Could Elon Musk’s tunneling company go from nothing to responsible for one of the biggest infrastructure projects the US has ever seen, inside the space of a year no less? Maybe. The tech tycoon today claimed he has received verbal approval from the US government to build a high-speed underground transport link between New York and Washington, cutting travel time between the cities to just 29 minutes.
Musk did elaborate on his initial tweet, stating “City center to city center in each case, with up to a dozen or more entry/exit elevators in each city,” followed by, “Still a lot of work needed to receive formal approval, but am optimistic that will occur rapidly.”
In December last year, trains began carrying passengers through the world’s longest tunnel, the Gotthard Base Tunnel, the construction of which involved burrowing through the Swiss Alps for 17 years. That particular tube measures 35 mi (57 km) long. The distance between New York and Washington DC, as the crow flies, is 328 km (204 mi). That not only gives an indication of how long it might be before such a tunnel enters service, but the monumental engineering challenges that stand in Musk’s way.
But then again, overcoming monumental engineering challenges is kind of what Musk is about, with his recycled rocket ventures and electric vehicle exploits and all. And The Boring Company was set up specifically to make tunneling much more efficient than it is today, primarily by cutting the cost and significantly speeding things up.
It has recently started work on a test tunnel at its headquarters in LA, while Musk has held “promising” talks with the mayor of that city, and now seemingly done the same with others about taking his tunneling ventures eastward.
The announcement also marks the first time that Musk has explicitly linked his tunneling company with the Hyperloop concept, which was first described in a white paper back in 2013 and has since been taken up by a number of startups. That transport system would shoot passengers and cargo through near-vacuum tubes at close to the speed of sound. When it comes to the work of The Boring Company’s, Musk has described tunnel networks that cars can enter from the street to be shot along at 124 mph (200 km/h) aboard specially designed sleds.
So how the Hyperloop fits into this latest plan isn’t exactly clear. But then again, neither is how Musk plans to get the various bodies onboard, like the federal, state, local and environmental authorities, and then go on digging the biggest tunnel the world has ever seen.
Are these public announcements a subtle way of whipping up public excitement about something that might otherwise be described as a pipe dream? Quite possibly. When it comes to a man that is simultaneously trying to build a colony on Mars and publicly enamored with flooring, who really knows.