Elon Musk’s Boring Company has been around for a while. Its goal is to transport lots of people through underground tunnels but is the company living up to the expectations it set?
To answer that question, we will go back memory lane and examine what Musk promised to achieve with the Boring Company, the criticisms and use the recent test run at Las Vegas Convention Center to evaluate its performance and prospect.
The whole concept started as a meme posted by Musk in 2016, in which he tweeted his frustration at the traffic in his city.
He said “Traffic is driving me nuts. Am going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging….”.
Moments later, the CEO tweeted he had thought about it and was going to actually do it. He revealed the company would be called The Boring Company.
The concept took on life when Musk registered The Boring Company and acquired a 400 foot long boring machine known as the Nannie and immediately began boring on SpaceX premises in February 2017.
The boring hasn’t stopped since and part of the result is the open trial of a Boring Company tunnel in Las Vegas recently. There is another tunneling going on under SpaceX’s parking lot in Hawthorne, California.
The stated purpose of The Boring Company is to solve the problem of soul-destroying traffic by building a network of rapid transport corridors underground.
That may sound very ordinary and boring, as you are probably one of the millions that took an underground train to work today.
However, Musk was not just digging tunnels as he fleshed out his dream mass transport scheme. The visionary imagined pods that look like what you see in sci-fi’s that can carry up to 16 passengers at a time hurtling through a network of tunnels at 150 miles per hour, completely autonomous.
We get a glimpse of Musk’s vision in a concept video released by the company and it looked far out in the future. We see a red car that looks a lot like a Tesla going through street traffic on its own before coming to rest on a metallic platform that descends lower into the bowels of the earth.
Next, we see a crisscrossing of underground highways that look like magnetic rails, with vehicles moving at high speeds. There are more public transport vehicles, with some shaped like big glass rectangles that can carry more passengers at once through the tunnel.
The construction of the tunnels with all the futuristic elements is supposed to be economical.
The proposal submitted to by The Boring Company to the City of Chicago during its contest for building a high-speed transportation network is more realistic but still high tech. The city wants to move people rapidly from downtown Chicago to the O’Hare Airport. The Boring Company offered to cut the ride to 12 minutes using a loop system of pods departing every 30 second, with speeds of 150 miles per hour.
The biggest criticism has been safety, which is not unjustified as The Boring Company wants to put people many feet below the ground surface.
A look at the proposed Baltimore to Washington DC tunnel gives us a new safety perspective on Musk’s tunnels. At 35.3 miles, the underground corridor would be the longest non-rail tunnel in the United States.
Bear in mind that there are no federal regulations for underground shuttles like the one The Boring Company is proposing, so local authorities apply.
The tunnel will use modified Tesla vehicles that will be powered by batteries that will take off every 30 seconds and move autonomously in either way, with speeds again at 150 miles per hour, making the journey just 15 minutes long. In the future, Musk wants to introduce pods that zoom at 600 miles per hour.
Even with the battery powered vehicles The Boring Company wants to use, fires are a real hazard that has to be accounted for. The company’s proposal states there will be fire detection, suppression and safety measures but its emergency escape plan doesn’t really impress much.
The proposed passenger emergency exits are spaced 10,500 feet apart. In comparison, the Gotthard Base Tunnel in the Swiss Alps, which is the longest underground tunnel in the world, has emergency exits at 1,000 feet intervals.
The Boring Company’s plan is even four times the maximum distance permitted in the National Fire Protection Association standards for public rail and transit systems, meaning escaping passengers may have to face a two mile trek through smoke to locate an exit.
Musk’s underground tunnels have been panned for the cost involved. Tunneling is expensive, even before adding the cost of the bells and whistles The Boring Company is adding. For example, the tunnels at the Las Vegas Convention Center costs 52.5 million dollars and is expected to be free. The tunnel proposed for Chicago will gulp a billion dollars.
It is important to answer the question of who bears the costs.
Is it really needed?
Another contention is whether the underground tunnels are really needed and what new things they bring.
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