by Andrew J Hawkins: There is no fully functional hyperloop in the world…
but that could soon change, as officials in India have recently designated the ultra-fast, futuristic transportation system a “public infrastructure project” and will soon be taking bids on its construction.
There are still many hurdles to overcome, such as certifying the hyperloop as safe for human passengers. But Virgin Hyperloop One, one of the handful of companies working to turn Elon Musk’s dream of supersonic travel through vacuum tubes a reality, is confident that its project in the western district of Maharashtra is all but a done deal.
Officials in Maharashtra have named Virgin Hyperloop One and its partner shipping giant DP World as the originators of the multibillion-dollar infrastructure project. The local government is expected to launch a formal bidding process for building a Pune-to-Mumbai hyperloop, projected to link the two cities in under 35 minutes (rather than a 3.5-hour trip by car). Virgin Hyperloop One said it expects to be the winner, at which point it will break ground on the world’s first hyperloop.
No taxpayer money will be spent on the project, the company says. DP World, a major Dubai port operator with significant business in India, will spend $500 million to complete phase one of the project; the rest of the money will come from other investors.
The designation is “incredibly significant to moving hyperloop forward globally,” said Ryan Kelly, head of marketing and communications at Virgin Hyperloop One, in an email. “This is not exploration; this is a solid confirmation.”
Virgin Hyperloop One recently raised $172 million in new funding, with at least $90 million from DP World. The hyperloop startup was seeking up to $224 million in this equity sale, according to a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission. Eighty investors have contributed to the round, but specific investors weren’t named. DP World previously invested $25 million in Virgin Hyperloop One and already has two seats on the startup’s board of directors.
It remains to be seen whether officials in India will feel comfortable approving the construction of a theoretical transportation system that has never been tested with human passengers. Virgin Hyperloop One has a test facility in the desert north of Las Vegas, where it has repeatedly sent its magnetically levitating pod through a nearly airless tube at speeds of up to 240 mph (370 km/h). That’s incredibly fast, but far less than the hyperloop’s theoretical maximum speed of 700 mph. The company believes it would need an additional 2,000 meters (1.2 miles) of track to hit that velocity.
Virgin Hyperloop One’s interest in India dates back to 2017, when the company signed agreements with the governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka to study the impact of a hyperloop in the region.
The company also recently kicked off a roadshow through the American Midwest to allow people to see its prototype XP-1 hyperloop pod up close. Virgin Hyperloop One plans on hitting cities like Columbus, OH; Arlington, TX; Kansas City, KS; and others over the next few months. Missouri is one of the states eyed by the company as a potential future construction site.