Elon Musk Unveils His First Los Angeles-Area Tunnel

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The Boring Company unveils first test tunnel of their transporation system in Hawthorne, California
Tesla Inc. founder Elon Musk speaks at the unveiling event by "The Boring Company" for the test tunnel of a proposed underground transportation network across Los Angeles County, in Hawthorne, California, U.S. December 18, 2018. Robyn Beck/Pool via REUTERS
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By Steve Gorman
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) 

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk made a brief public appearance late on Tuesday to unveil the first tunnel completed by the underground transit venture he launched two years ago as an ambitious remedy to Los Angeles’ infamously heavy traffic

Free rides were part of the grand opening.

In a 30-minute presentation carried by live webcast, Musk touted the newly finished 1.14-mile (1.83 km) tunnel segment as a breakthrough in low-cost, fast-digging technology being pioneered by his nascent tunneling firm, the Boring Company.

 

The Boring Company shows off their first tunnel in Hawthorne, California
A modified Tesla Model X drives into the tunnel entrance before an unveiling event for the Boring Co. Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, California, U.S., on December 18, 2018. Robyn Beck/Pool via REUTERS

 

Musk has advertised the proof-of-concept tunnel as a first step toward developing a high-speed subterranean network capable of whisking vehicles and pedestrians below the “soul-destroying” street traffic of America’s second-largest city at up to 150 miles per hour. But such a system has a long way to go.

The new tunnel was excavated along a path that runs not through Los Angeles but beneath the tiny adjacent municipality of Hawthorne, where Musk’s Boring Company and his SpaceX rocket firm are both headquartered.

 

The Boring Company shows off their first tunnel in Hawthorne, California
Electric locomotives and tunnel boring equipment are displayed before an unveiling event for the Boring Co. Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, California, U.S.,December 18, 2018. Robyn Beck/Pool via REUTERS

 

Musk, best known as head of the Tesla Inc electric car manufacturer and energy company, launched his foray into public transit after complaining on Twitter in December 2016 that L.A.’s traffic was “driving me nuts,” promising then to “build a boring machine and just start digging.”

In May, the company gave the world a preview of the Hawthorne tunnel, posting a fast-forward video of its interior shot by a camera traveling the length of the cylindrical passageway, which measures about 12 feet (3.7 m) in diameter.

 

The Boring Company shows off their first tunnel in Hawthorne, California
Tunnel boring equipment is displayed before an unveiling event for the Boring Co. Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, California, U.S., December 18, 2018. Robyn Beck/Pool via REUTERS

 

On Tuesday, Musk put the total price tag for the finished segment at about $10 million, including the cost of excavation, internal infrastructure, lighting, ventilation, safety systems, communications and a track.

By comparison, he said, digging a mile of tunnel by “traditional” engineering methods costs up to $1 billion and takes three to six months to complete.

 

FASTER THAN A SNAIL?

Musk boasted of several cost-cutting innovations, including higher-power boring machines, digging narrower tunnels, speeding up dirt removal, and simultaneous excavation and reinforcement.

 

The Boring Company unveils first test tunnel of their transporation system in Hawthorne, California
Tesla Inc. founder Elon Musk speaks at the unveiling event by “The Boring Company” for the test tunnel of a proposed underground transportation network across Los Angeles County, in Hawthorne, California, U.S. December 18, 2018. Robyn Beck/Pool via REUTERS

 

He also invoked his favorite comparison with a snail, a creature he said moves 14 times faster than the speed of a typical tunneling machine. “Aspirationally, we should be slightly faster than a snail,” he said.

Musk did not say how long it took to burrow his new tunnel, which ended up running short of the 2-mile easement his company originally requested for the project.

 

The Boring Company shows off first tunnel in Hawtorne, California
Elon Musk, co-founder and chief executive officer of Tesla Inc., arrives in a modified Tesla Model X electric vehicle during an unveiling event for the Boring Co. Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, California, U.S., December 18, 2018. Robyn Beck/Pool via REUTERS

 

But he showed pre-recorded video footage of a newly built elevator station designed to carry passengers from street level to the tunnel’s subterranean entryway. The video featured a modified Tesla Model X luxury car on the elevator.

When fully operational, the “loop” system as Musk envisions it will consist of passenger- and automobile-carrying platforms called “skates” that can zip through the tunnels by way of electric power once they descend into the underground network.

 

The Boring Company shows off their first tunnel in Hawthorne, California
Attendees take pictures in front of tunnel boring equipment before an unveiling event for the Boring Co. Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, California, U.S., December 18, 2018. Robyn Beck/Pool via REUTERS

 

Alternately, he said, passenger cars could be outfitted with retractable side wheels allowing them to travel through the loop autonomously.

Musk arrived at Tuesday night’s event in a Tesla vehicle so equipped, emerging from the car at one end of the tunnel – bathed in green and blue interior lights – as he was cheered by a small, enthusiastic crowd gathered for the presentation.

 

The Boring Company shows off their first tunnel in Hawthorne, California
The Boring Company unveils the first test tunnel of a proposed underground transportation network across Los Angeles County during an event in Hawthorne, California, U.S. December 18, 2018. Robyn Beck/Pool via REUTERS

 

Musk created a stir earlier this year by promising free trips through the tunnel once it opened. He made good on that promise at Tuesday night’s launch party, providing one-way trips to dozens of invited guests and members of the media.

If successful, the Hawthorne tunnel is envisioned as eventually connecting to a network of other tunnels, yet to be built.

 

The Boring Company unveils the first test tunnel of their transporation system in Hawthorne, California
A modified Tesla Model X electric vehicle enters a tunnel during an unveiling event for the Boring Co. Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, California, U.S., December 18, 2018. Robyn Beck/Pool via REUTERS

 

Last month, the Boring Company scrapped plans for a 2.7-mile segment under a West Los Angeles neighborhood, settling litigation brought by community groups opposed to that project.

But Musk’s company said it was moving ahead with a proposed tunnel across town to connect Dodger Stadium, home of the city’s Major League Baseball team, to an existing subway line.

 

The Boring Company shows off their first tunnel in Hawthorne, California
A modified Tesla Model X drives in the tunnel entrance before an unveiling event for the Boring Co. Hawthorne test tunnel in Hawthorne, California, U.S., December 18, 2018. Robyn Beck/Pool via REUTERS

 

In June, Boring was selected by Chicago to build a 17-mile underground transit system linking that city’s downtown to its main airport. The company also has proposed an East Coast Loop that would run from Washington, D.C., to the Maryland suburbs.

 

(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Rosalba O’Brien)

 

More photos ahead …

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