Logistics

Hyperloop is cheaper than high-speed rail, says IIT-M research

M. Ramesh | | Updated on: Sep 30, 2020
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‘Avishkar project’ team hopeful of setting up a 400-metre loop in upcoming campus of the IIT

Is building a hyperloop cheaper than high-speed rails? IIT-Madras thinks it is.

Hyperloop is a vacuumised tube inside which a passenger pod travels from point to point. Since this mode of transportation — around 1,000 km per hour — can easily be 2-3 times faster than a high-speed rail, it has caught the fancy of the world. A number of projects are in the works, though none has materialised as yet.

A group of students at IIT-Madras and their professors have been studying the hyperloop project closely — last year, the group emerged among the top ten out of 1,600 global contestants in a hyperloop competition conducted by US industrialist Elon Musk’s SpaceX.

Encouraged by this, the ‘Avishkar’ project’ team has been working on developing an indigenous hyperloop technology. The team is hopeful of setting up a 400-metre loop in the upcoming new campus of the IIT, which will cost ₹10 crore, and then get the government and the industry to set up a 10-km demonstration track at an estimated cost of ₹400 crore.

Chennai-Bengaluru link

This team has now gone in-depth into the subject. It looked at the entire technical and economic feasibility of setting up a hyperloop over a 350-km distance between Chennai and Bengaluru. It has estimated that the cost would work out to $20 million per km, including the cost of land; comparatively, the Ahmedabad-Mumbai high speed rail costs $28 million per km.

The team’s mentor, Prof Sathya Chakravarthy, says that the costing is based on market estimates but could be brought down substantially with engineering tweaks. The team is working on finding cheaper alternatives to the type of steel used for the tube. Route optimisation could also help lower costs.

The detailed project report, seen by BusinessLine , says that the major item of the costs is the tube, which is reckoned to account for $7 billion, out of the total estimated project cost of $7.4 billion. The total includes the cost of 24 pods at a million dollars apiece, but the report puts the cost of the ‘electro dynamic wheels’ that will make the pod levitate at $360 million.

The report assumes the 48-seater pod leaving a terminal every six minutes, taking 120 minutes for a two-way journey, giving time for passengers getting in and out. It takes the annual passenger load anywhere between 5 million and 8.2 million, depending upon the number of daily operational hours. At the present costing, a ticket could be priced at ₹4,000 for a one-way trip, but then this is before “cost optimisation”. Prof Chakravarthy told BusinessLine that he was confident that the costs could be brought down a good deal.

Published on September 30, 2020

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