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Hyperloop – a global race to jackpot

Hyperloop is a hot buzzword right now and if you haven’t been living under a rock, chances are you have heard about it too. For the uninformed, hyperloop is a proposed mode of transportation which uses pods to transport cars and people through underground tunnels at high speeds of more than 750 miles an hour, reducing travel time dramatically. Let’s discuss about the companies that are investing in hyperloop and their progress in this project.

Boring Company – SpaceX

Talk about hyperloop and the most famous name that comes to mind is Elon Musk. His Boring Company has very interesting plans, and last week Musk said he was planning to link Boring’s hyperloop project with his SpaceX company’s projects for a much more advanced transportation system.

Musk’s company has begun work on a tunnel between Washington DC and New York City while work on another tunnel between Los Angeles and San Francisco is set to begin next year. The CEO of Tesla (TSLA) is also looking at another hyperloop project between downtown Chicago and O’Hare airport.

The Boring Company hyperloop project
(Image Courtesy: The Boring Company)

Last month, the Boring Company raised $113 million from a group of investors to dig hyperloop tunnels. The major portion of the amount came from Musk himself and the rest from the initial employees. No outside investors were involved. The cost of building tunnels could come to as much as $1 billion a mile.

The cost of the Los Angeles-San Francisco project alone is estimated to be close to $6 billion, the majority of which would go into constructing the tube network. The total cost of a passenger-only hyperloop is projected at somewhere between $4 billion to $5 billion while a bigger one including freight would exceed $6 billion in costs. The capsules are estimated at just under $2 million per piece.

Virgin Hyperloop One

Hyperloop One, which became Virgin Hyperloop One after securing an investment from billionaire Richard Branson and his company Virgin Group, is the second most active name in the hyperloop space. Branson and team aim to get the system operational by 2021 and have risen close to $300 million for the same. Its investors include DP World, Caspian VC Partners and GE Ventures among others.

Virgin Hyperloop One is looking to build a hyperloop linking the cities of Pune and Mumbai in the state of Maharashtra in India. The company expects the entire project to be built in five to seven years after all approvals and funding. India suffers from severe delays when it comes to infrastructure-related projects so this time frame is likely to see an extension.

In the U.S., the company is working on a project in Kansas City and it also has plans to build a hyperloop in the UAE in partnership with DP World connecting Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Virgin Hyperloop One also has projects planned across Europe.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies (HTT) is another company involved in this dynamic venture. Around two years ago, HTT managed to raise over $100 million in total investments for its hyperloop plans. Like Virgin, HTT is also involved in a project connecting Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the UAE. In the U.S., HTT is looking to link Cleveland and Chicago. The company is also testing projects in France and India.

Conclusion

Other companies involved in the hyperloop arena include Canadian company Transpod, DGWHyperloop and Aecom. In terms of hyperloop, Transpod has set rather realistic goals. Following the necessary feasibility studies and environmental impact and other surveys, the company expects to begin testing in 2020 with construction scheduled for 2025. The project is expected to start operations by 2030.

Transpod expects to begin testing in 2020 with construction scheduled for 2025

At least Transpod’s planning seems to be on the right track as opposed to the rather unrealistic goals set by companies such as Virgin Hyperloop and HTT. Virgin Hyperloop has progressed farther than Transpod in its hyperloop venture but the three-year roadmap still seems rudimentary. Virgin Hyperloop has neither stated its plans clearly nor given an accurate outline of the costs involved. HTT meanwhile seems all set to start test operations in France this year itself. This seems a tad outstretched.

Looking at investments, Elon Musk seems to be shouldering his hyperloop investments pretty much himself. Virgin Hyperloop One, on the other hand, has several investors alongside it. Certain studies indicate that over the next four years, the market size of hyperloop technology could cross $1 billion.

The entire hyperloop idea comes with its fair share of criticism. Many, including Microsoft’s former chief Bill Gates, have expressed doubts over the viability of the hyperloop. Safety is another major concern. While all the companies involved in hyperloop continue to talk at length about the efficiency, reduced travel time and other grand plans related to the venture, none of them have given a satisfactory response to the question of safety and rescue in the event of a breakdown in the underground tunnels.

Hyperloop is widely touted as the next best thing in the future of transportation but for now it still raises  few red flags.

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