Tech billionaire Elon Musk is the owner of the messenger service Twitter. There he is currently causing a bad mood with a reduction in jobs. Meanwhile, Musk is already working on a new bizarre idea: he wants to tunnel under Las Vegas to offer an underground taxi service there.
Is it the solution to unwelcome traffic jams? Elon Musk was annoyed by the traffic in 2016 and promptly founded the tunneling company “The Boring Company”. His goal: to set up a taxi service underground – in no less a city than the gambling metropolis of Las Vegas. At the time, Musk reported on Twitter that he wanted to build a tunneling machine and would “just start digging”. Since his announcement in 2016, he has been building a test tunnel under the premises of his company SpaceX in Hawthorne, California.
Musk doesn’t want to just build any tunnel. He really wants to revolutionize tunnel construction with his project. In Las Vegas, however, the entrepreneur is apparently not making as good progress with his project as he had imagined.
“Finally, finally, finally there’s something that I think will solve the goddamn traffic problem,” Musk declared in 2018, three months late, at the presentation of the project in Los Angeles. The 1.8-mile route presented was described by reporters as “bumpy” even then. Videos and pictures are now piling up on the Internet showing that the Musk Tunnel is not, as promised, spared from all the traffic jams. For example, when the CES technology fair was held in Las Vegas earlier this year, several videos were posted on Twitter showing long queues of cars in the tunnel.
The tunnel itself is not much wider than a car. Musk’s idea: Horizontal support wheels should be attached to the front wheels of vehicles driving in, which keep them on track thanks to the rail system on the walls. The car then drives itself through the tube. So far, however, only the Las Vegas exhibition center has been tunnelled.
The promised top speed of 200 km/h, at which the electric cars are supposed to drive, has not yet been reached. The cars are currently only driving at a speed of 50 km/h.
In addition, Musk has set high goals for the construction strategy. Until recently, Musk’s company’s website said they wanted to reduce the cost of construction by a factor of ten. There is now no trace of this reference.
Instead, it is now read that they want to develop a machine that can dig seven miles, i.e. around 11 kilometers per day. “On the one hand, the speed depends on the diameter of the tunnel. A smaller machine drills faster than a large one,” explains Gerhard Wehrmeyer, head of research and development at tunnel boring machine manufacturer Herrenknecht in Baden-Württemberg, to the “Wirtschaftswoche”. Musk’s tunnel is also comparatively small with a diameter of 3.60 meters – also compared to tunnels in Germany. However, the speed of the drilling work always depends on the respective soil conditions. Soft soil, for example, has to be supported directly, otherwise it would collapse behind the drill, Wehrmeyer continues.
The Boring Company has been building underground in Las Vegas since late 2019. The company is now drilling with the Prufrock, a machine the company designed itself. Musk’s company touts that the Prufrock can launch directly from the surface, mine underground, and resurface once the work is complete. No ditch would have to be dug for this. For experts, however, this is nothing new. “Decades ago, the Japanese tested methods and machines that descend from the surface in pilot projects,” says Wehrmeyer to “Wirtschaftswoche”.
Roland Leucker, Managing Director of the Study Society for Tunnels and Traffic Systems (STUVA), supports Musk’s idea of bringing traffic underground. For him, however, this is not really innovative either: “Everything he promises are points that have been implemented for decades, so I don’t think he can achieve great success with his approaches,” says the expert.