Elon Musk’s Hyperloop could solve India’s railway problem

Ready for the ride?
Ready for the ride?
Image: AP Photo/John Locher
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This post has been corrected.

The future of transportation may reach India soon.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT), an American company that is working on an ultra-fast rail system, is in talks with the Indian government to bring the technology to the country. The idea of Hyperloop systems was first shared by Elon Musk, founder and CEO of SpaceX, in 2013. Even as Musk or SpaceX are not working on the technology right now, many other companies, such as HTT, have picked up the idea and are trying to make the transportation system a reality.

HTT submitted a letter of intent to transport minister Nitin Gadkari about two weeks ago and is awaiting a response, Bibop Gresta, co-founder of HTT, told Indian media on Dec. 6. “I think India is a perfect country to implement this project because the roads are not that good here. The transportation is not capable to sustain a growth in a country like India,” he said.

Once the Indian government signs the letter of intent, the company will need around eight months to conduct a feasibility study, according to Gresta. “Then after we get land permits, we can build a technically feasible Hyperloop in 38 months,” he said.

The Hyperloop train system propels a capsule-like vehicle through a tube at the speed of an aircraft. It is being designed to be used to transport passengers and freight.

During his trip to the US in September, Gadkari had offered Musk’s SpaceX a big chunk of land in Maharashtra to test the Hyperloop project. “They (SpaceX) want some road for experimental purpose. I offered them the westerly bypass of Pune connected to the Express Highway,” he said at the time. “The idea is they can take an experiment between Mumbai and Pune as a pilot project. It is up to [SpaceX] to decide whether or not to accept my offer.”

Gresta did not specify the amount of investment that launching Hyperloop in India would need, but said he was not looking for any funds from the government. “We are not asking money right now, but asking for a piece of land,” he said. “The company has several options for raising money. One of them is to build the Hyperloop in public-private partnership. We also have private investors interested in implementing the project.”

Prime minister Narendra Modi’s government has been toying with the idea of building bullet trains in India, at immense expense. For example, a proposed bullet train project between Ahmedabad in Gujarat to Mumbai is estimated to cost Rs1 lakh crore ($15 billion).

Hyperloop is a much cheaper alternative, Gresta said.

“You are going to spend $12 billion on a bullet train? Put $1 billion in Hyperloop and you will never need a bullet train,” he said.

CorrectionAn earlier version of this copy had incorrectly mentioned that HTT is backed by Elon Musk.