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Elon Musk’s Boring Company wins contract to build O’Hare express

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High-tech pods will zoom between the Loop and the airport in just 12 minutes

The Boring Company

Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk’s tunneling firm, The Boring Company, was selected as the winning bid in a competition to build Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s ambitious O’Hare express project.

Utilizing a pair of tunnels carrying autonomous 16-passenger electromagnetically powered pods, the proposed transit system would travel at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour and cut the travels times between the Loop and Chicago’s largest international airport down to just 12 minutes.

The project will take advantage of the Loop’s stalled out $200 million Block 37 superstation using it as the network’s downtown depot. A new station at the O’Hare end of the line would be constructed near a new global terminal proposed as part of the airport’s upcoming modernization and expansion program.

The high-speed service aims to charge between $20 to $25 per trip to undercut the price of taxi or other ride-hailing companies which, depending on traffic, can range from $30 to $40. Although priced higher than a typical trip on the CTA’s existing Blue Line, the system’s 12-minute travel time would be nearly four times quicker.

A legacy project that long eluded previous mayoral administrations, the concept of an O‘Hare express train was revived by Emanuel in early 2016. Musk threw his hat in the ring in November and was among four groups to officially answer the city’s request for proposal in February.

By March, the list was whittled down to just two: The Boring Company and O’Hare Xpress LLC—a joint venture proposing a more traditional railway connection using new and existing surface routes. With its promise of both lower costs and higher speeds, Musk’s unorthodox approach ultimately prevailed.

Considering the success of the project will rest on The Boring Company’s newly developed drilling methods, the choice represents a bold gamble on the part of City Hall to embrace leading edge technology.

Musk’s firm claims it can achieve 90 percent savings over traditional tunneling methods, but the tech is still in the early prototype phase. The Boring Company’s first tunnel under Los Angeles will open to the public in a few months pending regulatory approvals, according to Musk.

With negotiating still underway, there’s no official timeline for when the Chicago project might move forward. However, Deputy Mayor Robert Rivkin tells Crain’s that if everything goes to plan, construction could begin next year with passenger service starting as early as 2022.

Projected cost is also an unknown with sources estimating the figure to be in $500 million to $1 billion range. The city specified from the start of the process that the O’Hare Express would not use on any taxpayer-derived funds. Instead, The Boring Company would relying on ticket fares, advertising space, and other “project-specific revenues” to cover construction and operational costs.

More than 20,000 people travel between O’Hare and downtown each day. City officials predict that number to increase to 35,000 by 2045.

Elon Musk and Mayor Emanuel are expected to formally announce the plan on Thursday afternoon, likely from within the cavernous Block 37 station.

The Boring Company