Why Elon Musk is digging 54 miles of tunnels under Las Vegas

It threatens to get a bit snowed down by all the news about his attempt to take over Twitter, but Elon Musk is taking real steps with his company The Boring Company.

With this group, he already built a 2.7-kilometer-long tunnel in Las Vegas, but last week he was given permission to build no less than 54-kilometer tunnel connections under the city. What will Musk achieve with his tunnels, and how close is he to this goal?

How do Elon Musk’s tunnels work?

Building tunnels, it sounds pretty boring; Musk’s company name is therefore not without the ambiguous name The Boring Company. Yet what Musk does is, in fact, far from boring.

The Boring Company was founded in 2017 as a subsidiary of the acclaimed SpaceX. It is now an independent company, but the agreements with SpaceX remain. If the latter company managed to design the shuttle with their own hands, The Boring Company devised a completely new technique for digging tunnels. It does the start-up with a tunnel drill, which it has developed itself. The company collects all waste that falls during drilling with a self-made train.

The Boring Company converts this waste into concrete blocks, which the company allows it to resell. In this way, Musk saves costs for the landfill. Musk claims that this method makes it possible to produce faster and cheaper tunnels than traditional competitors.

The tunnels are designed to quickly transport people from one place to another. This is useful in the car country USA, where highways are often full of traffic. By the way, do not expect wide tunnels, only one car fits in at a time. The company currently only works with (manned) Teslas.

Where do you find them?

2018 was a fantastic year for The Boring Company. In December of that year, the company completed its very first tunnel – a test tunnel – in Los Angeles, California. More precisely, in the suburb of Hawthorne, near the headquarters of the former parent company SpaceX. The test tunnel is 1.8 kilometers long and 3.8 meters in diameter. The cost of the tunnel? $ 10 million, small change for the richest man in the world.

Last January, visitors to the CES tech show were able to take a tour of Musk’s first tunnel in the gambling and party city of Las Vegas (Nevada) for the first time. Here, The Boring Company drilled a 2.7-kilometer-long tunnel from the ground, called the Vegas Loop, in a year’s time (see main photo). The structure connects different parts of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Visitors can now complete anything that can take up to 25 minutes on foot.

MT / Sprout participated in CES and took a test drive in Musk’s creation, where seventy Teslas drove uninterrupted from A to B (you can see what it looked like in this video from 1:07). The sleek, round walls give the whole thing a futuristic feel reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick-movie 2001: A Space Odyssey† If you’re claustrophobic, you might want to avoid the Vegas Loop.

The trip is over before you know it. You get into a Tesla, have a chat with the driver and before the conversation gets any kind of structure, you close the door behind you again. Price picture for this piece of tunnel? $ 47 million.

This is what the Musk Tunnel Network in Las Vegas should look like (click on the map to enlarge it).

Last October, The Boring Company got the green light to expand its tunnel construction to the famous Vegas Strip, the main street in Las Vegas. Located on Las Vegas Boulevard, this 6.8-mile-long tourist destination is home to the city’s largest casinos, hotels and shopping malls. Musk’s company has already started digging earlier this year, the group reported Twitter

Still special: it took our capital Amsterdam about twenty years to get the North / South line up and running, in Vegas they expect to be able to use parts of the tunnel to the Strip as early as next year. Each expansion to a new station is expected to cost The Boring Company between one and a half to $ 20 million.

New is that Musk has since last week received permission from Las Vegas to build its tunnel network even further. The tunnel will also take visitors to more northern tourist destinations such as Stratosphere and Fremont Street. McCarran International Airport will also eventually be connected to the tunnel. Already last year, the city approved a plan for a 46-kilometer-long tunnel with 51 stations, but now another 8 kilometers and four stations will be added.

It is also affordable, promises The Boring Company. Anyone who wants to be transported from the airport to the centrally located Las Vegas Convention Center in five minutes, a trip of nearly 8 kilometers, will soon have to pay $ 10 for this. Try arranging a taxi ride in the American desert city for that amount.

What will Musk achieve with that?

Elon Musk got the idea for The Boring Company when he got stuck in a traffic jam in Los Angeles in 2016. Based on this frustration, he got the idea to dig a long tunnel where passengers could be transported 24 hours a day.

We can see the tunnel project in Las Vegas as a new attempt to put public transportation in the United States on the map. Many American cities have a very mediocre subway network. If there are any subways, they are often severely neglected. Public transport is therefore often seen as a means of travel for those who cannot afford a car.

Musk challenges that image with his tunnel project by making public transportation hip. Musk originally had the idea of ​​working with subway buses, but it seems he has gone backwards.

Initially, he will only work in Las Vegas with Teslas, which is run by his own employees. That way, he can keep his tunnels relatively small so costs are less high. There is also something luxurious about being transported in a Tesla, so The Boring Company will probably succeed in changing the negative framework around public transport sooner.

Musk ultimately seems to want to pave the way for Hyperloop with its tunnel factory. In 2012, the entrepreneur came up with the idea for this super-fast vacuum train, which promises to be able to transport passengers from Amsterdam to Eindhoven in 14 minutes. According to The Boring Company, Hyperloop should eventually zoom in at 600 miles per hour, which equates to about 965 kilometers per hour. Until recently, Musk outsourced work on Hyperloop to other companies, such as the Delft startup Hardt.

That now seems to be changing, for Musk announced at the end of April Twitter states that The Boring Company will develop a ‘functioning Hyperloop’ in the ‘coming years’. The boring company added more on that later: “Full-scale hyperloop testing begins later this year.” If Musk – or Hardt – has a working Hyperloop system ready one day, they can use the tunnels Musk is now digging – though it’s still unclear if Musk will have to expand them.

The Boring Company will also build tunnels of that kind between cities so people can travel from New York to Washington DC in, say, half an hour. Faster and more environmentally friendly than taking the plane, that’s the message.

Whether Musk will succeed in building a functioning Hyperloop remains to be seen. Critics question the building plans. For example, they wonder if you can safely shoot people through a tube at top speed. Time will tell.

How many tunnels will be added?

Much if it stands for The Boring Company. The company regularly makes applications in – primarily – American cities. Several have been rejected because local politicians have not yet considered the technique sufficiently proven. If Musk manages to make his extensive piping system work in Las Vegas, he will soon be able to point it out to skeptics.

The Boring Company raised no less than $ 675 million from investors in April and can therefore easily dig new tunnels financially. Last week, the company submitted an application to dig a tunnel under a Tesla plant in Austin, Texas. This time, according to the application, it is a ‘private access tunnel’. The city council has yet to give its approval.

In May, Musk’s company received approval for an application from Texas city of Kyle, south of Austin. Musk will be allowed to carry out a preliminary study of the construction of an underground pedestrian tunnel that will connect a shopping center with a residential area. Not bad for Hyperloops, but another way for Musk to show critics that his company can dig working tunnels like no other.

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