Elon Musk’s Boring Co. launches double-width tunnels

Elon Musk’s tunneling startup The Boring Co. is working on tunnels much wider than those publicly advertised, which could significantly expand the reach of the company.

The tunnels the company offers to some potential customers are 21 feet in diameter, eclipsing the 12-foot tunnels that Boring Co. has built to date.

The wider passageway would accommodate two shipping containers side by side, according to a copy of a pitch obtained by Bloomberg.

The larger tunnels would represent a major expansion in the reach of Boring Co., which has so far worked on tunnel systems designed to carry passengers.

When the company started in 2016, Musk spoke of tunnels several hundred miles long for high-speed transport that could “solve the traffic.”

But the company recently lowered its targets, launching shorter projects in cities. Most recently, he completed a 1.7 mile tunnel under Las Vegas.

Boring Co. did not respond to requests for comment.

The new terrain for the freight tunnel business planned by Boring Co. shows three ways in which freight could be transported through its tunnels. One image shows a standard 8-foot-tall shipping container, which barely fits into a standard Boring Co. tunnel.

The next shows the same container in a much larger 21-foot diameter tunnel, and the last shows two containers placed side by side in the 21-foot tunnel, separated by 1 foot of space.

Either way, the containers sit on what is labeled as “battery powered cargo carriers”. The brackets appear to take the form of a thin rectangular shelf that spans almost the width of the containers.

The proposal “is totally feasible” from an engineering perspective, said Anne Goodchild, founding director of the Supply Chain Transportation & Logistics Center at the University of Washington, who pointed out that many large companies, such as Boeing, have similar tunnels in their facilities. . “You could totally move it in a tunnel.” The constraint, she said, is the cost of finding the right environment where a tunnel performs better than a road.

Boring Co. has marketed its tunnels as significantly cheaper than the competition. In Las Vegas, the bill for his project rose to $ 52.5 million, as convention center officials selected the startup largely because of its lower price than other deals on the project.

This advantage could be eroded if the company expands its tunnels. As the width increases, drilling costs increase even faster, mainly due to the difficulty of removing debris created by the excavation, said Tom Groark, executive director of Moles, a professional organization for the industry. of heavy construction.

But keeping larger tunnels at a standard 21-foot height, instead of building them to custom widths, could help keep costs down. “They adapt the job to the machine, and that’s huge,” Groark said. Normally, he said, once the tunnel boring machines have completed a project, they return to the manufacturer. Then they are modified to fit the next job at a considerable cost.

Transporting goods underground, rather than over congested highways or railroads, has long been a dream of city planners. It turned out to be difficult to achieve due to the expense and regulation involved.

Still, efforts emerge from time to time to push the idea forward. In Switzerland, a group of investors are supporting Cargo Sous Terrain, which aims to build a network of underground tunnels to transport pallets and containers via autonomous vehicles.

The company is awaiting approval from the second chamber of the Swiss parliament, which is due to begin deliberations on the project in the fall, according to a spokesperson.

At the end of 2016, Amazon.com Inc. received a patent for what it called “Dedicated Network Delivery Systems”. It included underground conveyor belts and vacuum tubes to transport containers and packages. It is not known if Amazon has ever seriously tried to build such a system.

Boring Co. is currently negotiating with San Bernardino County in California to build an approximately 4-mile tunnel that would connect a light rail station to the local Ontario International Airport.

The company has set up its wider tunnels in the county, where supervisor Curt Hagman is trying to generate interest in a freight tunnel to relieve congestion on busy roads around Ontario, Chino and neighboring towns, according to reports. documents obtained by Bloomberg.

Dubbed the Inner Harbor, the project has been launched in various forms for decades, and this version remains in the concept stage.

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