DH Deciphers | Hyperloop: How fast and how soon?

DH Deciphers | Hyperloop: How fast and how soon?

A Hyperloop pod.

History was made in ultra-fast surface transport on November 8 when first passengers travelled safely on a hyperloop at the DevLoop test facility of US company Virgin Hyperloop. But what exactly is a hyperloop and how far is it from becoming a viable mode of mass transport? 


What is a hyperloop and why is it making news?

Designed to revolutionise future travel, hyperloop is a sealed tube/system of tubes with air pressure so low that a pod can travel almost without friction or air resistance. A pod is a long narrow container which is fixed to an aircraft for carrying engines, etc. In a hyperloop, a pod is one of many carriages which carry passengers. Travelling at speeds rivalling that of an aeroplane, the hyperloop pod could dramatically reduce commute time over distances of about 1,500 km. 


How fast will hyperloop travel?

Hyperloop says the system can propel passenger or cargo pods at speeds of over 1,000 kmph. To give a perspective, this would be three times faster than a high-speed train and more than 10 times faster than a traditional train. 

Will passengers be safe at such high speeds?

The first-ever human ride has shown that safety is not an issue. However, the test ride reached only up to 172 kmph. Longer trial rides are scheduled on Virgin Hyperloop’s upcoming test facility in West Virginia. The hyperloop corridor there will be over six miles long. 

The first Indian to take the hyperloop, Tanay Manjrekar, experienced 0.9 g while the pod accelerated during a 10-second ride, covering a distance of 400 metres. The design proposes that the passengers experience not more than an inertial acceleration of 0.5 g, about two to three times that of a commercial flight while taking off and landing. G is a unit of force to define acceleration. 

To boost safety, the tube design will incorporate emergency exits. Since the pods use levitation (rising and floating in the air without any physical support) and the propulsion system is integrated with the infrastructure, very few subsystems within the pod are prone to failure. Research is underway to improve safety even further. 


What are hyperloop’s plans for India?

Virgin Hyperloop has inked agreements with Maharashtra and Punjab governments to explore the possibility of building high-speed corridors. The deal with Maharashtra is for a corridor between Mumbai and Pune. The company has also signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Bangalore International Airport Limited (BIAL) to conduct a pre-feasibility study for a corridor between the city centre and the airport. 


Can Bengalureans hope to take a hyperloop ride to the Kempegowda International Airport (KIA) anytime soon?

Hyperloop has not officially committed to any timeline before 2030. However, the study focused on the technical, economic and route feasibility is expected to be completed in two phases of six months each. The company has also indicated the possibility of building a test facility within the KIA campus, although no time schedule has been set. 


Once ready, how quickly can a commuter reach the airport from the city centre?

At the time of signing the agreement with BIAL, Virgin had claimed that pods could touch speeds of up to 1,080 kmph. On paper, the hyperloop is designed to potentially transport thousands of passengers per hour from the KIA to the city centre in under 10 minutes. Pods are being designed to carry a maximum of 28 passengers at a time. 


Which country is likely to get a commercial hyperloop first?

Hyperloop technologies and models are being designed and developed by multiple companies worldwide. But safety certification and other regulations will take time. India, China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have, however, moved faster. Virgin officials say India has a fair chance of getting the world’s first commercial track within the next 10-15 years. 

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox