India is a “natural fit” for the Hyperloop.
The government needs to invest a lot into education and technology to increase India’s chances of getting a functional Hyperloop system.
The Hyperloop concept has been talked about several times before for its ability to offer high-speed terrestrial connectivity at relatively low costs, but there is no commercial product yet. Closer to home, our Transport Minister Nitin Gadkari offered support to Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Tesla Motors to run tests.
While neither Musk nor SpaceX is involved in any commercial Hyperloop system, the technology, planned by Musk has been open-sourced and several companies are working on a commercial implementation. SpaceX itself is conducting a Hyperloop pod competition for students to build the required hardware and push for more research in the field.
Three independent companies are known to be working on a functional Hyperloop model as of now:
Hyperloop One, whose founder has worked with Musk in the past, and has funding from major investors including GE Ventures.
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, a group of part-time engineers across the United States, had signed an agreement with landowners for an 8-km long test track in California. The company, led by Bibop Gabriele Gresta, has also signed an agreement with the UAE government for a 160-km track from Abu Dhabi to Al Ain. Gresta recently met with Gadkari for a proposal to build a track connecting Mumbai and Pune.
TransPod is a company that is working on designing pods for use on a Hyperloop track. Based out of Canada, it has tied up with aerospace majors and university researchers to test out its prototype systems.
Now How Does The Hyperloop System Work?
The basic principle behind the operation of the Hyperloop is Magnetic levitation. The system itself is powered by a set of batteries within the pod. A linear induction motor starts pushing the pod forward. This ‘thrust force’ provides forward motion, which induces a magnetic field with the Halbach array of permanent magnets placed at the bottom of the pod. The induced magnetic field causes the pod to levitate, and also provides propulsion to accelerate to extremely high speeds. The Halbach array increases the magnetic field on one side, while effectively neutralising the field on the other side, in this case on the upper side. When the pod needs to slow down, the liner motor reverses the direction of thrust force. The magnetic field slows down the pod and regenerative braking is used to charge the batteries. Once it slows down, the levitation also ceases, bringing the entire pod to a standstill. The entire system is built within an evacuated tube to reduce the retardation effects of air resistance. Some developers even plan to set up Solar Panels atop the system of twin tubes to power it.
Now What Is The Difference Between The Hyperloop And A Maglev (Magnetic Levitation) Train?
A Maglev train is a driverless train with electromagnets on the bottom and the tracks. Unlike conventional rail where the power comes from the engine, in a Maglev system, the power is supplied to electromagnets at the bottom of the train. When powered, the electromagnets create a field that uses repulsion thus causing the train to float. The field keeps the train moving in a forward direction, ultimately resulting in speeds of up to 603km/hr (The L0 Shinkansen in Japan). Since the Maglev is open, it is subject to resistance from the air and slows down. Tracks need to be laid straight with a minimal curve to prevent any untoward incident.
The estimated cost of a Hyperloop is $10 million for two miles, as opposed to China’s $12.4 million per mile for high-speed rail.
The Indian Connection
On a visit to Elon Musk’s Tesla factory, Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed interest in the Hyperloop. This was followed in India with Gadkari offering support to SpaceX for testing out the Hyperloop, along with giving Tesla Motors land for developing cleaner transport systems. Further, Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis too, confirmed that there had been talks, but the Hyperloop would only be built in India if the system had been built elsewhere before that.
Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), has been in talks for several months to invest in India. Bibop Gresta, its co-founder, had declared India to be a “natural fit” for the Hyperloop. He also stated that the government would need to invest a lot into education and technology to increase India’s chances of getting a functional Hyperloop system.
The Hyperloop test is being considered between the commercial capital of Mumbai and the industrial city of Pune, separated by the Western Ghats at a distance of 150km. While, building through the ghat is certainly going to be tricky, it isn’t impossible. Gadkari had earlier hinted at a connection between the Mumbai and the winter capital of Maharashtra, Nagpur, separated by a distance of around 800km. Another feasible route would be the Mumbai-Ahmedabad route, where the High-Speed Rail with Japanese participation (The Bullet Train) is being planned. The system could slowly be extended to connect India’s densest corridors like Bangalore-Chennai, Pune-Bangalore, Mumbai-Hyderabad, Delhi-Lucknow, etc.
This would be the right time for India to invest significantly in the field of Education, and Technology. If this can be done, it could be a great success under the Make In India programme, and would establish us as a major player in the Research and Development sector. Only time will tell, what will really happen.