Wednesday 4 October 2017

Hyperloop: Welcome to the Travel of Future

Hyperloop: Welcome the Travel of Future 

All the talks about travel of future began when Mr Elon Musk shared a white paper on Hyperloop Alpha (Link) in August 2013. In the white paper, Mr Musk talked about developing a 350 miles (563 Km) long tube from Los Angeles to San Francisco with a special environment inside, in which the Capsules (or Pods, what he calls those vehicles) will travel at an almost sonic speed of one Mach i.e. 760Mph or 1220Kmph. This Hyperloop will reduce the travel time from 6 hours by Motorcars or 1.5 hours by Air planes to mere 30 minutes. Further the cost of travel will reduce from a $100 (INR 6500) by Aeroplane to mere $20 (INR 1300). This proposed concept took the Transportation industry across the globe by storm. Within next one year, many start-up firms emerged (including Hyperloop One, Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Arrivo, etc.) around the proposed concept, taking up the charge to build the travel of future into reality.
In September 2017, the Andhra Pradesh Government junked the tried and tested Metro project in Vijayawada and signed up an MoU (Memorandum of Understanding) with Hyperloop Transportation Technologies for introducing the futuristic Hyperloop in the capital city Amrawati. The proposed Hyperloop will connect the city of Vijayawada and Amrawati and will cover the distance of 25 Kms between them in just 5 minutes. The feasibility studies are expected to begin from October 2017, however the cost of the project is yet to be disclosed. On 22 September 2017, as per Denver Post, the Transportation department of Colorado also has agreed to develop a Hyperloop connecting Cheyenne, Denver & Pueblo with Vail. The project is expected to cost $24 Billion (INR 1.56 Lakh Cr.) extending for a length of 360 Miles (576 Kms). With the physical, economical and commercial viability of Hyperloop yet to be proven, the question rises that will the Hyperloop be an instant reality or transport of Future.
In his whitepaper, Elon Musk charted out the whole plan at a cost of $6 Billion for Hyperloop capable of moving around 15 Million people per year between Los Angeles & San Francisco at a speed of 760 Mph. This when amortized for 20 years, gives an approximate ticket price of $20 (INR 1300). However, as per the current trends as seen in the recently proposed project in Colorado, the project seems to be costing $24 Billion for almost the same length, which makes the Ticket price at almost 80$ (INR 5200).  This is almost four times what Musk arrived. Also, as per Arabian Business, the Hyperloop from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, having a length of 93 Miles, has a whooping cost of $5 Billion which is similar in lines with the Colorado Project.
Most recently, even Sir Richard Branson announced that a deal has been struck with the Government of Maharashtra for construction of Hyperloop route linking Mumbai to Pune, a distance of 150 Kms (93 Miles) which will reduce the time of travel from 3 Hours to just under 25 minutes. It will have a capacity of 150 Million passenger trips per year and will be completed in a time frame of approx. 6 to 7 years. However no official announcement was made towards the cost of the project but it was stated that it will be well in range of airfare. If a simple interpolation of cost is done in line with the Colorado Project or with Abu Dhabi to Dubai route it can be said that the given project may cost approx. $5 Billion or INR 33 Thousand Cr. However if its capacity is taken as per the white paper, then 150 Million capacity sounds highly exaggerated. Even if the capacity is considered, which was 15 Million for 350 Miles at a speed of 760 Mph in white paper, it will be very less in the case as due to lesser speed and distance, the continuum of pods travelling at a gap of 10 minutes will be lesser as compared to the conditions in white paper, say around 8-10 Million at max. And if this capacity is amortized for 20 years with an 80% capacity, the price per head arrives to be approx. INR 2000-2500 with various cost of O&M or capital not considered. Seeing these trends, it can clearly be said that what Musk proposed may be technologically viable, but financially it is going to be almost double the cost of High Speed Rail considering all the cost of finances.

Many startups have come up and started to test the idea of a low pressure tube with capsules supported on air cushion being accelerated or decelerated by magnetic linear accelerators. Hyperloop One seems to have been in the fore front as on date. They have carried out three test as on date, as listed. The first one on 12th May 2017, the second one on 2nd August 2017, and the third one on 15th Dec 2017, all at Nevada desert.

From the tests conducted by Hyperloop One, it can be seen that they have successfully carried out test running only few meters and have achieved a maximum speed of 240 Mph approx. Even the Pod designed by SpaceX has been tested only up to 220 Mph. But the required speed of the proposed project is 760 Mph and no test has been able to achieve any nearby speed as on date. Further, the low pressure tube has only been tested up to 437 meters. Tube with low pressure running for miles with turns and gradients are yet to be tested and established as safe. Even the case of leak in air pressure in the tube and its effects needs to be tested. Also as claimed, effect of earthquake, temperature, thermal expansion or other adverse situations are yet to be tested and established. And the list of so many ‘things to be done’ goes on.
As much I want it to be a success, but the available trends on project execution and with so many tests/hypothesis yet to be proven, it seems it is too early to say that the Hyperloop mode of transportation is the new thing and ready to be vetted against High Speed Rail mode of transport. However, with the current questions if answered, it can revolutionize the industry. And still, as it seems now, is just a Travel of Future.

(updated 01-03-2018, Mumbai - Pune details added)

1 comment:

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