Hyperloop or bullet train for the Mumbai-Pune route? Which high-speed technology will connect the two important cities? Even as both Indian Railways and Hyperloop conduct their feasibility studies and look to bring super-fast connectivity between Mumbai and Pune, experts agree that high-speed corridors are the need of the hour. Hyperloop as a technology is at a concept-cum-experimental stage world over. The idea is to transport pods at high-speed using magnetic levitation. On February 18, Virgin Hyperloop One – led by Richard Branson – signed an “intent agreement” with the Maharashtra government to build a Hyperloop between Mumbai and Pune and see if travel time can be cut down to 25 minutes! This involves setting up a demonstration track over a time of 3 years and connect Pune, Navi Mumbai International Airport and Mumbai. Once the demonstration is successful, the Hyperloop network can be thrown open for commercial use in another 3-4 years.
Meanwhile, Indian Railways is also studying the feasibility of introducing a bullet train network between Mumbai and Pune and reducing the train travel time – currently at around 3 hours – to 1 or 1.5 hours. Asked about the prospect a bullet train on the route, given the fact that Hyperloop has signed an agreement with the Maharashtra government, a railway ministry official told FE Online, “Indian Railways is mulling the possibility of expanding high-speed train network to 4,000 kilometres across India. Several routes are currently being studied and around 10 of them will be finalised. Our study on the Mumbai-Pune route is independent of what Virgin Hyperloop One is doing.” “Ultimately, which technology comes will be a function of relative costs. It’s too early to comment,” the official added.
Hyperloop versus Bullet train – the case for high-speed connectivity
According to Abhaya Agarwal, Partner Infrastructure & PPP Leader at EY India, there is a good case for introducing high-speed connectivity between Mumbai and Pune. “Between the two corridors Mumbai-Pune and Delhi-Amritsar, that are being spoken of for future bullet train networks, if you ask me which has a better merit case, I would say the Mumbai-Pune one. That’s because the traffic on the Delhi-Amritsar route is less compared to Mumbai and Pune,” Agarwal tells FE Online. Asked about which technology would be better suited, Agarwal says not enough data is available to make a right comparison. “As far as a comparison between Hyperloop and bullet trains is concerned, the first is a technology that is at an experimental stage and the second is 30-40 years old but globally proven. Ultimately, there is a case for faster connectivity between the two cities. Whether it happens through Hyperloop or bullet trains, it doesn’t matter,” he says.
Harsh Shrivastava of Feedback Infra is of the view that Virgin Hyperloop One has enough time to prove whether the project is viable or not. “I don’t think the government will announce a bullet train project between Mumbai and Pune till the first one, that is the Mumbai-Ahmedabad one sees the light of the day. Till then, Hyperloop would have time to build a test track and demonstrate if the technology works or not. So, in my view by 2021 the government will be in a better position to decide which is a better project for the two cities – Hyperloop or bullet trains,” Shrivastava tells FE Online.
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According to EY’s Abhaya Agarwal, the crucial question is of funding. “Who will bear the cost of the project? And if the government decides to fund it, then would it be willing to spend such huge amounts on a new technology like Hyperloop which is still at an experimental stage, or would it prefer to go for a proven technology like bullet trains – that remains to be seen,” he concludes.
The Mumbai-Pune route is a difficult terrain to built a high-speed network on, but not impossible, World over, tunnels have been made in areas as difficult as Switzerland. The key to the project will undoubtedly lie in the cost per kilometre, lifecycle cost and expected returns from the project in terms of passenger fares and the expected multiplier effect on businesses.