Following the City of Chicago’s call for potential builders and operators for a proposed high-speed rail link between downtown and O’Hare International Airport, celebrity tech entrepreneur Elon Musk has thrown his hat in the ring.
While it was reported in June that Chicago officials were in exploratory talks with Musk regarding the project, yesterday’s Request for Proposals mainly identified existing surface routes as potential right-of-ways—causing some to dismiss his futuristic pod and tunnel solution as an unlikely long shot.
Yesterday evening, Mr. Musk took to Twitter to confirm his interest in building Mayor Emanuel’s pet project:
The Boring Company will compete to fund, build & operate a high-speed Loop connecting Chicago O’Hare Airport to downtown https://t.co/bRqKpzSJjz— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) November 30, 2017
Responsible for disruptive companies such as PayPal, SpaceX, and Tesla, the wealthy entrepreneur got into tunneling to avoid L.A.’s “soul-destroying traffic.” Musk envisioned a subterranean network of high-speed sleds carrying cars, cyclists, and pedestrians to alleviate—or at least bypass—surface congestion.
To make such a system feasible, Musk needed to finds ways to increase tunneling speed while reducing costs. Enter the punny-named Boring Company. Musk’s firm claims to have developed new drill technology to slash construction costs and utilizes more narrow tunnel diameters to excavate more quickly.
The group already built a test tunnel and has approval to burrow a two-mile route beneath the city of Hawthorne, California. Last week, the company applied for city permits for an even more ambitious dig between Hawthorne to Westwood, shadowing the 405 freeway.
According to Twitter exchanges from Mr. Musk, the company’s Chicago solution would rely on similar electromagnetic pods traveling “maybe” or “maybe not” on rails. Given the relatively short distance involved, the so-called O’Hare Loop would forgo the air resistance-eliminating vacuum tubes of his 760-mile-per-hour transcontinental Hyperloop concept.
Reliance on risky cutting edge tech aside, the Windy City project still needs a ton of cash to become a reality. Even with traditional surface trains, and O’Hare express is expected to easily hit and exceed a billion dollars.
Though Musk has a history of dipping into his personal wealth to help fund his companies, the O’Hare Loop will likely require some deep-pocketed partners. The City of Chicago maintains the service would be built, operated, and maintained with “no taxpayer funding.”