To solve the problem of soul-destroying traffic, roads must go 3D, which means either flying cars or tunnels. Unlike flying cars, tunnels are weatherproof, out of sight and won't fall on your head. A large network of tunnels many levels deep would help alleviate congestion in any city, no matter how large it grew (just keep adding levels). The key to making this work is increasing tunneling speed and dropping costs by a factor of 10 or more – this is the goal of The Boring Company. Fast to dig, low cost tunnels would also make Hyperloop adoption viable and enable rapid transit across densely populated regions, enabling travel from New York to Washington DC in less than 30 minutes.
To alleviate traffic, transportation corridors, like the buildings that feed into them, must expand into three dimensions. One option is to “go up” with flying cars. However, flying cars have issues with weather, noise, and generally increase anxiety levels of those below them. The other option is to “go down” and build tunnels. The benefits are:
There is no practical limit to how many layers of tunnels can be built, so any level of traffic can be addressed.
Tunnels are weatherproof.
Tunnel construction and operation are silent and invisible to anyone on the surface.
Tunnels don’t divide communities with lanes and barriers.
Why hasn't this been done before?
Currently, tunnels are really expensive to dig, with some projects costing as much as $1 billion per mile. In order to make a tunnel network feasible, tunneling costs must be reduced by a factor of more than 10.
How are we reducing the cost of tunneling?
First, we reduced the tunnel diameter. The current standard for a one-lane tunnel is approximately 28 feet. By using modified electric vehicles with alignment wheels or placing vehicles on stabilized electric skates, the diameter can be reduced to less than 14 feet. Reducing the diameter in half reduces tunneling costs by 3-4 times.
Second, we’re working to significantly increase the speed of the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM). TBMs are super slow. A snail is effectively 14 times faster than a soft-soil TBM. Our goal is to defeat the snail in a race. Ways to increase TBM speed:
Increase TBM power. The machine’s power output can be tripled (while coupled with the appropriate upgrades in cooling systems).
Continuously tunnel. When building a tunnel, current soft-soil machines tunnel for 50% of the time and erect tunnel support structures the other 50%. This is inefficient. Existing technology can be modified to support continuous tunneling activity.
Automate the TBM. While smaller diameter tunneling machines are automated, larger ones currently require multiple human operators. By automating the larger TBMs, both safety and efficiency are increased.
Go electric. Current tunnel operations often include diesel locomotives. These have been replaced by electric locomotives.
Tunneling R&D. In the United States, there is virtually no investment in tunneling Research and Development (and in many other forms of construction). Thus, the construction industry is one of the only sectors in our economy that has not improved its productivity in the last 50 years.
What about earthquakes?
Tunnels, when designed properly, are some of the safest places to be during an earthquake. From a structural safety standpoint, the tunnel moves uniformly with the ground, in contrast to surface structures. Additionally, a large amount of earthquake damage is caused by falling debris, which does not apply inside tunnels. Some examples:
1994 Northridge Earthquake: no damage to LA Subway tunnels
1989 Loma Prieta (Northern California) Earthquake: no damage to tunnels, which were then used to transport rescue personnel
1985 Mexico City Earthquake: no damage to tunnels, which were then used to transport rescue personnel
Is there disruptive surface vibration or noise during tunneling?
No. Once a tunnel boring machine is below a certain depth (approximately two tunnel diameters – or 28 feet in this case), the tunneling process is almost impossible to detect, especially in soft soil.
What do you do with all that dirt?
In typical tunneling projects, excavated dirt is shipped offsite to disposal locations. This process is costly, time-consuming, noisy, and can be environmentally hazardous. The Boring Company has developed technologies to recycle the earth into useful bricks to be used to build structures. This is not a new concept, as buildings have been constructed from Earth for thousands of years including, according to recent evidence, the Pyramids. These bricks can potentially be used as a portion of the tunnel lining itself, which is typically built from concrete. Since concrete production accounts for 4.5% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, earth bricks would reduce both environmental impact and tunneling costs.
Loop is a high-speed underground public transportation system in which passengers are transported via compatible electric vehicles (today we use modified Model Xs with alignment wheels) or on autonomous electric skates traveling at 125-150 miles per hour. Electric skates will carry between 8 and 16 passengers (public transportation), or a single passenger vehicle.
Hyperloop is an ultra high-speed underground public transportation system in which passengers are transported on autonomous electric pods traveling at 600+ miles per hour in a pressurized cabin. Similar to Loop, Hyperloop pods will transport between 8 and 16 passengers (mass transit), or a single passenger vehicle.
What's the difference between Loop and Hyperloop?
Loop and Hyperloop are similar, with the major difference being that Hyperloop draws a vacuum inside the tube to eliminate air friction. Loop is used for shorter routes, when there is no technical need to eliminate air friction.
Will Loop transport cars or pedestrians?
Both, but pedestrians and cyclists are being prioritized over cars.
How much would a trip cost?
Fare prices are not finalized but will be comparable to or lower than current public transportation fares for pedestrians.
How is this different from a subway?
Autonomous electric vehicles and electric skates are faster than conventional subway cars. Most importantly, Loop is an “express” public transit system – through the use of a main artery with side tunnels for entry/exit, passengers travel directly to their final destination without stopping. Therefore, unlike trains, the skate’s average speed is very close to its maximum speed.
How will you avoid major congestion at entry/exit points?
Unlike a subway, there is no practical upper limit to the number of stations that can be built along the tunnel route, as stations are very small (can be as small as the size of approximately two parking spaces). Each station will consist of a bank of elevators, spirals or ramps, and the number of elevators is only limited to the available land area. The electric vehicles or electric skates will descend into a "spur" or tunnel offshoot before quickly merging into the tunnel network. Since stations require such a small footprint, they can be easily integrated in busy city-centers, residential communities, or any location along the tunnel route that can accommodate a single parking space. The high density of stations will help reduce congestion by distributing traffic across many access points and by providing more convenient entrance and exit locations. (At the same time, larger elevator banks can be built near public transportation hubs to connect with existing systems.)
What is an electric skate and why use it?
An electric skate is a platform on wheels propelled by multiple electric motors. As discussed above, the electric skates (as well as the modified Model Xs with alignment wheels we use today) allow a large reduction in tunnel diameter, in addition to:
Increased safety. Fully autonomous vehicles eliminate human error and the ability to “swerve off-course.”
Increased speed. The controlled autonomous vehicle allows for speeds of 125 - 150 miles per hour in urban settings.
Multiple payloads. The electric skate can transport people (mass transit), goods and/or automobiles. And if one adds a vacuum shell, it is now a Hyperloop pod which can travel at 600+ miles per hour.
Eliminating hazardous emissions. Electric vehicles are zero-emission vehicles, and thus do not output hazardous gases like internal combustion cars do. Every mile the skate transports a gas-burning vehicle becomes a zero-emission mile.
Which projects are in the works?
Are you seeking public funding?
No, The Boring Company is privately funded and our individual projects will be privately funded as well.
How do I get a tunnel in my city?
While a tunnel project is a complex multi-step process, the first step is finding two great endpoints and an alignment between them!
What does the inside of the tunnel look like?
See graphic below. The tunnel’s walls are concrete. On each side of the tunnel are horizontal “shelves” to accommodate compatible electric vehicles with alignment wheels or the skate’s tires and vertical “curbs”. There is a steel grating between the two and below each skate, which primarily serves as a walkway for maintenance and emergency exit scenarios.
How do people evacuate?
Just like subways, Loop will have emergency exits along the tunnel route.
What if there's a fire?
The risk of fire is very low in the Loop system, as the tunnel lining is non-flammable (concrete) and no flammable materials (like asphalt) are added. Additionally, there is no live electric “third rail”, minimizing potential fire sources and the effects of any water intrusion. This also limits the fire’s energy to that of the skate’s battery.
In the unlikely case that a fire does occur, the tunnel’s ventilation system will remove the smoke to allow passengers to safely evacuate.