MUMBAI -- Even as India's first high-speed bullet train system is under construction, entrepreneur and businessman Richard Branson is already offering a more innovative and purportedly greener form of urban trasportation to the country via his Virgin Hyperloop One.
At the center of the plan is a supersonic hyperloop system that will connect commercial capital Mumbai to industrial and university town Pune via Navi Mumbai International Airport. Introduced by Tesla Chief Elon Musk, the hyperloop uses electricity to transport passengers and cargo in capsules through a network of low-pressure tubes between cities, reducing travel time between the cities to a mere 25 minutes from three hours. Virgin's version will also be able to carry around 150 million passengers per year.
Virgin Hyperloop One Chairman Branson, who attended the Magnetic Maharashtra Summit aimed at bringing in foreign direct investment, signed an agreement of intent with the Maharashtra government on Sunday.
"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. "The Pune-Mumbai route is an ideal first corridor as part of a national hyperloop network that could dramatically reduce travel times between India's major cities to as little as two hours. Virgin Hyperloop One can help India become a global transportation pioneer and forge a new world-changing industry."
A feasibility study on the project is due to begin in the next six months. The Times of India reported, quoting sources, that construction of a test track can start in early 2019 and finish by the end of 2021 at an estimated cost of 200 billion rupees ($3.09 billion).
The construction of the Pune-Mumbai hyperloop route will be completed in two phases and future projects may also extend the route to link central Pune with the New Pune International Airport and Jawaharlal Nehru Port in Mumbai with Pune's industrial economic zones.
"The Pune-Mumbai hyperloop project will ultimately be executed by a public-private partnership which will save taxpayer money while delivering a transport option that will help the State of Maharashtra support economic growth, improve sustainability, and meet the transport demands," said Kiran Gitte, chief executive officer of the Pune Metropolitan Region Development Authority.
The Pune-Mumbai route could result in $55 billion in socio-economic benefits over 30 years of operation, a joint statement said, adding the 100% electric, efficient hyperloop system will ease severe expressway congestion and could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 150,000 tons annually.
The means of transportation is being tested across the world, amid doubts over its feasilbilty. In India, another state -- Andhra Pradesh -- has also signed a memorandum of understanding with California-based Hyperloop Transportation Technologies. The November agreement proposes to connect the South Indian city centers of Vijaywada and Amaravati.
If completed, this will be the second fast-speed transportation to be introduced in India. Already, work is underway for a $17.5 billion high-speed rail project to connect Mumbai to Ahmedabad in the west. The railway, to be served by 12 stations, will shorten the trip dramatically, from seven hours now to just two. Japan is providing a low-interest yen loan to cover roughly 80% of the project cost.