Jun 14, 2018

Go deeper: Why Musk's Chicago tunnel could be a pipe dream

Elon Musk discussing his hyperloop idea at a competition. Photo: Kate Allen/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has selected Elon Musk's The Boring Company to build a high-speed tunnel transit system to link the city's O'Hare International Airport with its downtown Loop, the Chicago Tribune reports.

The big picture: While Musk has dreamed big and delivered before with his SpaceX venture, it's a massively ambitious project for a company that is still in its fledgling stages with plenty of hype and marketing but few proven test cases of its technology.

The details

The big thing: With this deal, which still has to be approved by the city council, Chicago takes on little financial risk, essentially allowing the city to be used as a guinea pig. Boring would take on the cost of construction for the system — as well as both stations on either end — and gain all of the revenue from its operation and advertising.

  • Boring estimates its construction costs would be less than $1 billion, though the preexisting semi-completed Loop station at its terminus was mothballed in 2008 after hundreds of millions in costs.
  • The route still hasn't been nailed down, though Boring said eminent domain would not be used and there should be minimal traffic disruptions.
  • The system would use 16-passenger, eight-wheeled "skates" that could travel up to 150 mph, making the ride about 12 minutes.
  • Trips would cost about $20 to $25 per ride, according to Boring's targets.

The key line from the Tribune's reporting: "The economic feasibility of Boring’s project relies on Musk’s confidence that it can build tunnels at least 14 times faster than previous efforts, which a company official acknowledged the company must still prove."

The big picture

This isn't Boring's first attempt to woo a major city. Musk has already started projects in the Los Angeles area and in Maryland, where he hopes to eventually connect Baltimore and Washington, D.C. before creating tunnels along the rest of the Eastern Seaboard.

  • The company has nearly completed a prototype tunnel in western L.A. near SpaceX's headquarters with Musk promising "free rides to the public in a few months" in an Instagram post last month.
  • Musk had a lofty claim last year, tweeting: "Just received verbal govt approval for The Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop. NY-DC in 29 mins."
  • Be smart: Boring's work in the D.C. area is much less substantial than promised as the company, per The Washington Post, "has received an early, and vague, building permit from the D.C. government that will allow some preparatory and excavation work" in what is now an empty parking lot. He's also received permit approvals from Maryland's state government for the project, per The Baltimore Sun, though that's received pushback from other lawmakers.

The bottom line: Boring's proprietary tunnel-boring machine remains in development, per a company info session from last month, so both the Chicago plan and its world-changing plans for the East Coast — at least, for now — may remain a pipe dream.

Go deeper

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 1,192,028 — Total deaths: 64,549 — Total recoveries: 246,148Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 7 p.m. ET: 305,820 — Total deaths: 8,291 — Total recoveries: 14,616Map.
  3. Public health latest: CDC launches national trackers and recommends face coverings in public. Federal government will cover costs of COVID-19 treatment for uninsured. The virus is hitting poor, minority communities harder and upending childbirth.
  4. 2020 latest: "We have no contingency plan," Trump said on the 2020 Republican National Convention. "We're having the convention at the end of August."
  5. Business updates: Restaurants step up for health care workers. Employees are pressuring companies to provide protections during coronavirus.
  6. Oil latest: Monday meeting among oil-producing countries to discuss supply curbs is reportedly being delayed amid tensions between Saudi Arabia and Russia.
  7. Education update: Many college-age students won't get coronavirus relief checks.
  8. 1 🏀 thing: The WNBA postpones start of training camps and season.
  9. What should I do? Pets, moving and personal health. Answers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingQ&A: Minimizing your coronavirus risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

U.S. coronavirus updates: Death toll surpasses 8,200, case count tops 300,000

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Recorded deaths from the coronavirus surpassed 8,100 in the U.S. on Saturday, per Johns Hopkins data. The death toll in the U.S. has risen over 1,000 every day for the past four days, since April 1.

The big picture: Trump said Saturday that America's "toughest week" is ahead. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said the country should expect to see deaths continue to increase in the next week.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 2 hours ago - Health

World coronavirus updates: Spain tracks more cases than Italy

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens and confirmed plus presumptive cases from the CDC

Spain overtook Italy in its number of coronavirus cases on Saturday. The global death toll has surpassed 62,000, per Johns Hopkins data.

The latest: About half the planet's population is on lockdown amid the coronavirus crisis. Fatalities are exponentially increasing across Europe, with roughly half of deaths worldwide located in Italy and Spain.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 5 hours ago - Health