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Underground Travel: A Traffic Alleviation Solution by Elon Musk

Updated on March 8, 2018
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Radhika Prasad is pursuing undergraduate course in Physics from Miranda House, University of Delhi

Underground tunnels being built by Elon Musk's The Boring Company



Driving on the roads can be a formidable task due to excessive traffic congestion. Increased use of public transport should help in reducing it. Another solution proposed was the construction of flyovers. How far can we go with it? With the ever-increasing traffic, even flyovers are getting congested now. What if we look underground? Indeed, this idea of underground commuting was taken up by Elon Musk in order to alleviate traffic congestion.

Features of Musk's idea of underground travel

Elon Musk founded The Boring Company in late 2016 for tunnel construction. The current traffic network is two-dimensional, on the surface of the earth. This needs to be converted into a three-dimensional network underground by the construction of multiple levels of tunnels. There is no practical limit to the depth of a tunnel. As opposed to flyovers, tunnels are weatherproof. In fact, when constructed properly, tunnels are safe during earthquakes and there is no effect of the falling debris. Once below a certain depth (of about 28 feet), the tunnelling process is not detectable on the surface. On the face of it, this looks like a great idea but one of the biggest challenges is that the process of tunnelling is extremely expensive. The cost of tunnelling is directly dependent on tunnel diameter. Musk’s idea is to place the car on an electric skate- a platform on wheels propelled by electric motors. Tunnels for electric skates will have a reduced size (less than 14 feet) because there is no exhaust emission from it. Another important aspect of the electric skate is that its speed can go up to 130mph (209kph) which will tremendously reduce travel time. Also, the speed of tunnelling needs to be significantly increased. For this purpose, a TBM ie a tunnel boring machine has been created.

Watch the video for a visual understanding

Current scenario

As of July 2017, tunnel construction has begun in California at the parking lots of SpaceX, another company founded by Musk. Proposals have been submitted for extending it up to the Los Angeles International Airport. Just as with any technology, underground tunnels have its own fair share of disadvantages. Going underground might cause damage to the already existing buildings. It also needs to be figured out what will be done with the huge amounts of earth dug out; some of it could be used to make bricks. It needs to be seen how effective underground travel will be for tackling traffic congestion.

Car on an electric skate in underground tunnel (only for demonstration purpose)

Click thumbnail to view full-size

Elon Musk

Elon Musk
Elon Musk | Source

© 2018 Radhika Prasad


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