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Elon Musk's Boring Company scales down its East Coast ambitions



This week, Elon Musk's tunnel digging venture released a massive 505-page report on its proposal to link Washington, DC and Baltimore via a high-speed transit system. It was a small but necessary step towards realizing Musk's dream of an East Coast hyperlope, which he teased in a tweet almost two years ago.

So far, much of what we know about the Boring Company's plans comes from events staged by the company or Musk's whimsical tweets tracking its progress. In contrast, this document, titled "The Washington, DC, to the Baltimore Loop Project, proposed by the Boring Company," outlines in detail what Musk and his company would really need to do to complete a high-speed underground transit system. It's a good look at the challenges ahead.

The Boring Company proposes to dig twin, 35.3-mile tunnels about 30 to 90 feet below ground, bookended by two loop stations, one in DC about a miles from Union Station, and the other in Baltimore near Camden Yards. These tunnels would be 1

4 feet in diameter and lined with concrete shelves that would serve as tracks for the company's "autonomous electric vehicles." These battery-powered AEVs would carry passengers at speeds up to 150 mph, completing the trip in about 15 minutes . Today, driving a car between both cities can take an hour or more, depending on traffic.

This is a very similar system to what Musk showed off to reporters and city officials in Los Angeles last December. That ride was incredibly bumpy, which Musk attributed to a defective paving machine. "In the future, you can be sure it will be absolutely smooth," he promised.

The LA tunnel was criticized for lack of ventilation or emergency exits. The Boring Company says its DC-to-Baltimore Loop would include 70 ventilation shafts, housed in nondescript gray cubes constructed on the surface along the route. These shafts would help passengers breath, as well as serve as emergency exits in the event of a subterranean disaster.


Image: the Boring Company

The company would require a right-of-way permit to dig under the land owned by DC, Maryland, the city of Baltimore, and the National Park Service. The Boring Company anticipates excavating around 2 million cubic yards of soil over the construction of a 12-to-20-month construction timeline – with a big caveat.

"Schedule variability is based on the tunneling speed achieved, which is dependent on [The Boring Company’s] technical progress before the start of construction," the report states. In other words, the completion of this massive project is completely dependent on whether the Boring Company can follow through its promise to speed up the tunnel boring process, which it has yet to do. The Boring Company theorizes it would require nine to 16 tunnel boring machines to get the job done.

To be sure, the Loop would not be a hyperlope, but could accommodate future hyperlopes as the technology develops. "The Hyperloop pod designed to fit within the Loop tunnels could potentially transport passengers at speeds up to 700 mph," the paper states, citing the speed of Musk first theorized would be possible in its 2013 Alpha paper.

When would this happen? It's anyone's guess, according to the company. "The potential future use of hyperloop technology is currently unknown," the document states. In the near term, the system would only carry up to 2,000 passengers each day – less than two full New York City metro trains.

The environmental assessment represents a reduced version of Musk's original vision of the New York-Philadelphia- The Baltimore-Washington hyperlope, for which he claimed to have received "verbal government approval" from the Trump administration. Later it was revealed that Musk had pitched the idea to White House advisor (and presidential son-in-law) Jared Kushner, who offered a tacit endorsement.

It sounded vague at the time, but then last year's DC's Department of Transportation issued a preliminary permit to the Boring Company to start digging at abandoned lot in the northeast section of the city. This report is a necessary next step towards the actual ground being broken on the project.

The news comes as Musk's other tunneling projects are either making progress or running into political headwinds. Musk's plan to build express-route tunnels around the Las Vegas Convention Center received its first approval earlier this year. But his more high profile plan to connect O'Hare Airport to downtown Chicago is running into a serious resistance. The recent elections to replace the outgoing Mayor Rahm Emanuel has thrown the plan into uncertainty, with the incoming Mayor Lori Lightfoot calling for the tunnel project to be completely scrapped.


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