Elon Musk’s Underground Transportation Plan

By: Ryan Gallagher November 7, 2017
Tesla founder Elon Musk is pursuing an idea to improve transportation by digging underground tunnels to move people across the Los Angeles area with a new firm called The Boring Company.
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Picture an old mining shaft, or perhaps Harry Potter’s goblin-driven cart tunnels below Gringott’s Wizarding Bank. Neither of these are far off from Elon Musk’s most recent endeavor: The Boring Company.

In a 4-1 vote back in August, the City Council for Los Angeles suburb Hawthorne granted approval for Musk, the Tesla CEO and SpaceX founder, to begin digging an underground transportation tunnel in an effort to solve Los Angeles’ traffic problem, which ranks as the worst worldwide.

Prior to the vote, the shaft and 160-foot-long tunnel entrance had already been built, located 44 feet below SpaceX’s old parking lot in Hawthorne. The full tunnel will run two miles west from SpaceX headquarters.

With this tunnel, Musk hopes to test an underground sled or “skate,” theoretically lowering vehicles, pedestrians, and/or bicyclists underground and transporting them from Hawthorne to Los Angeles in five minutes—a drive that typically takes up to two hours. A video released last May demonstrates a test sled flying at 125 MPH from one point to another. 

The Boring Company plans to work entirely underground, using a tunnel-boring machine that previously dug a sewer line in San Francisco.

“You don’t see [construction], don’t hear it, and certainly don’t feel it,” said Brett Horton, senior director of facilities and construction for SpaceX, who also oversees The Boring Company’s work.

These tests come bolstered by knowledge of past tunneling projects, and The Boring Company will cease construction immediately if the surface ground subsides by a half-inch above the tunnel.

“We hired a structural designer from a large consulting firm to design the tunnel based on L.A. Metro specs,” said Horton. “We haven’t reinvented tunneling. We’re using proven technology and proven means and methods.” 

While the technology may be proven, nothing else about this idea seems to be. If Musk is to make this work, he may just need one of Potter’s magical spells.

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