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Maharashtra applies brakes on Hyperloop

Days after the Uddhav Thackeray government took charge in Maharashtra, British billionaire Richard Branson, whose company was proposed to build the Mumbai-Pune ultrafast hyperloop transport system, called on the chief minister at Matoshree on December 11. It was the time when the new Maharashtra government decided to place the Mumbai-Ahmedabad bullet train project under review.

Prior to the meeting, Branson┬áhad told media that he was meeting Thackeray to clear “misunderstandings” and gauge the new administration’s interest in the $10 billion Mumbai-Pune Hyperloop project, which promises to cut the travel time between Mumbai and Pune to less than half and hour. Thackeray assured Branson that he would take further decisions only after studying the project.

However, it seems Branson’s worst fear might have come true. Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said on Friday that the state government will consider pursuing Hyperloop only after it is shown to be practicable in other countries. “Let it happen somewhere else. Let it become successful for at least a 10 km distance somewhere abroad,” Pawar said about the future of Hyperloop project in Maharashtra. “We do not have the capacity to experiment with Hyperloop. We will concentrate on other modes of transport and in the meantime, if that technology develops more with successful trials abroad, we can think about it,” he said.

Asked if the Shiv Sena-NCP-Congress government in the state was thinking of scrapping the project, Pawar said he did not say so.

With Pawar’s statement, it is almost clear that the Maharashtra government, which inherited a debt worth Rs 4.71-lakh crore from the previous Devendra Fadnavis government, will hit the pause button on the Hyperloop project. The $10-billion transport system will become the second high-profile project, signed by the Fadnavis government, that is being halted by the Thackeray government.

Unlike the bullet train project proposed on a public-private partnership, the cost of the Mumbai-Pune ultrafast hyperloop transport system was to be borne by Branson’s Virgin Group alone and would not have depended on any funding from the state. However, land acquisition for the project could have proved a key hurdle, as was the case with the bullet train project.

Hyperloop is the name given to a technology originally conceived by Tesla Inc boss Elon Musk, wherein vacuum is used to transport people very fast. The technology is yet to be commercially launched and multiple companies are working on it.

Soon after its conception, Branson’s Virgin Hyperloop One had stunned all by announcing the project when Devendra Fadnavis was the state’s chief minister and had promised to get the project going by 2020. The Fadnavis government had accorded infrastructure status to the Mumbai-Pune hyperloop project that seeks to reduce the travel time between the two cities to just 23 minutes.