Long distance travel in India can vary widely depending upon where you’re travelling to and how much you can pay to get there. Apart from the lucky few who can afford to travel by fly on a regular basis, trains are still the best option for most people. Train journeys are by and large similar across classes and cost dividers, united by numerous common factors such as hawkers selling food and trinkets, a steady stream of beggars and panhandlers, railway stations that assault your nostrils with potent smells and interminably long travel times.
If Elon Musk manages to get his way though, inter-city travel in India could be set for a revolutionary jump. His brainchild is the Hyperloop, a system that slings magnetic flying capsules from one end of a low-pressure tube to another. The capsules are suspended in vacuum and only require energy to launch, after which they can glide for long distances. And this futuristic transport mechanism could be coming to India soon, with not one, but five proposals currently being studied. The Hyperloop will cut travel times by approximately 80 percent. Compared to what you ask? The answer, a high-speed train travelling at around 250 km/h. In fact, with an estimated average speed north of 1000km/h, the Hyperloop is almost three times faster than air travel.
Although Musk’s rockstar reputation lends the Hyperloop a bit of a golden halo, it is important to remember that there are no functional Hyperloops anywhere in the world at the moment. The company’s global call for proposals has received fantastic response though, with 35 selected out of 2,600 applications from 90 countries. The five short-listed Indian routes are Bengaluru-to-Chennai (334 km in 20 minutes), Bengaluru-to-Thiruvananthapuram (736 km in 41 minutes), Delhi-to-Mumbai via Jaipur and Indore (1,317 km in 55 minutes), Mumbai-to-Chennai via Bengaluru (1,102 km in 50 minutes), and Bengaluru to Chennai (334 km in 20 minutes).
No amount of high-tech magnetism can push through good old fashioned Indian red tape though. So perhaps the most promising sign for the Hyperloop is that it has received a ringing endorsement from government quarters.
There are many hurdles that stand in the way of the Hyperloop. Like all new technology, it is incredibly expensive to build and operate – it will cost an estimated 72 crores per kilometre. This will naturally translate into high ticket prices, somewhere in the region of ₹6000 for the Chennai-Bengaluru route. These numbers could still vary massively, but as things stand it appears that the while the Hyperloop will enable India to leapfrog from cattle class to space age, it will only be available to a small sliver of the travelling population. And as exciting as getting from Chennai to Bangalore in 20 minutes sounds, the state of traffic in most Indian cities means that it will likely take a lot longer to get from the Hyperloop terminus to wherever you need to be in the city. There are some things even Elon Musk can’t fix. Yet.