A couple of days ago, the city of Las Vegas gave Elon Musk’s Boring Company the green light to begin the expansion of their underground highway system called “The Loop.” Musk and his team have ambitious plans for The Loop. Not only does Musk see it as the future of urban commuting, but he also believes that it will serve as the stepping stone for his other project, Hyperloop.
How does this loop work?
Despite being called “The Loop,” it isn’t a physical loop. The tunnels aren’t shaped in some large ring following the contour of urban centers. Instead, The Loop is a series of tunnels that run all over a city. Usually, it means having a primary route that connects dense urban areas with smaller routes pointing towards less populated neighborhoods. It’s quite similar to a subway system that you would find in a city like New York.
Unlike a subway system, however, there are no actual trains inside of these loops. Instead, passengers are transported by what The Boring Company is calling AEVs (Autonomous Electric Vehicles). AEVs are currently exclusively Tesla vehicles, specifically the S, 3, and X model types. However, The Boring Company hopes to have custom Teslas with more spacious interiors. The cars run off of the same autonomous technology found in current Tesla vehicles and will not require human interaction to operate.
Scattered along the tunnels will be a myriad of stations. The Boring Company currently plans to support three types of stations: a surface station, a subsurface station, and an open-air station. The first two types of stations are pretty self-explanatory, but we really should be excited about the open-air station.
The Boring Company claims that open-air stations only need to take up the space of two parking spots. They hope that they can leverage these compact stations to allow for a large number of stops within an urban center. In Las Vegas, multiple casinos have already placed bids to have these open-air stations built in front of their properties. This means that we can provide access to more stops at more locations than with conventional subway stations.
Will this improve my commute?
The Boring Company has made some impressive claims that are bound to make morning commutes more enjoyable. Vehicles will be able to travel at a maximum speed of 150mph. That is over double the current maximum speed of most train systems, which travel at a measly 65mph. So in an ideal world, you will be arriving at your destination in half the time of the subway.
More importantly, vehicles will not have to stop at each station. Since all passengers in one car will be heading to the same destination, it will not have to make unnecessary stops along the way. This helps make an already quicker commute even quicker. Subways that have to stop almost every couple of blocks will not be able to compete with such a system.
The Boring Company also claims that they will be able to eliminate rush hour in its tunnels. The solution is quite simple. If more people take certain routes between two destinations, then The Boring Company will build more tunnels connecting the destinations. It’s as if the government would build highways between cities whenever congestion was consistently building up. Problem solved! While rush-hour won’t be addressed immediately, it is something that could be a distant memory in a couple of years.
The cost of using the Loop is also going to be very cheap. Elon Musk has claimed that prices will be at most the same as current subway prices ($2.75 in New York), but he hopes to drop the price down to just $1. You also get to ride in a spacious Tesla instead of a crammed subway… that sounds like a pretty good deal.
But aren’t tunnels slow to build?
Yes, tunnels are slow to build. The MTA took over ten years to build a subway line spanning two-miles. So it makes sense to question just how The Boring Company plans to build so many tunnels at scale so quickly.
Well, most of their time has been spent addressing this issue. The Boring Company already has the necessary vehicle technology, so the hard part has been figuring out how to build tunnels faster. They’ve made some great strides in this area, and their roadmap for future tunnel diggers holds some impressive stats. Their current generation of mining tools can dig up to one-mile a week. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but compared to the competition, which can dig a mile-long tunnel in eight to twelve weeks, it is leaps ahead. They also plan to build a tunnel digger that can dig out seven miles of tunnel per day!
They’ve not only made the digging process faster but also cheaper. The current Las Vegas tunnel system costs $50 million, and they claim that each mile of the tunnel will cost $10 million to build. That sounds like a lot of money, but consider that the MTA spent $4.45 billion for a two-mile-long tunnel. It is clear just how much cheaper The Loop is than traditional public transportation. So while we will not be seeing the rapid building of tunnels today, it is not hard to envision a future where seamlessly drilling new tunnels underneath cities will be a simple and common task.
Anyone who uses a public transportation system regularly knows that they’re pretty mediocre. They tend to be loud, dirty, and, worst of all, packed with too many people. The Boring Company’s new Loop system can revolutionize the way urbanites commute, providing faster, more comfortable, and cheaper commutes. The first Loop is supposed to open in only a couple of months in February of 2021. Maybe then we’ll be seeing a glimpse of the future of transportation.