India inches ahead in the race to build a Hyperloop

It has committed to building a test track on a section of a planned route between Mumbai and Pune.

Plenty of places have committed to exploring the economic viability of building a Hyperloop, but nobody has been brave enough to say they'll actually construct one. It's why the news coming out of India's latest announcement is such a big deal, because it includes a pledge to build a working test track.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sir Richard Branson announced the partnership between Virgin Hyperloop One and the Indian state of Maharashtra. The deal will see the pair look into developing a high-speed link between the cities of Pune and Mumbai, with the route going via Navi Mumbai International Airport.

At current speeds, it takes around three and a half hours to make the 100-mile journey, either on a train or by car. Hyperloop One believes that it can shrink that journey time down to a slender 25 minutes, as well as dramatically reducing freight times between Mumbai's port and the inland Pune.

That's important, since around a quarter of all the freight that passes through Mumbai's ports has Pune as its destination or place of origin. A Hyperloop that carries freight between the two cities would potentially reduce 25 percent of all the heavy goods traffic on the roads.

Much like so many other nascent Hyperloop projects, the Mumbai - Pune project will begin with a six-month feasibility study. But, if the numbers come up right, then the state will press ahead to build a test track that will form a segment of the final planned route.

The test track is expected to be built within three years, meaning that India could be running test journeys by 2021. After plenty of further research and development work, and the economics work out, additional sections will be added to the line, which could be fully working as early as 2028.

Plans to build a longer test track as the first segment of a finished Hyperloop route were first floated by co-founder Josh Giegel early last year.