Musk Touts 'Boring' Idea for Tunnel Transport

MONDAY, MAY 22, 2017

Business magnate Elon Musk reiterated his plan Wednesday (May 17) to construct tunnels under cities for the purpose of using high-speed electric sleds to allow vehicles to circumvent nettlesome traffic.

According to media reports, the Tesla Motors founder’s new venture, dubbed The Boring Company, likely would serve as a precursor to launching another Musk endeavor: digging tunnels faster and cheaper as a means to convey the high-concept, near-supersonic Hyperloop transport he first proposed in 2015.

Musk hatched the idea while stuck in a southern California traffic jam in December, firing off a series of tweets and promising he was "going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging."

Can You Dig It?

The Boring Company hopes to reduce the diameter of tunnels, which would be dug out 28 feet underground, and increase the speed of soft-soil machines used to carve them. Increasing machine power and running the tunnel-diggers on electricity—not diesel fuel—also tops Musk’s wish list, along with automating the boring process with fewer human operators, and tunneling nonstop instead of having to first erect support structures.

The sleds themselves would whisk cars underground at speeds up to 125 mph without using gasoline. In an ideal scenario, cars bypassing travel-clogged freeways would make the trip from Westwood to Los Angeles International Airport in as little as five minutes. That 13-mile trip would normally take 30 to 60 minutes via automobile today.

"The key to making this work (the congestion-clobbering vehicle tunnels) is increasing tunneling speed and dropping costs by a factor of 10 or more. This is the goal of The Boring Company," Musk posted on The Boring Company’s website. "Fast to dig, low-cost tunnels would also make Hyperloop adoption viable and enable rapid transit across densely populated regions, enabling travel from New York to Washington, D.C. in less than 30 minutes."

The post on the website states that Musk’s electric sled "can transport automobiles, goods, and/or people. An added vacuum shell transforms it into a Hyperloop Pod, which can travel at 600+ miles per hour."

“A large network of road tunnels many levels deep would fix congestion in any city, no matter how large it grew (just keep adding levels)," the website explains.

Revisiting an Idea

Musk has trod this path before. While developing SpaceX—a California-based aerospace manufacturer and space transport services company—he strived to cut expenses by making reusable rocket boosters reusable.

It took some time—SpaceX was founded in 2002—but the firm has begun deploying those reusable rockets into space.

Musk’s firm already has made inroads digging a tunnel under the SpaceX property, but whether state and local governments would allow a privately held boring machine—Musk toyed with the idea of calling his first tunnel-digger “Snoop Dug” before settling on “Godot”—to burrow under large swaths of southern California remains to be seen. Also, the massive expense of such an endeavor has yet to be calculated.

Musk envisions stops in Culver City, Santa Monica and Sherman Oaks for his first test tunnel.

Editor's note: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the distance of the trip from Westwood to Los Angeles International Airport.


Tagged categories: Construction; Developers; North America; Program/Project Management; Roads/Highways; Technology; Traffic control; Tunnel

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