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The Race to Build the Rail of the Future Heats Up: Hyperloop Startup Signs Deal Overseas

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies has another feasibility study in the works.

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BY Kevin J. Ryan - 08 Sep 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The race to create the rail of the future is getting tighter.

Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, one of the startups trying to build a high-speed tubular rail, announced yesterday that it has signed an agreement with the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. According to Wired, the company and the state government will spend six months studying potential routes between Vijaywada and Amaravati, two cities with a combined 1.7 million people that sit 27 miles apart.

HTT hopes to eventually build the high-speed passageway first proposed by Elon Musk. The hyperloop system would send magnetic pods through a low-pressure tube at speeds of around 700 mph. In the case of the Indian route, it would turn what's normally an hour-long drive into a six-minute trip.

HTT is yet to demonstrate its technology to the public. Its main rival, fellow Los Angeles startup Hyperloop One, showed off a small scale prototype in the Nevada desert in May 2016, sending a pod on a five-second test run at about 300 mph while a crowd looked on. This past July, Hyperloop One completed a full-size test run, reaching speeds of 192 mph.

Completing a hyperloop project will require getting through significant bureaucratic red tape. It will also be extremely expensive: Internal Hyperloop One documents leaked last year showed estimates at more than $100 million per mile. That company currently has $160 million in funding, while HTT has pulled in about $32 million.

Musk, who said when he outlined the technology four years ago that he wouldn't pursue it himself, has recently changed his tune. The entrepreneur announced that he was launching The Boring Company, whose aim is to dig underground tunnels to alleviate traffic, earlier this year. In July, he revealed that he was pursuing building a hyperloop system connecting New York and Washington, D.C., and last month, his team sent a full-scale pod through a hyperloop tube at a record 220 mph.

While Musk's focus has been in the U.S.--he's currently digging a tunnel under Los Angeles and has proposed routes in Chicago and on both the East and West Coasts--other companies have been setting their sights around the globe. Weeks before announcing the India deal, HTT revealed it has an agreement for a feasibility study with the South Korean government. Hyperloop One has similar deals in the U.K., Russia, Finland and Sweden, Switzerland, the Netherlands, and the United Arab Emirates, in addition to having received a number of proposals from organizations in the U.S.

In June, Richard Branson was quoted in an interview with British GQ saying he'd have an announcement regarding the hyperloop coming soon. Soon after, a representative for Branson told Inc. that while Branson "is active in the future of transportation," there was "nothing to report." Neither Hyperloop One nor HTT would confirm nor deny Branson's potential involvement with their respective companies.

Regardless, it seems the various projects are picking up momentum, though no company is yet to provide a full-scale, full-speed demonstration. If the time it takes to build other underground rail lines is any indication, a finished product is still at least a decade away, but support from any government is an important step toward making the hyperloop a reality--wherever it might happen.