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Jan 23, 2019,  by Allianz Partners Business Insights

USA: Elon Musk unveils a tunnel that will revolutionise urban transport

The Tesla and SpaceX CEO has unveiled a Los Angeles tunnel project that will create new underground roads in a bid to alleviate the city’s traffic problems. Funded by Musk himself, the narrow tunnels will enable vehicles to travel on magnetic rails at speeds of up to 250 kmh.

 

Musk presented the first phase of his new tunnel in Los Angeles on 18 December, one he believes will revolutionise urban transport by combating traffic congestion. “The only way to solve the problem is to go 3D, to enable the transport system to reflect its surroundings,” he said at a press conference given by Boring Company, the tunnelling firm he founded. “Mines go a lot deeper than the tallest buildings.”

 

Wheels costing USD200-300

 

The billionaire said he is funding the project with his own money, having pumped USD40m into it to date. The idea came to him two years ago, while stuck in traffic between his home and SpaceX’s offices in Hawthorne (USA). The journey, which he described as “soul-destroying”, currently takes more than 90 minutes.   

There is nothing new about the test tunnel unveiled in mid-December. What is innovative is the Tesla Model X that travels down this narrow tube, which measures 3.65m in diameter. The vehicle is equipped with specially designed retractable side wheels that prevent the car from banging against the tunnel’s walls and which can be fitted to any electric or self-driving car for “only USD 200-300”. “It’s the ability to turn a normal car into a passively stable vehicle by adding the deployable tracking wheels, stabilising wheels, so that it can travel at high speed through a small tunnel,” explained Musk.

 

A faster boring machine

 

The idea is for thousands of electric and self-driving cars to use the tunnels to travel beneath Los Angeles at speeds approaching 250 kmh. Cars would access the tunnel via lifts or ramps, without having to stop. Musk must now find a way to improve on the lead times and massive costs associated with conventional tunnelling. It currently takes three to six months to dig one mile (1.6km) of tunnel, which he described as being “14 times slower than a snail”. The overall cost could exceed USD 1bn.

Musk added that a prototype boring machine by the name of Prufrock could be put to work on the project in a relatively short space of time. Some 15 times faster than existing machines, Prufrock uses batteries and electric motors to move faster and eliminate harmful gases, erects wall segments itself, converts dirt into bricks for the construction industry, and reduces the diameter of the tunnel as far as is possible.

Boring Company has already signed deals with the city’s public transport networks, the aim being to connect the tunnels to Los Angeles’ metro stations. Meanwhile, the mayor of Chicago has chosen Musk’s company to build a futuristic high-speed capsule train that will link the city centre to the airport in record time. And the enquiries keep coming: “Five to 20 a week,” said Boring Company director Steve Davis. 
 

Allianz Partners

Cover photo credits: Tesla/Elon Musk 

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