Billionaire Richard Branson unveils hyperloop plans for India

A Hyperloop One test vehicle being transported at a DevLoop track in the Nevada desert on May 12, 2017.
A Hyperloop One test vehicle being transported at a DevLoop track in the Nevada desert on May 12, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

MUMBAI (BLOOMBERG) - British tycoon Richard Branson-backed Virgin Hyperloop One is proposing to build a super-fast transportation system in India that would connect the city of Pune with the planned new airport in Mumbai in 25 minutes, saving about three hours.

The founder of Virgin Group signed a preliminary agreement on Sunday (Feb 18) in Mumbai for a broad hyperloop framework, the company said in a statement. A demonstration track will be built in two to three years from the signing of the final agreement, while the second phase will aim to complete construction of the full Pune-Mumbai route in five to seven years.

Mr Branson is touting the tube-based transportation system - first theorised in 2013 by billionaire Elon Musk - to help address the infrastructure bottlenecks India is struggling with amid rapid urbanisation. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is ploughing about 8.6 trillion rupees (S$174 billion) to upgrade the nation's rail networks and last year kicked off a plan to build a 508km bullet train line linking the commercial hubs of Mumbai and Ahmedabad.

The Pune-Mumbai hyperloop project could result in US$55 billion (S$72 billion) in socio-economic benefits over 30 years of operation, according to an initial study by Virgin Hyperloop One.

"I believe Virgin Hyperloop One could have the same impact upon India in the 21st century as trains did in the 20th century," Mr Branson said. "The Pune-Mumbai route is an ideal first corridor as part of a national hyperloop network."

Virgin Hyperloop One, which has been testing in Nevada with speeds reaching 386km an hour, is working to meet a goal of having three production systems in service by 2021, according to its website. The startup is working on technology that would use magnetic levitation in low-pressure tubes to transport people and goods at airplane-like speeds.