Andhra Pradesh has signed a memorandum of understanding with Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) to set up a hyperloop—a transportation mode involving a pod zooming through a vacuum tube, powered by magnetic levitation (maglev)—to link the new capital, Amaravati, with Vijaywada, one of the largest cities in the state. Even though a clear timeline by which this will be operational is yet to be figured out—indeed, a six-month feasibility study, to be carried out by HTT, will begin only in October—the move is timely, given hyperloop is nascent technology and the state thus could get an early adopter advantage in terms of more efficient transport. To be sure, the costs of the project may offset this advantage—maglev trains in countries like China and Japan have been termed vanity projects—but the gains of linking two major economic centres can’t be overstated. Hyperloop is expected to cut the one hour journey between the two cities to a ride of just five minutes.
While the engineering foot-prints of hyperloop projects are estimated to be lower than that of rail projects, hyperloops have the added advantage of having no direct carbon emissions since propulsion is powered by magnetic repulsion. The technology has generated excitement among as diverse quarters as private tech enterprises like Elon Musk’s SpaceX/Tesla in the US and the Chinese state-owned space-programme engineering contractor, China Aerospace Science and Industrial Corporation. Of course, a lot needs to be worked out before there is clarity on whether hyperloop will be worth the cost that needs to be sunk into it. But India lost an entire generation in its adoption of bullet train technology, and it must not lose out on hyperloop now, even if it is adopted as a mere product trial. Jurisdictions elsewhere are moving fast—Hawthorne, a city in Southern California, has already approved the construction of a tunnel for trial of the Tesla/SpaceX developed hyperloop technology.