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Elon Musk's Boring Company reduces its ambitions on the East Coast



This week Elon Musk's tunnel excavation released a massive, 505-page report on the proposal to connect Washington DC and Baltimore via a high-speed transit system. It was a small but necessary step to realize Musk's dream of a hyperloop on the East Coast, which he tweeted almost two years ago.

So far, most of what we know about the Boring Company's plans is due to company events or Musk's whimsical tweets tracking its progress. In contrast, this document, entitled "Washington, DC, Baltimore Loop Project, proposed by the Boring Company," details in detail what Musk and his company should actually do to complete the high-speed underground transportation system. It's a sober look at the challenges ahead.

The Boring Company proposes to dig two 35.3-mile tunnels about 30 to 90 feet underground, from two loop stations, one in Washington to be bent one station mile from Union Station and the other in Baltimore near Camden Yards. The tunnels had a diameter of 1

4 feet and were lined with concrete floors that would serve as a track for the company's "autonomous electric vehicles". These battery-powered AEVs would carry passengers at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour and complete the journey in about 15 minutes. Driving between the two cities can take an hour or more depending on traffic.

It's a very similar system to what Musk had shown to reporters and city officials last December in Los Angeles. This ride was unbelievably bumpy, which Musk attributed to a faulty road construction machine. "In the future, you can be sure that things will go very smoothly," he promised.

The tunnel in LA was criticized for lack of ventilation or emergency exit. The Boring Company says the DC-to-Baltimore Loop would contain 70 ventilation shafts housed in nondescript gray cubes built along the track at the surface. These shafts would help passengers to breathe, and serve as emergency exits in the event of an underground catastrophe.


Image: The Boring Company

The company would need priority permits to dig land under the ownership of DC, Maryland, the City of Baltimore, and the National Park Service. During the project period of 12 to 20 months, The Boring Company expects to excavate around 2 million cubic meters of ground – with great reservations.

"The schedule variability is based on the achieved tunnel speed, which depends on the technical progress of [The Boring Company’s] before the start of construction," says the report. In other words, the on-time completion of this massive project is entirely dependent on whether the drilling company can enforce its promise to accelerate the tunnel boring process, which remains to be done. The Boring Company notes that nine to 16 tunnel boring machines are needed to do the job.

While not a hyperloop, the loop could accommodate future hyperloops as the technology evolves. "Hyperloop pods that fit in loop tunnels could carry passengers at speeds of up to 700 mph," the document said, citing the speed Musk first suspected in his 2013 "Alpha" paper.

When would that happen? It's a guess for anyone, says the company. "The potential future use of Hyperloop technology is currently unknown," the document said. In the short term, the system would only carry a maximum of 2,000 passengers a day – less than two full subway trains from New York City.

The Environmental Impact Assessment is a slimmed-down version of Musk's original vision of a New York-Philadelphia-Baltimore-Washington hyperloop, for which he claimed to have received a "verbal government approval" from the Trump administration. Later, it was learned that Musk had put forward the idea to the White House adviser (and presidential son-in-law) Jared Kushner, who offered tacit approval to give the Boring Company temporary permission to dig on a deserted lot in the northeast of the city. This report is the necessary next step on the way to the real bottom of the project.

The news comes as Musk's other tunneling projects either progress or come in political headwinds. Musk's plan to build the Express Route Tunnel around the Las Vegas Convention Center was first approved earlier this year. However, his more ambitious plan to connect O'Hare with downtown Chicago has met with serious opposition. The recent election to replace outgoing mayor Rahm Emanuel threw the plan into uncertainty when future mayor Lori Lightfoot called for the tunnel project to be completely canceled.


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