Pipe dream?6 February 2018
At a presentation to a council meeting in the final week of January, Elon Musk’s tunnelling company presented plans to tunnel under western Los Angeles.
In the words of the council briefing document, “A private company, The Boring Company, has proposed a privately-funded human transportation tunnel that would run underneath the Westside of Los Angeles […]
The tunnel would contain a high-speed underground public transportation system in which passengers are transported on autonomous electric skates travelling at 125-150mph [200-240kph]. Electric skates will carry 8-16 passengers, or a single passenger vehicle.”
For readers unfamiliar with the eccentric, but wildly successful South African billionaire, Musk is the founder of PayPal, Tesla Motors and SpaceX.
The purpose of his adventure into tunnelling is, according to the company, “To solve the problem of soul-destroying traffic, roads must go 3D, which means either flying cars or tunnels. Unlike flying cars, tunnels are weatherproof, out of sight and won’t fall on your head. A large network of tunnels many levels deep would fix congestion in any city, no matter how large it grew (just keep adding levels). The key to making this work is increasing tunnelling speed and dropping costs by a factor of 10 or more.”
With this system, the ‘skate’ is a platform on wheels propelled by electric motors. The concept is to have a main arterial route, with many spur tunnels leading to small stations, sited in “any location that can accommodate a single parking space”. Larger stations would be built near hubs, but congestion would be reduced by the number of stations, the company says.
Readers may be familiar with the ‘Hyperloop’ concept of a 600mph capsule in a vacuum tube for traversing distances. The system discussed here is known as the ‘Loop’. It is designed to hit one point from Musk’s list of strategies to reduce the cost of tunnelling, the reduced diameter that this type of travel requires (4m or less).
However, it is still just an idea, which one of the councillors already called “seductive but half-baked” according to local media. The council report itself finishes by detailing the current state of arrangements with The Boring Company: “At this time, the city has not approved any project, nor has the city received an application for any permits or approvals from. In October 2017, the Boring Company submitted an application for permits from the city for the portions of the tunnel that run beneath LA. It has not yet granted approval, and it is not known when approval will be granted or in what form.”
However, in August 2017 the city did approve a 3km test tunnel underneath public property.