CHENNAI: Chennai to Bengaluru in 30 minutes! No, this is not a figment of imagination, or worse a videogame, but a proposed mode of transport.
A US-based company which has embarked on an ambitious project to revolutionise the way people moved from one city to another has set its eyes on Chennai. The brainchild of Elon Musk, HyperLoop One proposes to propel people in travel pods at 1,200 kmph through a tube propped up on concrete pillars. The pod or train is able to achieve the speed because it floats in a vacuum inside the tunnel.
If the plan takes off, people will be able to zoom to Bengaluru in 30 minutes. Mumbai will be a little more than an hour away.
Recently, the company tweeted the routes it is interested in. These include Chennai-Bengaluru, Chennai-Mumbai, Pune-Mumbai Bengaluru-Thiruvananthapuram and Mumbai-Delhi.
Hyperloop has approached Union Ministry of Road Transport with a letter of intent. Sources said the routes being considered were meant to run bullet trains, and Japanese and Chinese teams have started studying the Chennai-Bengaluru route to find out if they can lay tracks to run high-speed trains.
On its website, Hyperloop says it can move people for the price of bus tickets and that they are going to charge for the time taken and not the transport. The team which is behind the project says it is planning to install prefabricated tubes atop pillars, a move aimed to cut down cost and time of construction. Solar panels on top of the tubes and windmills on the pillars to tap energy will further reduce operational cost. The pod uses magnetic system to move. It needs energy only when it begins the journey and can glide for more than 200 miles once it touches top speed.
The first line in the world is expected to come up between Dubai and Abu Dhabi in the next five years. It will cut down travel time from 90 minutes to 12 minutes.
However, engineers at Indian Railways are skeptical. "Any plan which aims at high speed connectivity is good. But they may take more than a decade to take off because of different reasons," a senior railway official said. "There will be procedural delays and time taken for approvals from the government."
It will take Rs 300 crore to build 1 km high-speed line, but HyperLoop, citing its San Francisco to Los Angeles plan, says it will take Rs 72 crore per kilometre. But a railway official said cost will be an impediment. "It is difficult to fix ticket prices professionally because the government wants to keep them low. Going by the current rate of cost of construction, it will cost Rs 6,000 to Bengaluru. The moment the fares are suggested, the government loses interest," he said.
High-speed trains in Kerala met with the same fate. The line from Thiruvananthapuram to Mangaluru was studied thoroughly but when the cost and fare were projected, it ran into trouble.
Also, unlike in Dubai, land is not barren and free in India. It cannot be built along the highway because there are several bends and inclines. Since the pods will be shuttled at very high speeds, the tunnel will have to be built on a straight line with minimum curves. Besides the topography, governments take time to decide on new projects. Monorail in Chennai, for example, was mooted in 2011. But the project is yet to take off. Another stumbling block will be multiple-levels of approvals. New rail projects will have to go through Research Design and Standards Organisation inspection.
"Hyperloop is a new technology and a new regulatory body will have to be formed to ensure safety and accountability. It is unlikely that the government will allow the company to go unmonitored," said an official.