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Elon Musk’s Boring Company shows first hardware for O’Hare Express

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The tunneling firm is “getting ready for Chicago”

A gantry for a tunnel boring machine (TBM) reportedly headed to Chicago.
The Boring Company/Twitter

It’s been just a few weeks since Mayor Rahm Emanuel and billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk jointly announced plans to build an underground system of high-speed autonomous pods. Designed to link downtown Chicago and O’Hare International airport, the ambitious infrastructure project already has hardware to show.

Musk’s The Boring Company tweeted a photo Thursday showing a “gantry” for a new tunnel boring machine (TMB). The image was accompanied by the caption “Getting ready for Chicago.”

Resembling an oblong cage, this gantry will serve as a sort of supporting skeleton trailing behind the machine’s rotating drill head. It will house conveyor belts, propulsion systems, and equipment used to reinforce tunnel walls as the TBM burrows ahead.

A source familiar with matter told automotive news site Electrek that the gantry was photographed at The Boring Company’s Hawthorne, California HQ but will be moved to Chicago once construction is green lit.

The company plans two parallel underground tunnels for the upcoming O’Hare link. The pair would accommodate a fleet of self-guided, electromagnetically-propelled pods zipping between the Loop’s unused Block 37 “superstation” and the airport. Reaching speeds of 125-150 miles per hour, the system aims to make the trip in just 12 minutes.

The project has set a rather optimistic timeline given its reliance on experimental technology. According to statements from Musk at a June press conference, drilling on the O’Hare Express could begin in “3 to 4 months,” pending environmental and regulatory approvals. The entire system could be up and running “within 18 to 24 months,” said the PayPal, Tesla, and SpaceX founder.

Musks’s budget is equally aggressive, supposedly coming in below $1 billion—an estimate that many find remarkably cheap. As per the city’s initial call for proposals, funding for the O’Hare Express must rely entirely on private sources with no taxpayer subsidies.

The Chicago project isn’t The Boring Company’s only iron in fire. The group is working to put the same technology found in O’Hare’s electric pods into cradle-like “sleds” that could transport personal automobiles in traffic-avoiding tunnels. Musk’s firm is already working on such a subterranean network in Los Angeles.

The company’s lower-coast tunneling technology could be applied to the still-experimental, 700-mile-per-hour hyperloop transportation system proposed to connect cities across the globe, including Chicago and Cleveland.