Elon Musk’s Boring Company has won an order to build an underground transport system in Chicago, USA, between O’Hare airport and the centre of the city. Small electric cars for up to sixteen passengers travel at a speed of around 240 km/h through the 24 km long tunnel.

The project in Chicago is the first major order for the Musk Boring Company and amounts to around one billion dollars (860,000 euros). Musk founded the Boring Company for the construction of underground transport systems eighteen months ago to tackle the congestion in densely populated cities and to improve accessibility.

Cheaper drilling

The Boring Company claims to be able to build the transport tunnels for a tenth of the price of existing tunnel drilling technologies. Musk aims to achieve this by halving the tunnel diameter and largely automating and speeding up the tunnel drilling process. Until now the Boring Company has drilled only a short section.

The battery-powered electric cars are based on the chassis of the Tesla Model X and can travel at up to 240 km/h.

Small Tesla cars

In Chicago the project targets the link between O’Hare airport and the centre of the city, a distance of roughly 24 km. Individual cars, based not on metro carriages but on the chassis of the Tesla Model X from one of the other Musk companies, will travel through the tunnel. They run automatically along a groove in the concrete floor of the tunnel. The cars have an on-board battery, travel at a speed of around 240 km/h and have room for up to 16 persons. A car departs every 30 seconds. The travel time is reduced from 40 minutes by train today to 12 minutes using the underground.

Departure hall of the underground at the airport, with a car departing every 30 seconds.

With his tender for the tunnel project, Musk outbid a consortium of leading companies, such as Mott MacDonald and JLC Infrastructure. Details of the precise route, the operational demands, the safety features and the costs still have to be specified. The plan is to privately finance the project.
Apart from possibly the tunnel tube, the system that Musk is now going to build in Chicago has nothing to do with the hyperloop that Musk is also working on. That project has cars travelling through a vacuum tube at speeds of up to 1000 km/h.


The underground transport concept that Musk is now employing – with long and heavy metro carriages being replaced by small and light cars that travel with high frequency – is similar to that of the CityCoaster, once conceived by traffic engineer Erik Jongenotter from the Witteveen+Bos engineering company. There the cars were to travel in a type of rollercoaster system. It was planned at the time that they would transport passengers from Rotterdam airport to the centre of the port city, but the system was never built.

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