When Elon Musk in 2012, introduced his idea of Hyperloop to the world, almost everyone saw it as a hoax. Fast forward to the years of 2019-20, we can actually see his idea taking shape. India, in fact, can be the leading country in this field of futuristic transport. But before we jump onto Hyperloop in India, we need to understand what Hyperloop actually is and also the scope of Hyperloop in India.
So, what is the progress of Hyperloop in India?
The rail industry is increasingly embracing technology. Concepts such as automated, maglev and high-speed trains are now becoming a reality. One futuristic concept is the Hyperloop – an ultra-high-speed ground transportation system akin to bullet trains – developed by Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.
Musk open-sourced the basic design in 2013 in the form of a whitepaper. There are now a number of companies working to build the idea and among those is the Richard Branson-backed Virgin Hyperloop One which aims to do so in India by linking Mumbai and Pune.
“I believe Virgin Hyperloop One could have the same impact upon India in the 21st century as trains did in the 20th century,” Branson said in a statement. “Virgin Hyperloop One can help India become a global transportation pioneer and forge a new world-changing industry.”
What is Hyperloop?
Hyperloop is a new form of ground transport currently in development by a number of companies. One can see passengers travelling at over 700 miles an hour in a floating pod, which races along inside giant low-pressure tubes, either above or below ground.
So, is it the same as a conventional rail?
The answer is a plain simple NO. There are two big differences between Hyperloop and traditional rail. Firstly, the pods carrying passengers travel through tubes or tunnels from which most of the air has been removed to reduce friction. This should allow the pods to travel at up to 750 miles per hour.
Secondly, rather than using wheels like a train or car, the pods are designed to float on air skis, using the same basic idea as an air hockey table, or use magnetic levitation to reduce friction.
Now to grasp the full concept we need to know how does Hyperloop work?
The Hyperloop, in its simplest implementation, consists of two parts; the seating capsule and a series of tubes. The capsule works as expected – in it, passengers will sit during the transportation process, much like that of a subway. Because of the complexity of the design, there have been many different proposals as to the seating arrangements and capacity of the capsules.
Although the capsules are a key factor in the success of the Hyperloop, the tube carrying the pods requires a significant amount of attention. These tubes, which are kept at partial vacuum, are changed together to create a route for the pods to follow. Here is where it gets tricky, though – because the Hyperloop does not have one proven method; the details behind it often vary from team to team. However, many teams use a combination of magnets and air pressure to glide the capsules along the track, accelerating it as needed while floating them on a sheet of air.
With the combination of reduced drag and little-to-no friction, the Hyperloop is able to glide through the tubes at incredibly fast speeds (or, at least, in theory). It should be noted, though, that the Hyperloop is not a mag-Lev train, but rather more comparable to an air hockey puck sliding along with a table.
Now coming to the powering of the hyperloop, the pods will get their velocity from an external linear electric motor — effectively a round induction motor (like the one in the Tesla Cars ) rolled flat. Under Musk’s model, the Hyperloop would be powered by solar panels placed on the top of the tube which would allow the system to generate more energy than it needs to run.
Hyperloop in India: Can India become a “global transportation pioneer”?
While the Hyperloop promises to change the rail industry, it is still a theoretical transportation system tested at lower-speeds and has never been tested with human passengers.
Hyperloop’s success in India largely depends on the regulatory framework.
Challenges such as engineering issues, land acquisition, safety standards, and a tough customs regime have in the past – plagued other infrastructure projects in the country.
Despite the challenges, Branson said in a statement that a Hyperloop demonstration track would be built within two to three years of the final agreement, and the project would take a further five to seven years to complete.
What are the benefits of Hyperloop?
Supporters argue that Hyperloop could be cheaper and faster than train or car travel, and cheaper and less polluting than air travel. They claim that it’s also quicker and cheaper to build than traditional high-speed rail. Hyperloop could, therefore, be used to take the pressure off gridlocked roads, making travel between cities easier, and potentially unlocking major economic benefits as a result.
Relevance of Hyperloop?
If the technology is still in development, that’s also very true of the business models to support it. The success of Hyperloop will vary depending on the destinations, local economics, and geography. Trying to build a new line overland across England, for example, can prove an expensive and complicated business which can take many years. In other countries where land is cheaper or where routes can travel through less populated areas, it may be easier to get services up and running faster.
Capacity is another issue. It’s not clear that Hyperloop can do a better job of moving a large number of people than other mass transit options. Critics argue that lots of pods will be required to achieve the same passenger numbers as more traditional rail, which uses much bigger carriages. And there are many engineering hurdles to overcome, like building the tubes strong enough to deal with the stresses of carrying the high-speed pods and finding energy- and cost-efficient ways to keep them operating at low pressure.
Moving from a successful test to a full commercial deployment is a big jump, and passenger trials are still to come. Assuming that consumers are happy being zoomed around in these tubes, finding the right price for the service will be vital, too.
Right now Hyperloop is at an experimental stage, even if the companies involved are very keen to talk about its potential.