Alan Middleton’s head office at PA Consulting contains a stash of goodies and, like the Holy Grail in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, it’s the least glamorous object that has the most interesting story. Between the box of translucent seaweed capsules that serve as a zero-plastic alternative to water bottles, developed by sustainable packaging start-up Notpla, and an internet-of- things enabled mousetrap that’s transforming the business model for pest-control giant Rentokil, is an innocuous piece of circuitry that PA developed with Virgin Hyperloop One for its eponymous and much-fe^ted mass-transit system.
The idea of rapid transport by vacuum tube harks back to the "atmospheric railway" concept of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, explains Middleton, who has run Britain’s oldest and largest home-grown management consultancy since 2007. Hyperloop is not without detractors but the potential could be enormous – with almost no friction to slow it down, the technology could achieve the volume of rail with the speed of a jet plane, unlocking untold productivity as the distance between cities shrinks, all achieved in a sustainable way.
But while Sir Richard Branson, who has previously unveiled plans to bring hyperloop trains to the UK, races with Elon Musk’s The Boring Company to build the world’s first working hyperloop, the country currently most likely to capitalise on it is India. The state of Maharashtra has approved plans for a tube connecting Mumbai and Pune, built by a consortium of Virgin Hyperloop One and global ports owner DP World, that could bring $55bn in economic benefits to the country.