Tesla owner Elon Musk has announced a futuristic vision of transport involving underground roads beneath cities, with the venture that will make it all happen, called “The Boring Company,” relying on a vast network of tunnels.
A brief concept video posted to YouTube (still image pictured) shows a flash red Tesla vehicle amidst gridlocked traffic. The game changer appears in the form of a futuristic metal lift that lowers the Tesla underground to a road network in which individual cars are transported at high speeds on metal trolley-like platforms between destinations – doing away with traffic and associated collisions.
Tunnelling Expert Tom Ireland from engineering and infrastructure advisory company Aurecon believes the idea is ambitious and innovative, saying, “Navigating through long-established built form can be technically and aesthetically challenging, so creating below the ground transport networks such as underground rail and road tunnels is high on many cities agendas, and these projects are currently transforming cities around the world.
“Going underground makes sense and many cities have vast tunnel networks beneath heavily populated areas, for example, the London Underground – so we know it can work. His vision presents an exciting alternative to our gridlocked present.”
“A project of this scale would transform the face of transport as we currently know it. A major barrier will be cost, however, we live in a complex transport environment where multi-modal solutions must be on the table and, for some of the world’s largest cities, this solution could be an attractive option,” he adds.
“Historically there are three elements that make up the cost of tunnel boring: equipment, materials and labour, each making up roughly a third of the cost. If we see significant enough advances in tunnel boring and new materials (perhaps at the heart of Musk’s invention) cost will likely decrease sharply and make Musk’s futuristic tunnel system more achievable. This will involve a move away from concrete towards a higher strength, lighter weight material for lining tunnels and may even encompass 3D printing this lining as part of the tunnel excavation cycle.
“In terms of underground trains, it’s the stations that represent the most significant network cost. Related to accessing the type of tunnels Musk suggests, we’ll need to ensure the mechanisation of the lifts that transport cars underground is cost-effective and quick.”
He finishes by saying that, traditionally, tunnels are designed to integrate a large amount of safety equipment. Elon’s proposal, in which cars are propelled forward by electric trolleys, renders much of this safety equipment unnecessary. The absence of the risk of petrol and diesel vehicle emissions, the autonomous control of the vehicles, and the need for increased power supply for such a network represents a paradigm shift in terms of the design of tunnels. In addition, specialised electronic equipment such as high speed trolleys will need to be designed and tested as well as corresponding intelligent control equipment/systems. Reduced tunnel size will also reduce costs and speed up construction – all highlighting a need to rethink traditional design.
(Picture credit – Boring Company on Youtube)