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A Subcontinent On The Verge Of A Transport Revolution

Darryle Ulama
Research Analyst, Hyperloop One

Few cities in the world are urbanizing more rapidly than New Delhi. Taxis, motorcycles, and tuk tuks weave around one another in a chorus of horns and signals, only occasionally following the road’s designated lanes. New housing  construction is visible throughout, as the local development authority steps up project development and financing in target neighborhoods. In the early hours, a haze descends upon the city, a mixture of morning light and the trapped particulates of a metropolis growing by more than 70 people per hour.

It’s only fitting then that the ancient Mughal capital hosted Hyperloop One’s "Vision for India" showcase on February 28, our official launch into a country of more than 1.3 billion. The event convened India's five semifinalist teams from the Hyperloop One Global Challenge, along with a roster of government officials, media, urbanists, and transportation specialists. On the top floor of the Taj Mansingh Hotel and in between rounds of chai, the question on everyone’s mind was: how will India seize its metropolitan moment?

On the first day of the showcase, the Global Challenge teams made the case for their proposals to bring Hyperloop to their communities. Hyperloop India, a vibrant team made up of students from the country’s leading universities, kicked things off by making their case for connecting Mumbai to Chennai via Bangalore. The east-west link would tie together three of India’s dynamic metropolitan areas and two of its major ports, and establish a system of cities that includes Pune, Kolhapur, Hubli-Dharwad, Tumakuru, Vellore, and Sriperumbudur. Dinclix Groundworks, a trio of IT professionals hailing from Indore, proposed connecting Mumbai to Delhi, effectively merging India’s two megacities. LUX Hyperloop Network, from the state of Kerala in southwest India, offered to link the lush capital city of Thiruvananthapuram to Bangalore. Infi Alpha and AECOM India both proposed to join Bangalore to Chennai to coordinate economic and spatial development along the Chennai-Bangalore Industrial Corridor.

The event’s second day boasted more pomp, and included remarks from the Minister of Railways Suresh Prabhu and a keynote speech from Amitabh Kant, CEO of NITI Aayog, who emphasized India’s breathtaking pace of urbanization and Hyperloop’s potential as a leapfrog technology. NITI Aayog, shorthand for the National Institution of Transforming India, is the government’s policy think-tank and oversees long-term strategic planning for government programs. A panel of representatives from Morgan Stanley, McKinsey & Co., Feedback Infra, and India’s Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion also discussed how Hyperloop can transform India’s economic trajectory. Next door, journalists, transport specialists, and tech enthusiasts packed into the Villa Medici Room to see visual representations of the proposed routes, and meet Hyperloop One team members and Global Challenge participants.

Amitabh Kant at Hyperloop One HOGC event in Delhi
​India's Amitabh Kant address the crowd at the Hyperloop One Global Challenge event in Delhi on Feb. 28, 2017

Our Executive Chairman and cofounder Shervin Pishevar in his opening remarks highlighted Hyperloop One’s strategy in India. "Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision for transforming India and the role he sees of technology in driving this change is indeed remarkable. India is an extremely important geography for developing Hyperloop networks and reimagining how cities and regions work. The Prime Minister’s vision of connecting the country is directly aligned with Hyperloop One’s objective of connecting the world. With initiatives such as ‘Make In India’ and ‘Digital India’, we do see ourselves working in this direction in India.”

packed crowd at Hyperloop One Vision For India event
​It was a packed crowd at the Taj Mansingh in Delhi for our Hyperloop One Global Challenge event.

A crucial takeaway for the Hyperloop One team was the unique administrative and regulatory challenges we face in India. For example, a 2013 act requires 70% approval of land owners (and 80% of private entities) for a public private partnership to be executed. Decision-making is also stratified in India, with state governments exercising a degree of control that is at times at odds with the central government. Even collecting data can be difficult. Yutika Vora, founder of the Nagrika Policy Research Foundation, an organization researching India’s small and intermediate cities, described the difficulty in gathering accurate data on cities that are changing so quickly.

Attendees of the Vision for India showcase seem ready to take these challenges head on. Sibesh Kar, head of Hyperloop India, says his team’s goal is to bring Hyperloop to his country by whatever means necessary, a sentiment echoed by almost each of the Global Challenge participants. A representative from Invest India, a Modi program to help facilitate inward investment, enthusiastically offered support to Hyperloop One’s activity in India. Davinder Sandhu, Executive Director of KPMG India, explained how Hyperloop systems can complement government initiatives and discussed India’s successful record of adopting forward-looking technology.

Our own global research recently studied which markets are most suitable for Hyperloop One’s brand of high speed, on-demand transportation disruption. India was among the top three, and based on the enthusiastic response and turnout at the Global Challenge event, the nation is definitely ready for a transportation revolution.