air in the tube to create a vacuum. You have a 100 pascal pressure inside the tube, and then you have a pod that’s travelling in the tube. The pod is pressurized, kind of like a plane without wings. It travels on a maglev track, so there’s no contact with any surface within the tube. This eliminates all the friction, which makes the pod much more energy-efficient and you can go much faster with lesser energy usage”
Moreover, unlike a train, it is point to point. The pod carries smaller packets of people – only 24-25 at once. It is beneficial because one could have a pod more frequently instead of waiting for many people to board a train, and the infrastructure is also more flexible to accommodate these smaller pods. So not just the speed – it is also this design which saves time. As for speed, it can achieve 1,100 kilometers per hour. The Timeline
Work on the Virgin Hyperloop One has received government sanction and infrastructure status, much like roads, railways and other mass transit systems.
The government of Maharashtra is currently working on a public procurement process to start the bidding process for the Hyperloop’s operations.
“We’re following their procurement process (the Maharashtra government’s) which they have a policy for, " Oomer told CNBC-TV18.
He added, "The government has approved our initial proposal, and also declared us as the original project proponent. The next stage is they go into the public procurement process. That's where we are, right now, currently putting together a package that goes out to the bidders, that could take a few months. If it all goes to plan, we're targeting to go under construction next year.”
The project will be built in two phases, the first of which will be an 11-km long certification track, a test track essentially, which will get safety certification for the system.
The second phase will be initiated after the test track receives safety certification. The 110-kilometer track will take 4-5 years to construct
“It'll be 8-9 years from the time of construction that you could ride a pod to Pune,”
Oomer told CNBC-TV18. It is worth noting that India doesn’t yet have a regulatory or testing framework in place to certify the safety of the Hyperloop One.
“Hopefully, there is a regulatory body formed for the Hyperloop, we are working with the central government on that. There have been discussions ongoing, and there will be a framework that's formed, and that needs to happen before we complete phase-1. We will need a regulator to sign off on the safety of the system, and then we will go to phase-2”, Oomer explained.
Excerpts from the conversation: What is the speed you’re aiming to do on the Mumbai-Pune hyperloop? The project here has other constraints that we’re trying to mitigate, but the system design capacity is 1,100 km per hour. Here, we’re trying to minimize the land acquisition and footprint of the project. We’re trying to follow the alignment of the Mumbai-Pune expressway. Because we don't want to destroy or disrupt a lot of people or habitations along the way, we are slowing the system a bit, but it's still pretty fast. 25 minutes between Mumbai and Pune as compared to 4 hours today. India a potential exporter for Hyperloop projects globally? The procurement process will encompass the entire project - design, build, and operations. The project will operate as a public-private-partnership (PPP), where the private partner will be responsible for operating the entire project, according to Oomer.
“If India can be a first mover, and if phase-1 of the project can be built here, there is a lot of potential for bringing high-tech manufacturing to Maharashtra and to India”
If India is a first mover, it could be well-positioned to export a lot of these components to Hyperloop projects around the world.
Since the technology is so new to India, will procurement will be a challenge? Can that cause you to push forward your deadlines?
It’s unprecedented in every sense, from the tech perspective, bringing in a lot of innovative financing models, to unsolicited bidding processes.
We’ve made a lot of progress with the government in bringing the understanding of what this all means. There are challenges, and there could be delays. It is hard to say what the timelines will be but optimistic this will get off the ground fairly soon.
How costly is the project and how will it be funded?
The Mumbai-Pune Hyperloop One will be a completely privately financed project. The government will provide permits and other elements, but capex will be funded by private partners.
Phase-1 will be 100 percent equity funded from the order of 500 million dollars. Phase-2 will have a more traditional project finance approach; debt and equity structure.
What has some of your larger challenges been to get the project off the ground?
First of all, identifying the stakeholders in the project. The project covers Mumbai to Pune, so it’s a long distance. We’re not just working with one authority.
We are working closely with the PMRDA that's overseeing most of the execution, but there are various other players along the way that also need to be involved.
We’re working with the Maha-Idea committee for the set up for the project, chaired by the chief secretary which has representatives from various other projects. That’s definitely been easier to work with.
Other than that, it’s been explaining what this all means, the intricacies of the technology, and how it will work, the financing, the phases, and the risk.Everyone is always interested in what risk the government is taking. So, communicating that this is a private investment and brings a lot of benefits and employment. We’re going through the process of bringing that understanding.