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The Boring Company [video] (boringcompany.com)
836 points by janvdberg 10 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 752 comments

It's amazing to me the amount of negativity directed toward his projects and the millions of reasons people give for why they "won't work" (not necessarily on HN, but at least on general news websites).

I'm starting to believe the only difference between those who start their own companies and those who don't is that the latter convinces themselves that it is impossible, never builds anything, and from their own lack of having ever produced anything, concludes that their original supposition was indeed correct.

I think it's more nuanced than that.

You can break down the world into the 99% that "know" that it's impossible. They'll never invent that world-changing thing.

That leaves 1% that "don't know" that it's impossible. Of that 1%, 99% will try and fail.

The remaining 1% of the 1% succeed, like George Dantzig (who came late to a Stats class at UC Berkeley, thought some problems on the board were homework, and a few days later handed the professor solutions to some famous open problems in statistics), and Jack Kilby (who, seeing computer performance limited by the number of wires soldered by hand, demonstrated -- against the protests of his "we-know-better" co-workers -- that you could get rid of the wires, resulting in the integrated circuit).

It's important to remember the 99% of the 1%. There are probably people on HN who have tried and failed. But rather than simply saying that it is impossible, we should encourage people to share share how and why the problem is difficult, so that hopefully the next person to try won't waste their time retracing the failures of the previous generation.

Everybody is trying to invent shit and make things better. It's true from your waiter at your restaurant who will try to find a way to be more amiable to you, or it's true from the public researchers who just invented the artificial utero when they're being paid nips and wont become billionaires out of their invention. This is not Atlas Shrugged. This is the real world.

You're missing the point: This isn't simply about those who are trying to make things better, which is truly many people and is wonderful. This is that subset that go down road others have abandoned or won't go down because the solution is "known to definitely not be down that road."

Those people get flack -- they really do. Despite the inundation of aphorisms all over Facebook and LinkedIn belaboring the concept of radical thinking, when it happens in this, the real world, it's still met with rolled eyes and often anger.

I have to point of out that over-criticizing stuff is an important part of the human psyche. People "who follow the rules" get as much flack as people who don't. Example in mind: your tax administration officer that you will probably criticize once a year for following the rules.

This particular example is not like other inventions though.

We know we can create lifts that do underground and then connect entry points and exit points by tunnel networks. We already have very miniature things like this.

What the video shows is a vast network of underground tunnels with a tram system for personal vehicles and some public transit connecting different points in the city or connecting other cities. I can kinda see why you might do this and it sounds like a fun ride.

But even a layman can see this is going to be incredibly expensive and you have to wonder why would build this ahead of other types of mass transit. I'd like to see a business plan. Until then, I'm a sceptic.

Definitely. Musk is not immune from the same socio-political factors everyone else faces.

The problems of zoning alone make this a massive undertaking. Much of the counter-criticism in this thread is misdirected. Very few people are doubting Musk's technical ability to pull this off, they are suggesting it worn't work for practical reasons. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to understand those, just have to have lived in a city, or simply lived.

I agree.

The only way to justify a good idea is to have people argue that it is a bad idea. It's up to the person behind the good idea to prove the arguers are wrong.

Sometimes (usually?) that proof comes only in the happening of the impossible thing.

The 1% of the 1% had a good idea that no one else has ever had. This is not such an idea. This is a video of "what if subways were much less efficient?".

I find it hard to believe the common case for the 1% of the 1% always succeed because of sheer luck, brillance (although those things certainly can help).

The 1% of the 1% succeed because they are driven to find success, because they are relentlessly applying logic to the problems they face, because of determination - because they don't give up. I think the term thrown around these days is grit.

So yes, share what happened before, but more than likely those with 'grit' are going to figure out what has been tried before on their own and sometimes they'll reapply what failed in the past and make it work.

Those things are not mutually exclusive.

How many people in the world have tried this, let alone people on HN? Very, very few people even attempt things on this scale.

I love Elon as much as the next guy. I think SpaceX, Tesla, OpenAI and even Neuralink are great companies tackling meaningful problems and wish them the best.

The Boring Company however, yeah, he messed this one up.

HN is full of Elon fanboys. I'm one myself. The die hard, willing to say "the world is flat" fanboys are out here defending him. Look, I like Elon. But the sane fanboys are trying to save Elon a lot of headache by not pursuing this venture.

Care to explain how he messed this one up?

Because you are now more dependent on private cars for transport.

Why would you use this instead of a system where you take a neighborhood bus to the local transit station & shopping center where you can pick up a light rail to the closest subway station, where you take the express train downtown to the high-speed rail station, where you take that to visit the next state for the day? No cars, and you can sit and read a book or take a nap or enjoy the view if you wanted to.

The only scalable transit solution is mass public transit. The world can't afford to pave a private luxury road for everyone to go wherever they want to go. They need to learn to sit next to random strangers on the subway or the bus. If people can't sit next to random strangers on the subway or on the bus, they should be seen as dysfunctional and sociopathic.

This really is one of the worst things I've seen. It may possibly be worse than his Hyperloop, another truly awful idea.

Elon Musk strikes me as one of those guys that defunds mass transit, and then wonders why mass transit is so bad. "It's always breaking down and never on time hurr durr.. So, therefore, buy one of my shiny new cars!"

He really hates mass transit for some reason. Maybe he just can't stand the general public? Is that why he's so into Mars, because he hates everyone here?

We need less pampered and coddled people like Musk, and more people with grit that has the ability to interact with the general public.

> Why would you use this instead of a system where you take a neighborhood bus to the local transit station & shopping center where you can pick up a light rail to the closest subway station, where you take the express train downtown to the high-speed rail station, where you take that to visit the next state for the day? No cars, and you can sit and read a book or take a nap or enjoy the view if you wanted to.

I'll take that one.

Because I love my car - not the car itself, although I really do think it's beautiful - but the freedom that it gives me. I can get in it right now, without any planning or waiting and drive almost anywhere using exactly the route I choose. While sitting behind the wheel, I'm forced to not be able to do anything else than driving. That is a very nice time to think and just be. Some of the most beautiful scenery I've ever seen was in places where the nearest public transport option was a hour's drive away.

I can leave stuff in the trunk if I buy it one day and then need it the next day. I also do grocery shopping weekly - carrying 5 bags of food by hand gets old really fast.

The car is also where my younger kid's car seat is. I'm pretty sure nobody else would put their kid in there, the shape of the chocolate and cookie crumb mountain is exactly the shape he fits in you know.

So, yes, you can do what you described. In fact, you can do it already today, but having a car? There's a reason people buy and repair and like them.

What about the effort of finding parking spaces (and the effects those large parking spaces have on urban environments), actually having to concentrate on driving, having to keep in mind to bring the car home again, fueling (or charging), servicing your car, etc etc. I find there are a lot of inconveniences related to having a car, even without considering the huge effects of congestion, real estate, climate change, air and noise pollution, etc etc.

Your beautiful automobile is also a multi-ton death machine. Worldwide around 1.3 MILLION people are killed by them every year. At that rate they should be banned, or, at a minimum, have much stricter licensing and renewal requirements (every year a challenging written and driving test, much easier to lose license and have car impounded).

Those things aren't free, though. You're paying $500-$1000/month for the luxury of doing those things, compared to the $100-$150 cost of a monthly transit pass.

When you consider the costs, cars just don't have the appeal they used to, and you can spend money elsewhere that'll make you just as happy if not happier, especially as more services orient themselves to remove cars from the picture, such as Amazon & grocery delivery services.

Besides, do you want a system that forces the rest of the public to buy cars? The congestion alone should be enough to discourage people from cars.

Yes, of course they aren't free. I also live in a house, that's more expensive than an apartment because I like it more this way.

I often don't buy the cheapest food, but the food that I like.

I don't want to force cars on anyone - it should be an individual choice of course. What I'm saying is that there are a lot of reasons people want to own cars.

It's the choice between working with the existing system to make it better versus demanding that everyone adapts to a new system that you claim is better.

Maybe it is, but getting the whole world to change at once to a completely different and in many ways harder system is very un likely to happen.

> I don't want to force cars on anyone - it should be an individual choice of course.

Ah, and this is where we come to the root of the discussion. Because ultimately the question isn't "Why would ANYONE want to drive cars" (though I confess it was originally presented to you as such), but rather "Why should society and governments INCENTIVIZE continued use of cars."

The Boring Company's proposal here directly benefits people like you (and by the way me - I also love my car), those who can afford that privilege.

But our tax dollars and policies should be going towards systems that benefit the most people, and that will only happen in North America if we fall out of love with the "freedom" promised by our cars and realize that waiting 2-5 minutes at two different transfers, with a total trip length of 15-25% longer (optimistic, but that is realistic in cities with good public transport) is a worthwhile tradeoff for the greater good.

I used to get a lot more reading done when I used public transport too. I miss those days :-(

> It's the choice between working with the existing system to make it better versus demanding that everyone adapts to a new system that you claim is better.

Indeed, which is why we need as a society needs to pay for more rail systems, a tried-and-true mass transit system that's been around a lot longer than the more inefficient cars.

Right now roads are such a wasteful government mess that's completely unprofitable. The personal automotive transport system is a failed experiment that society needs to move on from.

And we need to stop subsidizing the wasteful and destructive suburban lifestyle.

How much more of my money do you want me to pay for your roads so you can have the luxury of riding in comfort?

Is there anything else that you would like me to pay for you?

> I can get in it right now, without any planning or waiting

That's how a proper public transport network works too. For example in London, when I want to go somewhere, I just whip out an app that plans for me the best combination of busses/subway/train/walking to accomplish that and I'm immediately on the go. The wait times are minimal (under 2-5 minutes) most of the time.

That's only economical in very dense urban areas, though.

I live in the Netherlands which is a very densely populated country, and anywhere outside the city center or early/late on the day, the busses go every 30 minutes or hourly. At night there are barely any options, esp. between 2 and 6 AM.

Sure, but in areas that aren't densely populated, you don't have the same traffic problems, so why do you need it?

>> The only scalable transit solution is mass public transit.

This is the idea I was responding to. I think cars are mostly practical in suburbs and rural areas (I live in a city and basically only bike and walk), mass transit isn't the best solution for all personal transit.

I really don't think cars are going away any time soon for several reasons. Cars offer individuals far more freedom, go anywhere when you want. Also people live in rural areas, I'm not going to wait 3 hours for a bus to take me to my mom's house in the country, I'll just drive. In addition there is probably not a bus that goes there.

People go shopping, they don't want to carry on $200 worth of groceries onto public transportation.

Finally people have kids. Kids require a plethora of specialized items including car seats. I dont want to put my kid in a car seat a prior kid just urinated in. Kid's are also messy and require snacks and water bottles.

People who can afford it are going to take cars. I hope The Boring Company is a rousing success.

Guess what rural areas don't have? Traffic. I love the way that Musk hacks the American economy, government subsidies, value system, marketing engine, and the capacity of the public to fall for bullshit, because that is how truly new things get made in this country. But this amusing semi-joke is just reflective of the fact that LA proves car-based transport doesn't scale, no matter who is driving. Mass transit is the answer.

you need a car unless your life plan is just to limit yourself to only urban areas. If you ever want to leave the urban area you will need a car. If I have my own car, even if there is public transportation I will likely take my own car for the convenience of it being my own space.

I am not arguing against the need for mass transport but I see no reason we cant have both.

Why not rent a car when you want to go on trips outside of urban areas? Seems far cheaper if you can actually get away without a care in the city.

You make plenty of good points but also ignore a whole bunch of bad ones you've made.

Your point about rural scenarios is pointless because this video and idea are clearly aimed at the urban transport problem which needs to be solved due to the fact that, around the world, people are increasingly moving to cities rather than the to rural areas.

When it comes to shopping, I don't know about you but I often find myself looking at other peoples trolleys and asking myself "Why would anyone buy 10 2L bottles of coke? Do you really need all those doritos? My word random stranger, do you subsist entirely on junk food?". There are times that one does come away with a large load of shopping but my wife and I have found that when you start planning your meals for the week and optimising what you buy to fit that plan you tend to come away with a lot less shopping than if you just go in an randomly buy stuff. Would would have guessed?

Your point about children is good but ignores the fact that there are huge numbers of people throughout the world with children who somehow manage to make life work despite not owning a 7-seater SUV...

I think it's better to say that people who can afford it might want to use a car now and then but they'd probably also love to have access to viable public transport for all those scenarios where getting into a car is more trouble than its worth.

We're talking about LA, not rural areas.

Um, what? Tunneling costs are blocking​ mass transit in high-density regions.

Light rail and subways are key to effective public transportation and affordable connected cities. Buses are best for last-minute/first-mile transport.

Commoditization of tunnel boring technology around a couple standard sizes for any soil condition would radically reduce subway construction costs around the nation. That same technology could be leveraged for commercial transportation as well.

I strongly suspect "tunnels for cars" is just marketing. Elon is known for doing his research, and the research shows that traffic is reduced by getting people off the road... Traffic is the equilibrium of convenience and discomfort, adding roads just puts more people on the road.

Making mass transportation more convenient and cheap is vital to reducing traffic... the other piece is zoning for high density to support mass transportation.

>Because you are now more dependent on private cars for transport.

The video shows an electric rail system, that isn't incompatible with moving larger numbers of people. Look at the high occupancy car at :47.

>If people can't sit next to random strangers on the subway or on the bus, they should be seen as dysfunctional and sociopathic.

Mental illness is probably not going to disappear any time soon. Viewing them hatefully isn't going to get them to like riding the bus. It's just going to make you a hateful person.

> Why would you use this instead of a system where you take a neighborhood bus to the local transit station

Because I don't want to walk four miles in weather that could be 90 degrees or 9 degrees to get my "neighborhood" bus, and then waste hours of the day because I have to change to other buses (sometimes going in the wrong direction) to get somewhat close to my destination. I especially don't want to do that carrying heavy or fragile things, or in the rain or snow.

As long as the US continues to be a sprawl, personal transportation will be important.

If I'm not wrong, there's actually a scheme for Tesla owners to rent out their cars while not in use(still in development). So, I envision these tunnels as part of his broader vision of having mass transit for everyone, except the biggest thing being that the mass transit need not have time tables. That's the worst thing about mass transit. Having to plan your day completely around it. Fine for the most of us, but isn't going to end private transport. I totally see the vision he has. It's a 30 year game he's playing, not a 5 year one.

Think of it with 100year horizon. Where it will outlast Musk. Where all cars are self driven autonomously. Where all cars are electric. We already have all the bits and pieces of it... The boring company is attempting to stitch it all together.

> He really hates mass transit for some reason. Maybe he just can't stand the general public? Is that why he's so into Mars, because he hates everyone here?

> We need less pampered and coddled people like Musk, and more people with grit that has the ability to interact with the general public

Spot on.

Engineers skew rational. They know that most ideas won't work. It's like aspiring actors or singers. Statistically, any given aspiring actors or singers won't become famous. The existence of Tom Cruise or Taylor Swift doesn't change that. Think about the dozen articles you read every day about some promising lab result or prototype that. How many of them do you ever hear about again?

Meat-space engineering is hard. I'm an early '90s kid who grew up hearing about how we're going to put people on Mars by 2020.[1] I got a degree in aerospace because of that! Then I realized that physics hates you most of the field is about eking out 1% more fuel economy every decade so United can turn a slight profit. Even Space X is more interesting from a business model point of view than an engineering point of view. It's like someone figured out how to make a $10 iPhone 3g in 2017. Neat, I guess.

[1] Almost everything pop science said would happen was a lie. Moon bases, NYC-London flights, flying cars, etc. Outside of computers and pharma, technology has progressed at a glacial pace over the last 40 years. If you transported someone from 1890 to 1950, planes, international calls, etc. would blow their minds. If you transported someone from 1950 to 2010, I think that they'd frankly be disappointed.

Engineers skew likes-to-tell-themselves-they-are-rational, but ironically I find belief in self-rationality interferes with listening and makes you less rational.

Engineers are more likely to be Creationists and/or conspiracy theorists than graduates of other STEM degrees:


I thought it was even worse, at "higher than background".

NYC-London flights were a lie?

It was proven impossible in the late 1930s.

International airlines don't exist, they are faked by the same people that did the 'moon landings' to make you think the world is a ball. If they really took people up that high, they'd be able to see the earth is flat.

I think you left the /s off your comment

/s is for people who hate sarcasm. Those of us who enjoy it would rather drink it straight.

No, it's true, really.

I think he meant supersonic NYC-London flights. Or perhaps even hypersonic.

do those not mean the same thing?

I don't really get the point of this comment. I'm also early 90's and I'm wondering why you're not more heavily for or against either side. You're living in an insanely fast paced world where, in 50 years, we will either be dead and roasted in Earth-Venus, or we will have carbon sequestration figured out and be on Mars. We need engineers to get option two, and you being neutral increases the chances of Earth-Venus.

Wait, there are actually people who think the Earth will be roasted in 50 years?

I have seen such a comment twice on HackerNews before. And one from a friend on Facebook.

I think that's why people think Global warming is false. There are other people saying that all life is going to disappear, which is funny and clearly alarmism.

can you blame them with all the media alarmism about global warming? The Day After Tomorrow type movies and such too.

Not that it's not a problem - it obviously is - but it's not like the earth is going to be barbecue'd in our lifetime.

In 400 years of exponential 1% energy consumption growth it's possible.

I get what you're saying, but sometimes a bad idea is a bad idea. You can't just positive think yourself out of it.

Sure, but you can't make that call when you have no real clue what the actual idea is or have the full details.

The video has a lot of bad details. That's the call being made.

If Elon has figured out how to make tunneling cheaper, then he can dig tunnels and demonstrate it.

The video is clearly made to just hype it up. It serves no purpose other than Science fiction.

And there is the dilemma. :-)

Not with that attitude!

'The millions of reasons people give for why they won't work' are so important and useful not only for the development but for other possible innovations. They should be welcomed.

And I think there are no causation and correlation between thinking reasons that make it impossible and starting a company.

> 'The millions of reasons people give for why they won't work' [...] should be welcomed.

Not really. It's easy to think of reasons why something won't work. It requires an insanely small amount of effort compared to finding a way to make something work. "Reasons why not" are a dime a dozen.

> And I think there are no causation and correlation between thinking reasons that make it impossible and starting a company.

I certainly think there is. I haven't collected any evidence, but I wouldn't be surprised if those who find success are always looking for reasons why something will work, and those who run into failure are always looking for reasons why something won't work.

Now, to be fair, thinking of reasons "why not" does have its specialized use cases. Safety, for instance. But even then, that requires thinking outside of the box for unusual failure situations.

Identifying risk is one of the most valuable things startups can be doing. Ignoring that risk can be one of the most detrimental things. Good entrepreneurs treat that risk as opportunity. Bad entrepreneurs are paralyzed by it.

"Reasons why not" are indeed a dime a dozen, but that doesn't mean they are useless. It may be a bit annoying to have to filter through the feedback that identifies the wrong risks, but we shouldn't use that as an excuse to ignore critical feedback. Some of the best feedback I've ever received that got my mind churning was from people who truly understood the problems and were able to identify "reasons why not" that I hadn't thought of.

Yeah, identifying risk is important. But thinking one can "identify risk" as some random dude posting on Hacker News, criticizing a guy with a lot of experience running cutting-edge tech companies that make stuff like cars and spaceships (ACTUAL tech, not these lame web sites that people call "tech" these days), is ... well, delusional would be a polite word for it.

Not sure I agree with you. I'd expect most of the users of this site would actually do a pretty good job identifying risks. The delusional part is probably assuming Elon Musk hasn't already thought through these risks, along with plenty more we aren't thinking of.

And here we have one of the most reasonable answers in this thread. It's not about the utility of identifying risks, it's the plausibility of someone as knowledgeable as Musk putting his money and name on the line without having already considered a lot of the things some random group of strangers on an online forum would've thought up in a couple hours.

On the contrary, it seems more likely that Musk would've not only thought about risks already for more than a couple hours, but that he would've consulted a lot of domain experts about such things before even deciding to take on such a project. Even the most optimistic business person isn't naive enough to take on something they see as a sure bet to fail. Not to suggest that there haven't been entrepreneurs attempting silly businesses before, but rather that one should pause and think about the possibilities of how something might work, before jumping to the conclusion that they already understand everything there is to know about a project, and that it definitely won't work.

As another comment mentioned elsewhere in this thread, a good entrepreneur's main skill is being able to figure out some unique/unorthodox way to make something work, and capitalizing on that. Now, that doesn't mean that everyone opposing these ideas are wrong or don't know what they're talking about, it just goes to show that a lot of people's default state is one of risk-aversion.

> [...] the plausibility of someone as knowledgeable as Musk putting his money and name on the line without having already considered a lot of the things [...] Musk would've not only thought about risks already for more than a couple hours, but that he would've consulted a lot of domain experts about such things before even deciding to take on such a project.

Three months ago, after the Bloomberg feature was released, he literally said that they had no idea what they were doing.


So were not allowed to give our concerns because ultimately they may not be correct?

Also, there's a ton of companies with a ton of knowledge who have done things which failed spectacularly or have refused to do things that would work. Tesla's whole existence is sentiment to that.

Is Musk immune to making such mistakes? The consensus on his Hyperloop idea still seems to be that is infeasible.

> It's easy to think of reasons why something won't work. It requires an insanely small amount of effort compared to finding a way to make something work. "Reasons why not" are a dime a dozen.

I'd enhance that a little and say that it's easy to think of facile reasons it won't work. But let's say you think of a reason why a thing won't work after two minutes. If someone else has been working at the problem for two hours, or two days, or two months, or two years, what's more probable?

- They never made the initial connection to the flaw, and have failed subsequently to notice it or account for it.

- They thought of a solution to the flaw which you haven't.

Hrm. Maybe I just don't have that high of an opinion of my own faculties, but I tend to assume it's the latter. Especially if the person in question is a very intelligent person with a strong track record of outperforming expectations.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't probe, or seek clarification, or ruminate on the flaw. But if you tell someone who's been working on a tunnel boring problem for a whole quarter that "boring through rock is the most expensive way to connect 2 places (sic)" as at least one person in this thread has observed, I'd argue that that's not a useful reaction. My reaction is, "I wonder what he knows that I don't."

Criticism is the sign of a healthy society. If someone is afraid of criticism or doesn't want to take it, then they are only hurting their own work. That's not to say Musk is guilty of that, but his fans could accept it.

If we didn't have critics we'd still have kings with divine right. This seems like an exaggeration, but it's really just to say that we need people to look at things critically.

I haven't collected any evidence, but I wouldn't be surprised if those who find success are always looking for reasons why something will work, and those who run into failure are always looking for reasons why something won't work.

This isn't that far from prosperity gospel preaching. Believing doesn't make things happen, otherwise NeXT would be dominating the industry and not Apple because boy did Jobs believe and give it his all.

Sometimes smart people are wrong, and it doesn't hurt those people anyway if dummies are discussing their work.

> If we didn't have critics we'd still have kings with divine right. This seems like an exaggeration, but it's really just to say that we need people to look at things critically.

That's an extreme straw man that trades a lot on what a "critic" is.

Martin Luther didn't criticize the papacy because he doubted the papacy's capacity to realize its ambitions. He criticized the way the papacy was then operating.

People holding forth on how something can't be done are best described not as critics but doubters (or haters). "I can't imagine a way to do X, therefore X can't be done." How many impossible things does Musk have to do before people take serious Musk's ability to realize his visions?

Hating is so easy. But today's capacity to develop technology is utterly unprecedented.

Lead. Follow. Or get out of the way.

People holding forth on how something can't be done are best described not as critics but doubters (or haters). "I can't imagine a way to do X, therefore X can't be done." How many impossible things does Musk have to do before people take serious Musk's ability to realize his visions?

We're talking about strawmen: nobody is saying that. Nobody is saying it can't be done. They are saying...let's wait until it is done, because right now it's just a video. Is that hating or an entirely reasonable stance to take?

Remind me, what does the NS at the beginning of class names in the OSX frameworks stand for again? It's on the tip of my tongue.

The technology Jobs believed in and developed at NeXT really did dominate the industry. It's in the phone I'm typing this on right now.

Completely fair (and cool!), but the use of nextstep at Apple is really a side-effect of NeXT failing to be what Steve wanted it to be (a competitor to Apple or simply successful).

I think you were making a very valid point, having faith and following your dream far more often leads down a blind alley than to fortune and success. But at the level Must operates at, it's the only way to do the things he does. Dedication isn't enough though, it has to be well judged dedication to viable goals backed with the right skills and talent.

I think Linux on the desktop would have been a better example though. Millions of hours of dev time have been spent on it and it's no closer to providing any competition to Apple or Microsoft now than it did in the 90s. I think there was a complacency in the Linux desktop world that success was inevitable given enough effort. I don't think Musk has ever been complacent about the success of his businesses. I don't think Jobs was either.

I'm sure Elon Musk is browsing Hacker News to find out what blind spots he has, that only Javascript programmers can see.

99% of popular critical feedback on ideas like this is nonsense so ill-informed it would take days to intelligibly refute to an objective third party - and the only way to convince the original negative Nancy would be to succeed.

It would be interesting to hear what experts think, though

Except most people have no idea what they are talking about beyond their obvious 2 second observations.

>I'm starting to believe the only difference between those who start their own companies and those who don't is that the latter convinces themselves that it is impossible, never builds anything, and from their own lack of having ever produced anything, concludes that their original supposition was indeed correct.

The latter are also aware of survivorship bias

I don't know if there exists a proper antonym of "survivorship bias" but here is a nice "casualty" list of failed ventures from which plenty of good insights can be taken. https://www.cbinsights.com/blog/startup-failure-post-mortem/

I think that taking advice from those who failed is as important as from those who might suffer from a "survivorship bias". I am sure most of these failed startups initially followed Musk's (et al.) "impossible is nothing" mantra before venturing out into the market.

> The latter are also aware of survivorship bias

While that may be true, it would be interesting to compare the frequencies with which successful founders bring up the topic of survivorship bias vs the rate at which those who never found anything bring it up.

A measurement, which itself would suffer from the same bias.

Many people think and are incentivized to think about how to optimize for today.

Thinking about tomorrow can be counter-intuitive as to the way things work today, and it is pretty easy to construct negative arguments about tomorrow that are based on what we know right now.

I think the skepticism and pretty much well deserved. I would like to see both spaceX and Tesla being well profitable and sustainable without the need for direct/indirect taxpayer support.

Most of Musk's companies are about kicking the can down the road. I admire that he is mostly burning his own money on this but then skepticism of such ideas is natural. The man should probably stick to one thing and take it completion than starting 10.

It's amazing to me the amount of negativity directed toward his projects

His projects are cool.

The incessant "Elon is so smart and will save the world!" from this place is tiring. Everytime he tweets it makes the front page. Some people see there's more to these businesses than Elon being generous to us,and run a bit more skeptical. Perhaps it's you that needs to take a step back and assess what the other side is saying?

> Everytime he tweets it makes the front page

Not even close to true.

Who cares if The Boring Company fails? It looks cool! You know what happens if you don't try? Nothing. You never score for a shot you don't take!

If cities decide that The Boring Company is the way forward and it turns out not to be, that's lost opportunity cost and likely decades of people suffering increasingly poor transport infrastructure leading to more wasted time and less time that people can spend doing important things, like spending time being a productive member of society (not necessarily working a job - things like spending time with family and friends, educating oneself, etc etc, come under this).

Learning what strategies don't work well is being a productive member of society.

But you can score if you take the right shot.

It's about wasting time and money and talent instead of directing it towards "winning" ideas.

If you learn how to take the right shot beforehand, let the rest of us know :)

Society or a company of people operates like an organism at scale - it can get sick with the slightest imbalance of resources, so its collective experience builds antibodies to protect itself. If this was an idea for a portable gadget, it would probably be welcomed, but the underground tunnels and the risks that come with them (collapses, maintenance, infrastructure shifts, ecological impact) are scaring people. California's central valley and a lot of building foundations have been moving up and down with the drought and rains of late. Now imagine that happening with a mesh of concrete tunnels carrying people underneath.

That said, to assume feedback against one project is a testament to lack of entrepreneurial spirit, rings about as true as claiming people who don't like Justin Bieber are deaf.

One group convinces themselves that it is impossible and never builds anything. Musk's group convinces themselves it is possible and never builds anything. At least the former is honest.

>I'm starting to believe the only difference between those who start their own companies and those who don't is that the latter convinces themselves that it is impossible, never builds anything, and from their own lack of having ever produced anything, concludes that their original supposition was indeed correct.

And not because of socio-economic factors, obviously, no, it has to be that.

The fucking pretentiousness HN can have never ceases to amaze me.

Both groups are real. Certainly there are many, many disadvantaged people who never had much of an opportunity. At the same time, though, there are also plenty of people who have had opportunities and could've created something but didn't due to defeatism, and they're often the most vocal naysayers.

You're just not believing hard enough.

Well, that's a well-deserved negativity: they are the Juicero of mass transportation... they are trying to solve a problem that is already resolved with a very complicated and frankly ridiculous solution.

The lack of good mass transit is a political problem: why European mass transit is in general so good and why American mass transit is problematic? It's not a problem of technology. It's Politics, stupid. :)

The play on words in the name is used also used by a charity: Well Boring, who digs wells in rural Africa. The fact that we, as a species, have failed to deal with challenges like providing global simple access to water, make me think that a project like this is unrealistic in many ways.

Post-war London tried something similar, a futuristic vision of pedestrian walkways ("pedways") to separate people from the traffic. This failed, for various practical reasons, and you can see the remnants of the experiment throughout parts of London to this day.

This scheme would come at an unimaginable cost, surely changing planning laws to create less car-centric cities is a more realistic approach to the problem?

There is often enough a clear understanding why something is stupid.

Freaking solar roadways got 2 Million and more. A City payed them 500k to install that stuff. It is not hard to calculate the stupidity of this. Especially of a couple who is doing this in a garage. There is a reason why big companies are not doing it. It has to make sense and money.

This video above looks nice but if you think just a step back, it is probably 1000x cheaper and a much better solution to make the existing streets automaticly drivable instead. How much does it cost to build this? How much does it cost to build automatic driving into every car who wanna use a highway which is only accessible to automatic driving?

You can't have cars driving at 200 km/h on city streets.

I was not talking about city streets. And it doesn't matter. How long do you think does it take for a car to go to a highway?

It doesn't take to long is still much cheaper.

In munich you have a autobahn/cityring in the city. It takes perhaps 20 Minutes in city traffic to get onto the autobahn / highway.

There is a reason why we have only underground trains and why it takes years to build a new tunnel for them.

Also having the city traffic more autonomous would increase the traffic flow.

It's possible to start your own company and still think Musk's ideas are foolish. People are giving millions of reasons why they won't work not because they are haters, but because there are millions of reasons why they won't work.

> and still think Musk's ideas are foolish

With Musk's established track record I think it's pretty arrogant for anyone to call his ideas foolish. He has achieved things that people thought were impossible or bound to fail. You can say: “I can see this potential problem”, or “I wonder how he's going to deal with this physical limitation” or similar sorts of statements. That's feedback and analysis given with respect. Simple dismissive negativity against ideas put forward by a person who would already rank in the top 10 in the world today for technological and engineering achievement is arrogance and narrow-mindedness.

So because he has a "track record" of founding companies that achieved impressive feats he it's now forbidden to call out his ideas as foolish?

> it's now forbidden

I dislike this sort of miscasting of what I just said. I'm a very strong proponent of free speech and the right of anyone to say anything. But with my support for free speech comes a commitment to try to be considered and careful in what I personally say and I'm encouraging others to do the same in this particular context. You can take it or leave it and of course you can go on calling him foolish if you like. Musk doesn't probably care a whole lot and in the end, I would say that the negativity simply reflects back on you.

Maybe forbidden isn't the right word, but the fact is that so far I didn't see you address anything in the substance of the criticism towards this project, only criticise the people for criticising Musk. Also, if you read my comment you will find I never did call Mr Musk foolish. He is clearly a bright person. That doesn't make his ideas out of bounds for criticism for eternity, though, nor does it stop him from saying things that are clearly foolish, every now and then (the whole "the universe is a simulation" thing).

You dislike the miscasting of what you said, then go on to miscast what the parent says (that Elon himself is foolish, rather than that he has foolish ideas).


You know about the word "evidence"?

Backing a few good ideas doesn't mean he will never back a bad one.

I think it's both, actually. There's lots to criticize and there's also lots of hate/jealousy/whatever.

I wonder if these naysayers realize that their modern lives stand on the shoulders of giants like Musk, and that Musk's predecessors had to deal with the naysayers' predecessors.

Reminds me of the "Are we the Baddies?" sketch https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hn1VxaMEjRU (I'm not calling anyone nazis)

It's not about what is or isn't possible. This video participates in an awful kind of ignorance about the ecological impact of tunneling.

This can work if you are starting on blank slate aka building a new city from scratch. It won't work with an existing city.

edit: don't feel like arguing. Best of luck to Musk.

> The Hyperloop was supposed to be a revolutionary form of transport, turns out it was overblown.

He didn't launch the Hyperloop, though. He explicitly said he wasn't personally going to pursue it, he was just putting the idea out there. You can't put the fact that it hasn't yet been implemented (even though there are people working on it) on him. I've seen no evidence that the concept is infeasible, or poorly thought out.

It is infeasible, if it's going to be vacuum, for a pile of practical and safety reasons:


Maybe it will pivot into something not-as-originally-hyped by the same name.

Thunderf00t always comes up in these discussions - here's a counter video.


What a terrible video. "I can't imagine anybody can make this work, so it is absolutely impossible"

Did you miss the bit where he says the idea of travelling fast in a vacuum is fundamentally sound and workable?

Did you miss the bit where he never at all claimed it was 'impossible', only that it was bullshit that it would be doable within two orders of magnitude of the claimed price, with the claimed speed advantages, or with any acceptable amount of safety?

What a terrible misrepresentation of the video.

Ya, but he doesn't actually justify his position. And to the extent that he does, his calculations are inaccurate. The only legitimate criticism he makes is the one about depressurization (all the others are trivial and can be solved trivially in ways that have already been addressed in the whitepaper). And fotunately for the hyperloop, his calculations on that one issue are off by six orders of magnitude, per the videos that respond to his video.

> The fact that people feel the need to defend unfinished (and very unproven) projects of a billionaire says a lot.

The fact that people think they can spend two seconds evaluating and dismissing an engineering idea from someone who literally sends things into space is hilarious.

> If you live by hype at some point you gotta start delivering.

If putting cars on the road and rockets on the launchpad doesn't count as "delivering", I don't know what does.

Where have you been exactly? He receives the hype precisely because he has delivered after people insisted he couldn't.

He and his companies have delivered the Falcon, Model S, Modex X, and a concept Model 3 set to be delivered soon, along with a Falcon Heavy.

If any person were able to deliver even one of those products, they'd be deserving of attention. And that's not even everything he's delivered.

If delivering three groundbreaking products (as in you can go out and use them right now) is hype, then I think maybe you need to revise your definition of "hype".

The SpaceX stuff is actually amazing.

The Tesla stuff is over-hyped by people who think that it's currently the global leader in everything they do, be it manufacturing or self-driving tech. In reality, the EV space is competitive as all get out and Tesla is a pretty small player.

The boring stuff? I have no idea.

If you live by hype at some point you gotta start delivering (edit: this is overstated, but whatever).

He's delivering to the freakin' International Space Station. What have you delivered lately?

> Musk is a master of hype. > If you live by hype at some point you gotta start delivering

In your book, Musk hasn't delivered enough yet? But why am I arguing with a Ph.D student. I wish you that your life is as fullfilled as Musk's.

>The fact that people feel the need to defend unfinished projects of a billionaire says a lot.

I'm confused as to who exactly you're referencing here seeing as Musk has no stake in any of the hyperloop companies currently operating.

You don't have an argument.

This looks really cool. However, boring through rock is the most expensive way to connect 2 places. It only makes sense if the land features or purchase value require it.

Fundamentally, this is about short-circuiting the regular road network and establishing a managed packet network that can bypass congestion. Interestingly, that's also the value proposition of public transit, though it also runs into issues of cost, and too low of a population density make it unfeasible.

I still think we haven't fully leveraged the potential of busses. In most cities, they are slow because they combine the disadvantages of road traffic with the disadvantage of time tables. But what if busses operated on their own dedicated network? Bogota deployed a public transit system made with busses but with a UX of a train[1]. This is a genius idea that could work in many US cities, which have a lot more space to spare.

But back to the original idea, I think we might see in the future a "managed" road network, reserved to self-driving cars which are driven by some central management system, optimising routing for the whole network so as to prevent congestion. This won't require tunnels, just gates, dedicated roads and lots of software.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cU6ImWY4IBc

While I generally agree with what you're saying about embracing bus rapid transit and the cost effectiveness of that option, it's not 100% just a matter of congestion. Surface rail often reduces the value of the land around it due to noise, poor streetscape, etc. whereas subways typically dramatically increase the value of the land around it and don't disrupt the neighborhood. Same goes for large surface roadways.

Also, buses don't have the same capacity as rail does—it's difficult to string together 10 buses and still accelerate quickly, navigate turns, and deal with grade crossings with street vehicles (although guided buses maybe can get partway there? [1]). You can feel the burn in the Bay Area if you try riding the lines on Geary or Mission during hot hours.

And the speeds at which buses run within dense metros often cannot compete with modern subway trains—BART, which is an old system already, hits 70 mph and can go faster, which would be kinda scary to do on city streets in a bus.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guided_bus

I'm not convinced that buses don't have the capacity trains do, when you consider that headway between trains is at least 90 seconds. If headway between buses is three seconds, in those 90 seconds, 30 buses can pass by. Assuming a bus has roughly the same capacity as a coach in a train, and that the train has 8 coaches, buses have roughly 4x the capacity.

Not to mention that buses can serve many routes that don't have enough capacity to merit a train, bus routes can be reconfigured without it taking years, and a bus system doesn't cost billions upon billions of dollars to build. Heck, even a single line of a metro system can cost a billion dollars to build.

If buses have dedicated panes where they don't have to interact with normal traffic they can easily hit 70mph. Australian highways in certain places have this system.

My favorite is Vancouver skytrain. While building highways they built a train track on pillars. It's fast and usually got me in and out of the city quicker than a car.

I imagine train tracks on pillars cost effective than underground tunnels. For a dense city it makes sense. Not for outskirts.

> ...boring through rock is the most expensive way to connect 2 places.

I get the impression Musk looked at that expense, brought in some subject matter experts, probed them on why that was the case, and decided there must be a better way. From what I've read of tunnel boring, I can see that happening. Not uncommon for a tunnel boring machine to be custom-built and then abandoned in place at the end of the project. A more general-purpose or modular machine might be what he's thinking about. Unexpected geologic formations come up frequently, a function of the expense of manually-intensive sampling processes today. A robotic sampling crawler that bores hundreds of samples, and automatically classifies as it goes instead of sending to an off-site lab, building a 3D map as it moves, might be what he's looking into.

There might be red tape issues even if these technical challenges are overcome, though. Even if you propose going so deep you avoid all other underground infrastructure altogether, government bureaucracies' permitting and related processes will put a floor on the cost avoidance Musk seeks.

> boring through rock is the most expensive way to connect 2 places

While this is true, getting very good at boring underground could be helpful for building underground habitats on mars.

I never thought of that but it actually makes perfect sense for a Musk venture.

...and mining asteroids.

> But what if busses operated on their own dedicated network?

But if you're building a dedicated network in a major city, why on earth would you limit it to buses? Even with a dedicated network, I don't believe buses can be as fast, comfortable or quiet as rail.

I spent a lot of time in Melbourne, Australia and the trams there are fantastic. You can barely hear them when they're operating so they do a lot to decrease noise, they have a ton of standing room and are quite long, so they can carry a lot of people and I don't believe a bus can come close to the comfort of rail.

Rail fails in a serious earthquake. Large infrastructure can take years to return to operation after disasters.

Even buses are useless during/after disasters in my experience (avoiding legal liability, lack flexibility to mitigate problems, inability to publish changes etc).

Rail fails in a serious earthquake.

Yes, but so do roads. Tunnels especially!


Maybe because it's cheaper? For example, I don't think India can afford to simultaneously build metro systems that cover all cities, and cover a good enough area of each city. Or, if we can afford it, the govt wouldn't consider spending $100 billion+ the best use of the money. Bus is much more doable.

Trams are more expensive than buses. They have removed tram networks on many cities in Europe in favour of cheap diesel buses but slowly now some are getting back.

Only a visitor so don't know the details, but plenty of Brisbane's tunnels seem to be for buses only...

We have tunnels and a couple of seperate motorways designed soecifically for buses. Which is great for getting from southern suburbs to the city. But anything off the main line can take an extra half hour.

I'm from Bogotá and I can tell you that the bus experience is ugly, it worked for about 10 years but now the buses can't cope with the amount of people Bogotá has.

Yes, it worked for a couple years, but right now it's a chaos. A subway would definitely solve the problem.

I actually think the Viva system in York Region, Ontario, Canada is a great model for this.

Highway 7 started as a car-only multi-lane highway. They took a multi-phase approach to building out a light-rail system. The first phase was adding bus rapid transit, increasing fares, and increasing density of new construction. The second phase was adding dedicated bus lanes and light-rail-ready stations. The final phase will be to add tracks and trains on top of the road.

> However, boring through rock is the most expensive way to connect 2 places.

For now. I think that's the whole point of this company. Reduce cost and risk of drilling just like SpaceX's goal is to reduce cost and risk of space flight.

I wonder why it's so expensive. I agree with musk. It makes sense for humans to have a 3d transport system rather than 2d. The payoff is huge. Moving 200mph through tunnels is the future we should be aiming for.

I also get a feeling he's read "foundation" from Isaac Asimov which talks about this.

I wouldn't want to live on Trantor, though

<Spoiler>I would, as part of the second foundation.</Spoiler>

Probably not even then. Gaia/Sayshell seem way more fun :)

Regarding the boring expense, an NTBM[1] or subterrene[2], is said to be cheaper and faster.

[1] http://www.sheepletv.com/nuclear-tunnel-boring-machines-swit... [2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subterrene

My impression is the boring feasibility and costs will not be the limiter of a very cool tech like this happening, but a more boring practical cost, probably the "zoning" cost required to get compliance and permission for all that state and federal land needed to build the underground link network.

Cheaper? A nuclear machine that melts rock and probably doesn't exist?

I'm not convinced that the video you linked on sheepletv above the "underground alien bases" one is the most reliable info.

Sure, ridiculing such information is easy, especially when you describe it as you have, emphasizing the easiest targets for ridicule. If your intent was to ridicule the information, I get your comment makes sense. But, IMHO, that's not a very substantive contribution for HN. IMHO, it would have been more worthwhile to highlight the less-easy-to-ridicule aspects of the page, such as the quotes from, and discussion about, the Los Alamos patents for NTBM. Please don't interpret this as an attack on you, I'm just trying to rightly do the information justice, encourage substantive discussion. Also, to point out that if your goal is to discover useful information, then it does not work to discredit the valid content of a comment or page, by measuring all its info by the standard of the easiest to ridicule parts.

Finally, from my point of view, getting your ridicule feedback hurts because my aim is to contribute to substantive discussion here, and I don't want to feel discouraged from posting something substantive because it might also have info that could be cherrypicked for ridicule, then letting me feel like I wasted my effort contributing because the info was later unfairly presented. I don't want to feel like I have to do extra work "defending" the original effort to contribute, against such ridicule. So, please, before you rush to ridicule something, really take a look to see if there is substantive content there, and refrain from misrepresenting it, thanks.

The point that tim333 is trying to make is that the source you're citing is wildly unreliable. Take a look at their home page -- just on a first glance, I see:

* Several videos about Pizzagate (and I don't mean critical examinations, either)

* A number of anti-Semitic images ("Jews control the banks", etc)

* A video literally titled "Hitler Survived WWII & Occult Nazi Scientists Developed VRIL Haunebu Foo-Craft (UFO’s) at Secret Antarctic Base-211"

* Another video literally titled "Illuminati Hip Hop Blood Sacrifices Exposed"

* A video about how Christmas is a "Satanic Illuminati Holiday"

* And this video

It's not a great stretch to say that their description of a "nuclear tunnel boring machine" is every bit as absurd and untrue as the other videos they distribute.

You just did the thing I suggested was insubstantial and said hurts and I didn't like. Please stop. Also it's a logical error to judge a claim by the site it's on, or by the claims surrounding it.

I linked to that page and specified NTBM. You could have substantially commented on the Los Alamos patents and their discussion on that page. But you chose to go off that page and to emphasize easy-to-ridicule parts. Please don't do that, thank you.

> You just did the thing I suggested was insubstantial and said hurts and I didn't like. Please stop. Also it's a logical error to judge a claim by the site it's on, or by the claims surrounding it.

It might be a logical error, but it's not a mistake. If someone tells you lie after lie after lie, and then says something new, whose truth you can't immediately evaluate, the sensible thing to do is to think: this is also probably a lie.

That's called confirmation bias and people do it all the time.

It just didn't work as a strategy if you actually wanted the find the truth. That's one thing this is about here.

The other thing I think you missed was the emotional context of these comments. I'm clearly asking for support and help to make HN welcoming, by not misrepresenting or cherry picking easy-to-ridicule info. It hurts when they do that and I don't like it. Please don't do it, don't ignore the people behind the comments, and don't quote this

> You just did the thing I suggested was insubstantial and said hurts and I didn't like. Please stop.

pretending that you've contradicted this, and made it somehow okay. You haven't and it's not.

Ah ok though I felt the 'cheaper' bit was somewhat unproven.

Considering the name of the company, maybe they have invented a radical new way to reduce boring costs?

When I am drilling holes for pipework I use some attachment to the power tool that drills one guide hole in the middle and a big pip-sized disk. The material inside that disk is not ground up to pieces, it comes out of the hole whole.

At the moment boring machines do not work like that, a conveyor belt of small pieces comes out. What if A380 fuselage sized pieces of rock came out instead and were conveyed off to the coast for coastal defence purposes, or even land reclamation? Carrying objects weighing thousands of tonnes to the sea is not simple but the amount of material excavated the hard way - ground to pieces first - would be significantly lower.

Maybe they have a 'coring machine' rather than a 'boring machine'?

I think they experimented with these coring designs at some point.

Also, if you accept the assumption that energy will get cheaper in the future, some boring project may become financially feasible.

It's quite possible they could reduce the cost if they found a way to pipe the excavated rock into surrounding regions of less dense rock, through pipes drilled at intervals along the tunnel. Meaning the excavated rock never needs to go up to the surface, it can just be digested and fed as a slurry into neighbouring areas.

He has said he thinks he can reduce the costs by a factor of ten, but except for having spare parts on hand to reduce downtime I don't think he has been specific about his ideas. He bought a conventional boring machine recently (I don't know if it has been delivered yet) to get more data.

The boring could theoretically be done with close to zero energy, and the cost of the tunnel is just to remove the material. Breaking the chemical bonds along the surface of the tunnel is actually a pretty tiny amount of energy, even if it's solid rock.

Ride the relatively new Silver Line in Boston to see what that's like. Hint: It's not good.

This is very, very wasteful compared to actual mass transit. A subway network is much more effective at delivering people.

If he's looking for mega-good, Musk would do significantly better to drop a full subway network.

edit: tunnelling is a broadly solved problem. It's difficult, expensive, slow, etc. But there's no engineering reason why a hole in the ground can't happen. Musk might be able to drive some significant improvements there. No idea. But tunneling itself is not a reason to knock an idea beyond the cost and geoengineering involved.

You're asking the wrong question. There are over a hundred million Americans who commute long distances in their car. Mostly because they live/work in areas that aren't dense enough to have good last-mile public transit, and they don't want to deal with transfers. You can lecture them all you want, but ultimately, these people aren't going to downgrade their lifestyle just to fit your ideas of engineering efficiency.

The real question is: is this new solution more efficient than the current alternative of driving on the highway?

If places aren't dense enough to support mass transit, they are certainly not dense enough to financially support car-trains tunnels. The depicted tunnels have the same costs as building subways, and I imagine similar maintenance costs. On the other hand, they can only serve a fraction of the riders a traditional subway can, which means the cost per rider is huge. Not to mention it still requires owning a car, so the traditional capital and insurance savings from mass transit don't apply.

But to answer your question: maybe, but it doesn't matter. American cities are already bankrupting themselves in road maintenance. Adding a series of super car tunnels for an efficiency benefit? Out of the question.

Why does everyone lack imagination on this topic?

Problem: if you drive to the subway, then take the subway, then you have two problems: where do you park your car, and how do you get to your destination once you get off the subway if it's not walking distance?

Currently - people just drive. And the surface streets get progressively more crowded. We could drill more regular roadways - but it's notable that one reason we don't is controlling emissions and safety is difficult with human drivers.

So, taking that back to the video: replace the subway with general purpose transport stations that provide a mix of subway-like transport of passengers, or entire vehicles, powered electrically.

No vehicle emissions (huge problem with tunnels) and no endpoint transport issues - the subway becomes an extension of the road network, and if it's cheap enough to do, hopefully a very scalable one.

> We could drill more regular roadways - but it's notable that one reason we don't is controlling emissions and safety is difficult with human drivers.

Also cost. Drilling car tunnels is more expensive per passenger served than a mass transit system

> if it's cheap enough to do, hopefully a very scalable one

That's a big unproven if, and a hope that's almost out of a science fiction novel. If Musk has ideas about how to solve those problems, let's hear them.

We already understand that tunnels with electric cars would be great. Everything we do has a cost and if we're going to work together on something as a society, let's do something that benefits more of us than luxury car owners

> Why does everyone lack imagination on this topic?

You are right, I imagine that we should just have teleporting gates!

> if you drive to the subway

How about not driving to the subway? how about having local buses or that can take you there?

> where do you park your car

Car parks next to the station?

> how do you get to your destination once you get off the subway if it's not walking distance?

Buses or trams.

> Currently - people just drive.

Not everywhere, look at London for example.

> We could drill more regular roadways

No we can't, tunnels are expensive and bring a whole new set of problems like how do you handle an accident, how do you get to the surface etc.

> subway-like transport of passengers, or entire vehicles

That is horribly inefficient in terms of space and weight, average car weight is ~2 tons.

> powered electrically

Having it electrically powered does not mean that it's clean energy.

I understand those benefits, and think they are marvelous, but also very expensive.

American cities are already spending more than they can afford on road maintenance. Are these underground trains going to be cheaper than above ground roads? Public money for this doesn't seem all that likely.

Here in Tokyo, the Yamanote above ground train serves a million riders daily. Costs a couple dollars to go 10km. The boring concept looks much more expensive than that, as it is underground, but those costs are spread out over many fewer people. Private money seems hard, too.

The two problems you discuss are both easier to solve than LONG DISTANCE BORED TUNNELS.

Solution for problem 1: Park and Ride. Giant multi story parking lots. Cheaper to build even underground than the tunnel Solution for problem 2: Local transit like Tram, bus, or bikeshare.

I think a far better solution to #2 is taxis or other on-demand transportation that can take you directly from subway stops to your destination. Trams and buses have the same last-mile problem as subways, but to a lesser extent, and often require passengers to wait longer for the next tram/bus. Bicycles have practicality limitations such as luggage storage, cold weather, and physical ability.

This solves the last Mile problem

So does having train stations every few corners. The reason we don't have that now is cost, which is the same reason we won't have car-train tunnels.

Obviously having a network of underground express tunnels for cars would be amazing. It's just economic nonsense when municipal governments are racking up huge debts in normal, above ground road maintenance. If it's not publically subsidized, drivers will be exposed to the true cost, which will be enormous. That high cost cannot be supported will prevent mass adoption.

So do big parking garages at suburban train stations.

> Mostly because they live/work in areas that aren't dense enough to have good last-mile public transit, and they don't want to deal with transfers.

Well, suburbanization was a totally dumbass move. Maybe instead of building tunnels, we could be rebuilding cities. We could be designing them to be attractive enough that people would want to live there.

You'd have to get the government to stop building roads...

which of course is seems crazy to most people. But the consequences are all around us.

Yeah. Going from rail to roads was another dumbass move.

When a city in America is destroyed by a nuclear explosion, Americans will re-learn why suburbia was so popular. Hopefully this won't happen for a long time and we will have a good stretch of city living. I love cities, but having millions of people concentrated enough to be killed by a single device; this is very different world than the one humans evolved in.

That's such a terrible reason not to live in a city. I don't see how it is significantly more likely for only a single incident like that to happen. If we really have a catasophre or act of war it will likely effect larger regions than just a single city.

Sure, maybe that was part of it. Interstates were, for sure. But then, the Soviets were building huge warheads, which could take out metro regions.

Are you serious?

> : is this new solution more efficient than the current alternative of driving on the highway?


Because - the exurbs and beyond simply don't have the density numbers to make this kind of investment pencil out without something like a 1000x class drop in costs, which would be wildly optimistic for physical equipment cost savings. Some suburbs might be able to handle it; Bellevue in the Puget Sound comes to mind immediately, but it's only a suburb in the context of Seattle; it'd be a major city in its own right in most of the US.

Further, you're not even getting to the fun part of driving a car - the wind, the sights, the open road. You've got a dang tunnel there. I'd get mildly claustrophobic and probably nauseous: subways already do that to me a little bit.

It's probably much more effective public policy at the federal level to focus on densifying American cities and reversing sprawl: this generates a nice sequence of network effects related to funding and infrastructural improvements. Among those would, eventually, be the demand for nice buses and nice trains with a regular security presence.

>Further, you're not even getting to the fun part of driving a car - the wind, the sights, the open road. You've got a dang tunnel there. I'd get mildly claustrophobic and probably nauseous: subways already do that to me a little bit.

I sure do love the wind, the sights, the open road of stop and go traffic every day.

Avoiding driving for ours in congestion would sound like an upgrade to me...

if you'd create 124mph transportation from 20-60 miles outside and through the city into the city, you wouldn't need to drive into the city. Most commuter trains average less than 50 so it's worth trying to drive. The average speed of the NYC subway is less than 35 mph. Light Rail?

Low-speed maglev: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c8SqDVUdMtY

What about waiting time between transfers? You need a certain population density to have almost continuous trains. In Bay Area, you have to wait an hour between Caltrains unless it is rush hour. Caltrains could go 500mph, I would still drive to avoid the wait between trains.

Demand for Caltrain is standing room only during rush hour, with 33% of traffic living in Palo Alto and working in SF.

Caltrain has two primary constraints, neither population-linked: diesel trains accelerate badly, and freight track scheduling.

Diesel trains are theoretically being swapped for electric, which will permit the trains to stop and start more efficiently. They predict one additional train during peak rush hour per day for this improvement, iirc.

Freight traffic consumes a fixed amount of rail time, focused primarily on the "one hour between" segments of the schedule. Increasing frequency can only occur within existing scheduled route times, and cannot disrupt that freight traffic.

The video shows some sort of shuttle using the track. Those could be small busses or even public transport.


In effect, this is a subway system. It's an underground rail system. The major difference is that you have a mixture of public and private passenger vehicles and smaller vehicles.

It's still incredibly wasteful compared to a real subway. The amount of people a real mass transit system can move is orders of magnitude above tons if individual little cars:


..not to mention all the energy required to move each of those vehicles compared to a train that can move hundreds of more people in a similar space.

Americans need to get over all their train/bus hate. Other countries love mass transit. Many Americans try to shoot down any attempt to even put in a small system (small systems can grown) and kill off attempts to grow existing systems (see the Seattle Green Line).

Self driving cars can work great in Europe, where there is tons of transport and you just need to solve the last leg (or where self-driving trucks are rented just to move large items). In America we have massive gridlock due to a lack of rails and that needs to be fixed before self driving tech will fix anything.

>It's still incredibly wasteful compared to a real subway.

Because real subways have miserable sardine-can standing room conditions during commute times. Public transit is dead in the water in the US because its advocates use terms like "incredibly wasteful" to describe making systems anywhere near as comfortable as private cars.

For most people, the most comfortable chair they own is their driver seat. For many, the commute is the only time they get to be alone, meditative, and in complete control of their environment (cube farm or open office at work, children at home, etc).

When the CIA forces people to spend hours with their arms fully extended over their heads while bombarding them with 100db noise, there's a Senate inquiry. When BART does it, it's a regular Tuesday at 9am. (Yes, this is an extreme comparison, real stress positions are much worse, but your average Midwestern suburbanite used to his Toyota Camry is in for a real shock).

If you want Americans to get over their train/bus hate, then don't advocate such drastic reductions in the quality of our lives or the livability of our cities. Your average SUV-driving Wisconsin soccer mom has been to Manhattan as a tourist and decided that her one accidental peak-hours train ride was enough for one lifetime.

That, or densify the environment. We might put up with transit if the rides were shorter.

(I am a daily BART rider, and public transit dependence is the #1 reason I want to GTFO of the Bay Area).

I personally find trains to be dramatically more comfortable than cars. Feel free to disagree, but a) not having to pay attention, b) not facing any congestion, c) not dealing with the motion sickness and dizziness that comes with doing anything in a car, d) not being stuck in a cramped cage, e) not worrying about getting into an accident, throwing away a boatload of money and potentially hurting randoms strangers or myself for reasons that may be entirely out of my control—all of these things make trains WAY WAY WAY more comfortable to me than cars ever can be.

Have you ridden on systems that are better than our crappy one before? Riding in cities like Singapore and Hong Kong is a wonderful experience.

The real problem is that we have nowhere near to as much capacity as we need, and nowhere near to as much coverage either. And that's 100% a result of political incompetence and a lack of funding for something that almost certainly would improve the livability and productivity of this city.

Coupled with how filthy San Francisco is and how pitifully little we do to address affordability and the resulting, predictable homelessness and mental illness crisis we see here, you get an uncomfortable transit experience.

Our lack of a robust, functional public transit network is a big reason I want to GTFO of the Bay Area.

Yeah, compare the BART to the subway in Stockholm and it's night and day. Nice public transport is absolutely possible. I remember the first time I lived in the Bay Area they were building BART and I had these expectations... And then years later when I rode it for the first time, I wondered why public transport this close to the center of the tech universe was so shitty. I mean, the trains in Europe have wifi and are clean and beautiful and comfortable and quiet. They're also secure, mostly because of how they handle as a society the kinds of people that make public transit a bad experience. It is astonishing to me that we don't have and can't have nice things in the United States.

If subways are already as tight as sardine cans, how would giving everybody in that train a full car full of room even be the slightest bit possible? There just isn't enough physical room in the tunnels for that.

Running at the proposed 100+ mph should provide the necessary throughput (and actually require seating - have fun with those gs while standing).

The problem is that there are diminishing throughput returns to velocity. You need massive amounts of duplicated track for that to be feasible...on and off ramps for every entrance and exit. On and off ramp lengths grow exponentially relative to target velocity. That might be fine for long distance travel, where on and off ramps can be concentrated in few locations...urban travel not so much.

> On and off ramp lengths grow exponentially relative to target velocity

Centripetal acceleration on a curve with radius r is (v^2/r) so it seems that it grows quadratically, not exponentially.

Exponential growth would mean that the v appears in an exponent in the formula.

Saying we shouldn't be wasting a ton of resources on private cars is a "drastic reduction in the quality of our lives"?

Quite frankly, I would much prefer to not have the costs and issues of owning a private vehicle.

One weakness of all public transportation is the lack of personal space. Maybe if someone would have solved that either by more space or some deep psychological insights, it would become more popular among Americans?

I disagree. Europe has many countries with at least the same wish for personal space as the US, and public transport works just fine. I'd suspect a big reason is the car-centric culture, which also gives rise to the image of public transport being only for those who can't afford a car. It's a cultural problem that'll be hard to straighten.

> Europe has many countries with at least the same wish for personal space as the US

Maybe this is me being ethnocentric, but it seems the American way of embracing diversity (through political correctness, affirmative action, etc) has come at the cost of craving for isolation and independence from each other.

The loudest voices I hear against big city life and cultural diversity come from those who have little experience with either. They don't need to try Green Eggs and Ham to know they don't like it.

You think people in Iowa are driving because of the huge amounts of minorities?

I don't think those policies have anything to do with how close people want to stand to each other in a subway. Americans simply like space and tend to have a lot of it.

That's hilarious. Affirmative action created a car culture, not the fact that cars came around when America infrastructure was bring created or that people live far away from where they work. I get it though, you personally crave not being around minorities.

Try any "excellent" public transportation system during commute hours. The lack of personal space isn't misperception. Systems are explicitly planned to have standees, and lots of them, in close quarters. We've gotten acclimated to something much more comfortable, and we get to vote.

It's not clear how public transit advocates will convince us to vote to downgrade our lives. Maybe the bicyclists and pedestrians in cities will be able to block suburban drivers from entering.

OK, but that's like saying "nobody goes to Times Square anymore. It's too crowded".

If there was more public transportation, the problems you bring up about personal space would go away.

The problem stated here isn't "public transit has insufficient ridership," it's "some people don't want to use public transit."

When the problem you're trying to solve is "some people aren't in Times Square right now," you might need to engage with the fact that it's crowded.

More public transportation, sure, and I'll vote for it every time.

Less car infrastructure, and there is no pressure for public transportation to be comfortable or effective because the only way to opt out of it is to move away.

I will gladly vote for trains because it takes people off the roads and reduces traffic which makes it easier for me to drive to and from work.

I find that I have plenty of personal space on mass transit as long as there's enough transit. If I'm taking the 2/3 subway (in New York) or the 27-Bryant bus (in SF) at 9 AM on a weekday, it's totally fine. If I'm taking Caltrain southbound at 9 AM on a weekday or the 4/5 towards the Upper West Side at 5:30 PM, it's miserable.

That is to say, there's a known solution already: funding.

For me the main disadvantage is that it takes an hour, comes once an hour, has inaccurate timetables, costs 13$, and stops running at midnight. Hence why I drive from mountain view to San Francisco rather than bother with Caltrain.

It's too bad Caltrain electrification is getting screwed over... But it's even worse that BART was blocked from just going down the peninsula, to the point that we literally went the other way around the bay to get it down to San Jose. Criminally dumb.

Having the fine people of the peninsula share the cost of transportation with the hoi poloi of the East Bay is unamerican, hence they opted out of it.

Same for the North Bay (original plans had the BART go almost all the way from Petaluma to Gilroy).

Doing some googling I found this as one of the links:


It's a shame. Public transportation would be so awesome if it weren't for the bad press.

Is it really wasteful? It seems like it is an ever moving system. In terms of people capacity it seems it would carry more by being always flowing vs a stopping starting transit system.

The amount of people that can fit in 1 car is roughly maxes out at 4-7 people, depending on the car. There needs to be enough spacing between each car so that in the case of a failure, cars have space to brake to a stop without catapulting the people in it, or causing them to become overly nauseous. So there's going to be a decent amounnt of spacing between each car.

The number of people that can fit on 1 bus can hit in the ballpark of 50 people, so we're getting a roughly 10x capacity boost here. You lose the "ever-moving system" benefit doing this, but I highly doubt some stopping and starting would lead to an order of magnitude slower speed.

Now, the number of people that can fit on 1 SF BART train is in the realm of 10 cars * 200 = 2000 people per train. The spacing is not going to be on the order of 100x longer than in the individual car case, and the starting-stopping speed is going to be not a bit slower than the bus case.

I'll let you work out the math on that, but it's not even orders of magnitude close. Don't need to be a "visionary" to see that.

A well managed train system can manage 1 car per line per 5 minutes. 2000 * 60 / 5 = 24,000 people per hour. Highways can handle 2,000 - 2200 vehicles per lane or so at the low end 1/12 but that's very much an edge case. Most lines are closer to one train every 20 minutes and you can average 3 people per car which makes them equivalent.

The real issue is not highways, but what happens when people try and get off or onto them. It's possible but rare to do this well.

Do you mean a shitty managed train system, right? In London at peak time there is one train every two minutes, in Moscow one per minute. One train every 5 minutes is the off peak frequency in London when you are actually complaining that you are waiting too long.

At the peak times for the most used stations there is a car that frequently sure, but if use look at the overall system they don't send anywhere close to 60 * 24 = 1440 trains past every station in each direction per day. Further trains going to different stations often share the same track because you need more throughput in the city center than at the furthest stations. But, just because the edge stations get less use does not mean the track is cheaper to construct.

The max throughout is the number that we should care about - they provide fewer cars per minute not because they're physically incapable of doing it, just because there isn't demand. And it would be the same in a car-centric situation as well - lower throughput in off hours.

Having the ability to send 1 billion people from A to B is useless unless there is actual demand to send 1 billion people from A to B. Similarly, not all stations get anywhere close to the same demand, but you need to build a large network or the peak demand is less. Thus, measuring the network is what's important not the 'best case' subset of a few most heavily used stations.

Further, roads and bridges do get used from 2-4 AM when subway systems are generally not operating, so it's the use over the full day that's important not just peak usage.

It's less of an edge case than you may think, given solo ridership numbers here in the USA. 75% commute alone.


The average over the full US is kind of meaningless as most areas don't have traffic problems. It's only large city's that actually matter in this assessment.

On page 4, 2006: 80% used a carpool or single occupancy car. 2013: 76% used a carpool or single occupancy car which is counter to their narrative. Further, metro areas are rather large, I commute less than 3 miles on secondary roads in the DC metro area from just outside the beltway to just inside of it and encounter approximately zero traffic.

According to the DOT, a train is only about 33% more energy efficient then driving.[1]

In addition a subway or bus system has to run on a schedule even when the train is mostly empty. The train and bus is always starting and stopping and causing all it's passengers increased delay to serve the needs of the few entering or leaving.

Public transport is the token ring networking of transportation. It's just inherently less efficient compared to a P2P routing system that only operates when there is a need and with the minimum number of stops (which is exactly 1).

[1]: https://www.rita.dot.gov/bts/sites/rita.dot.gov.bts/files/pu...

First of all, the most recent data in the document you linked to shows Amtrak at 1,629 BTU/passenger-mile vs 3,877 BTU/passenger-mile for cars -- a 58% reduction in energy consumption, or alternately 2.4x better energy efficiency for trains over driving.

But it's also important to note that the numbers for Amtrak are averaged across the entire system -- and most Amtrak routes outside the Northeast Corridor operate way below capacity, despite it being very inefficient to do so. If you look at rail systems where this is not the case, like in Switzerland (716 BTU/passenger-mile) or Japan (534 BTU/passenger-mile), you end up with 5.4x and 7.3x improvements energy efficiency over driving, respectively.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_efficiency_in_transport...

This is something I've never understood — why can't those trains operate with fewer coaches, perhaps all the way down to one, in rural areas, or at off-peak times (for metros)?

On the other hand, the train runs on a schedule which can give you a pretty accurate idea of when you should leave and when you will arrive at your destination. The car might be faster sometimes, but sometimes it is slower and you can't always predict which it's going to be.

It's not a wasteful when US has huge land and those fuel vehicles need to travel a long distance may encounter car accidents e.g. fatigue, winter, floods, would be benefits from reduce air pollution in the these concept tunnel, in contrast, the size of Singapore is a lot smaller.

The tunnels could use solar energy which is not wasteful.

Uh... if the solar energy could be better used elsewhere, you're still wasting energy. We're not post-scarcity yet.

Actually it's the land use on roads and parking which is most wasteful. Maybe we could solve half the problem with this, even if it is boring.

But... a subway for cars? This strikes me as significantly less efficient use of resources than everyone switching over to printing out their emails/IMs/photothings and faxing them to each other.

Edit: I mean, sure, great science fiction fun to think about!

yeah, the disparity in cross-sectional air displacement per capita is quite substantial. It is kind of funny to think about as an inefficient train. However, it does not need to replace trains or train commuters in any way. It only needs to contend with normal car travel.

The drag:person inefficiency is a price we still consider worth paying presently, even when it also requires an inefficient decentralized gas-burning energy conversion.

Add in reduced vehicle wear, and of course the time advantage, and with some of the efficiency gains like centralized power/reduced friction/huge electromagnetic actuators/maybe partially evacuated tunnel, it could still conceivably be profitable at a bargain on gas travel.

However, i think the advantages permit it to be sold for more than we are paying for gas travel. People already pay daily just to use a special lane which is nearly the same hassle with only slightly reduced traffic.

But can you get a moving block signalling system such that they can follow each other with minimal separation? Until you can do that, a real train will always win at people/hour due to the fact that you can have more people per consist as ultimately the signalling challenges are comparable and you can therefore have comparable separation.

With all my sympathy for metro - in many American cities it will never be good enough due to extensive suburbs.

In places where land is cheap, and there are single family houses, cars will be the most efficient way to commute for years to come. We'll switch to self-driving electric cars, but still.

But ultimately you aren't going to have tunnels dug by the Boring Company out into the extensive suburbs either. The question ultimately becomes whether it makes sense to give up large amounts of space (even if underground) in the centre for parking (for everyone commuting from the suburbs), or give up space further out where land is cheaper and less dense for large car parks at stations. (Obviously there's a cost in changing mode of transport, but that somewhat applies to the pods too.)

> But ultimately you aren't going to have tunnels dug by the Boring Company out into the extensive suburbs either.

The point of the boring company is to make excavation of tunnels an order of magnitude cheaper. [1] And if he succeeds, I suspect demand for the tunnels will push them out to the burbs.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Boring_Company

But if you can make tunnel digging orders of magnitude cheaper, why not just run subways to the suburbs?

In Elon's world, nobody wants to walk or ride a bike that last mile from suburban subway station to their suburban house.

Nor, presumably, transfer from an autonomous taxi or bus to a subway train at that station.

Maybe he's right? Think of this as a subway for cars!

Commuter rail is a thing. DC's metro goes a dozen miles outside the city in all directions and the MARC train goes further.

64 LA subway cars cost $176 million [1]. That seems really high to me, at about $3 million per subway car.

Also people per hour is not really the metric the average person cares about. It's travel time to destination.

[1] http://www.lamag.com/driver/l-s-subway-cars-will-definitely-...

Those subway cars are used at all hours that the system is in operation. If you're trying to compare costs with Boring, note first that a personal car is used much less and second that Boring involves these weird platform things which will also cost money, so the equivalent is more than just the price of the Tesla that sits on the platform.

Also, each LA subway car can fit over 50 people seated and probably three times that standing. $3M divided by the price of the cheapest Tesla is about 85. So the number doesn't seem high at all.

> If you're trying to compare costs with Boring,

Actually I'm not. I just want to point out that public trains cost huge amounts of money for investment, they need special infrastructure which many US cities don't have, and the only way they work feasibly is if the population density is high enough so the taxes will support them.

In other words, there's a huge upfront cost to even considering building a system that most cities/governments will choose roads over rail.

A bus on the other hand is $300,000, holds around 60 passengers, and uses the same infrastructure the city already has, and doesn't incur the need to have right of way fights with land owners.

What would you realistically do given the choice?

That seems orthogonal to the point 'geofft was making, which seems like if you're going to spend the resources to dig tunnels, it makes more sense to fill them with trains than with personal cars.

A bus without special bus lanes is a pretty bad public transit system, the sort of thing that makes people conclude that this whole public transit idea was a mistake in the first place and we should just invest in better car infrastructure. And getting special bus lanes is pretty politically difficult in its own way (although it's a different sort of fight than right-of-way fights).

If I had the choice of spending $3 million to buy 10 buses, or to do nothing at all, I'd save the $3 million and wait until it's feasible to develop something that the city will keep wanting to fund.

> 64 LA subway cars cost $176 million [1]. That seems really high to me, at about $3 million per subway car.

That seems high to me, full-stop. The London Underground S-Stock order came to around £1 million per car (though was a much, much larger order); even smaller orders of Bombardier Movia family trains have come far closer to that than the $3 million per car.

This is still completely ridiculous and wasteful.

> tunnelling is a broadly solved problem

As rockets were before Space X?

It costs a billion dollars per mile to dig a subway tunnel. If the costs could be brought down, it would change a lot about the way we build mass transit systems.

What? Are you serious??? If it's true then in US you are getting ripped off big time. The whole crossrail project is 73 miles with 14 miles of tunnels and 40 station and it has a cost of 15B£ (19B$ with today exchange rate). I cannot find the total cost of the tunnels, but apparently for 1.25B£ you can have 18km of tunnels: http://www.crossrail.co.uk/news/articles/crossrail-awards-ma... That is 1.6B$ for 11 miles. Basically an order of magnitude less than your figure of 1B$ per mile. If really Musk wants to improve by an order of magnitude over that figure then he is late, the crossrail tunnel have been completed 2 years ago.

Those Crossrail numbers give $0.2B/mile, including a lot of miles of track that aren't tunnels. After digging a bit I found this, which is a good summary:


It seems that $1B/__km__ (not mile, you're right) is sadly par for the course in the US, and Crossrail passes that threshold too. Projects elsewhere are below that threshold though.

No the total number include the tunnels, the tracks outside and 40 (FORTY) underground stations. The specific figure of 1.25B£ is taken from the official documents for 18km of tunnels alone. So do you think that an unknown blog that throws some figures without any reference must be more accurate than the official figures, reported in public documents accessible to everyone, that explicitly says that 18km of tunnels ALONE have been built for 1.25B£. Next are you going to post a link from some chem-trails website?

No need to get stroppy, calm down.

If Elon can develop an massively more efficient boring system that the rest of the USA can use; fine, he can have his personal car-way network under his house while I ride around on the highly gridded subway network in Seattle or Austin or Boise. I won't grudge him that.

Also, fwiw, I think cut and cover is a much better approach, despite the street level disruption. Ce la vie.

The question is if he can drop those costs substantially. I certainly wish him the absolute best in doing so. But, if he's going to propose building transportation systems with huge operational costs (SOV tunnels), they had better be efficient in the cost per rider mile and competitive with other technologies.

Except the monoculture here doesn't account for just how terrible buses and trains are.

Mass transit is fundamentally superior and realistically inferior. The second any rational actor has the economic advantage necessary to not ride in a box packed with people of questionable hygiene they'll chose option #2 no matter the negative externalities.

I love this place but people aren't packets in your stream, they actively decide against your well designed "optimal" systems and opt for less efficient "luxurious" options as soon as they possibly can.

Have you ever ridden on a really good train system?

I get the train to work each day and 99% of the time I get to sit down with space to comfortably work on my laptop and I get through a bunch of stuff each way. When I think of the alternative - spending 20% less time but dealing with the risk and frustration of driving and getting nothing done in return - driving myself seems positively toxic.

> The second any rational actor has the economic advantage necessary to not ride in a box packed with people of questionable hygiene they'll chose option #2 no matter the negative externalities.

:: raises hand :: I can easily afford to drive and park. I bus to work instead. No time difference. A number of people are like me.

(the fact that buses allow people who aren't very well house trained on board is a matter that needs to be addressed, no question about it)

I mean, where I lived I _tried_ to use public transit. But with a 50/50 chance of getting passed by the single bus running that route, it just wasn't making sense anymore. And that route ran every 60 minutes .. and also didn't run on Sunday's.

It's not even hygiene. When you ride a train, you cede control of your life to it: you have to plan things by schedule, if it's delayed you are delayed, and you don't even have the luxury of silence. people don't usually vote to let other people have immediate control of their lives like that.

There seems to be this weird thing where people are embracing things that strip autonomy from them.

Reports I read on this a month or more ago suggested that yes, part of his goal is to improve the speed/cost of building tunnels, so that it's feasible to go build a whole bunch of them quickly.

(That being said, building a bunch of tunnels in the bosom of San Andreas strikes me as hubris... But having lived in LA and its traffic for many years, I'm willing to be convinced. :-) )

Hilariously so even. This is basically a subway system, except you have to provide your own seats. All this is succeeding in doing is making Musk look hilariously out of touch.

He may well be out of touch, but at least Musk's suggesting a real solution to current transit problems, even if it's impractical. On the other hand, whenever I read stuff by politicians and engineers with real knowledge and influence in this field, I'm astonished by the total lack of vision.

Even in London, where you have a major, successful transport engineering project (Crossrail) completing, and an entire city dependency on, and supportive of, public transport, you only hear the most anemic plans for future expansion.

For example, TFL is pushing a "New Tube For London" plan that consists of little more than trivial improvements. Some new trains, platform edge doors, etc., scheduled to be delivered in 2050 or so. But absolutely nothing with real ambition, like entirely new lines, that would actually solve London's insane congestion problems.

The problem is not that they cannot imagine the concept of adding new lines, it's just that the costs, both monetarily and politically for doing so, are enormous in the Western world. The eminent domain, permitting, and labor issues around these things paralyzes the development of cities, especially in the United States.

If you want to see ambition in infrastructure, check out China. Being a technocracy bent on having world-class infrastructure, combined with the ability to remove people from their homes for the greater good with little repercussion, they've built some of the most thorough infrastructural improvements ever seen on the planet. For instance, the first line of the Shanghai Metro was opened in 1993; today, it is the longest metro in the world, with 14 lines. And this rapid growth can be seen not just in the megacities like Shanghai, but in countless smaller ones throughout the country—not to mention their incredible construction of their thorough long distance high speed rail network. And on top of that, since their system is so modern, the trains are a hell of a lot safer and more reliable than any piece of infrastructure in the USA.

I think they've made mistakes with how car-oriented the streetscapes are, the generic architectural styles throughout that country, overbuilding before demand arises, and a lack of mixed-use neighborhood zoning, amongst other things; but when it comes to imagining an integrated, efficient commuter rail network, they've killed it.

> the ability to remove people from their homes for the greater good with little repercussion

I think you underestimate how poorly compensated the relocated people are. Unless it's an outcome of "Weird China" reporting, which is very possible, I've seen plenty of reports of people being forced out of their houses in exchange for flats with smaller floor space and property in an inferior location.

I'm not saying what Chinese infrastructure officials isn't impressive. I'm just saying it has massive costs for the people being displaced.

I think you are in violent agreement with the parent post: "ability to remove people ... with little repercussion" literally means: they (authorities) can order people move, and it costs them (authorities) little or nothing at all.

It costs the moved people a great deal, but the government doesn't care.

Hah! Thanks for pointing that out. I didn't catch it.

Exactly, thanks for clarifying :)

What? TfL has no ambitions? The crossrail is the biggest construction project in the whole Europe, and it is still not finished and they are already planning for the crossrail 2 that will be started in the next 3-4 years. These are huge projects, much more important than Musk proposal that in London would have been simply ridiculous given that the crossrail alone will move 200 million people per year. If they went for the proposal discussed here instead London congestion would have exploded given the abismally low capacity of this boring company project.

Opening new lines, like building new roads, might hurt everything due to induced demand.

You can reduce demand by not needing everyone to go the same place every day. Why does everyone have to work in London and why don't they already live where they work?

Induced demand means people are now able to practically get places when they couldn't before. It doesn't mean "hurt everything."

And more people moving more places means more growth, probably. If everyone stayed at home not much would get done.

> He may well be out of touch, but at least Musk's suggesting a real solution to current transit problems, even if it's impractical.

He's proposing the transportation equivalent of a personal computer with perfect security, completely crash free, 1000x faster than current PCs that cost lesss tha. We have today. It's not impractical, it's laughable.

> On the other hand, whenever I read stuff by politicians and engineers with real knowledge and influence in this field, I'm astonished by the total lack of vision.

If you want to see total vision, come to a Transportation Research Board annual meeting. Or an APTA annual meeting. Visions are out there. The political support is not.

Visions have to be shared with the public, make people excited about them, to get politicians to support them

paralysis via NIMBY is the key problem in the US. many urbanists would be happy to grid every city with subways. we talk about it, wistfully.

but we don't have the political leverage today, and the little we have is with the Democrats, not the Republicans.

"real solution" =! "it's impractical"

Decide which one is it.

Getting to provide your own seats might just be what convinces drivers to use a subway system.

Isn't Musk's track record simply to shoot for the moon (or heck, Mars), then temper things down?

He misses all his deadlines for precisely this reason.

Right now, it's just a video mocked together over two days. It's just a very, very broad "idea".

Things will change over time. Why knock something so early in the development phase?


>But there's no engineering reason why a hole in the ground can't happen.

Well, unless you count damage to whatever happens to be in the way of the tunnel and buildings on top of tunnel. This might be more of a problem in Europe than in the U.S. though.

Look at the Seattle viaduct replacement problem. Bertha came to a standstill for years due to engineers not taking care of a well pipe they thought they removed.

I think the video was just to look flashy and show off the Model 3 design. I imagine most of the tunnel boring will be for mass transit.

> tunnelling is a broadly solved problem. It's difficult, expensive, slow

And now Musk is trying to solve for those three factors

>Musk would do significantly better to drop a full subway network.

In the same way a road offers private and public transportation, a tunnel can do both. Why can't the car be a bus, say?

Because that’s hugely inefficient compared to a subway network.

I live in Paris, France. 100% of its inhabitants have at least one of the 300+ subway stations under 1 km (0.6 miles) of their home. The subway system transports 5M people every single day. That’s twice the city population. That’s also 1.9B per year. During the peak hours you can have up to one train every 90 seconds for a capacity of 700 people each.

> Because that’s hugely inefficient compared to a subway network. I live in Paris, France. 100% of its inhabitants have at least one of the 300+ subway stations under 1 km (0.6 miles) of their home.

That's actually pretty awesome, but you may have noticed that Americans don't really care about efficiency.

Once the tunnel is built, you can put anything you want into it. But I suspect we would still choose cars over trains.

People in general don't care about efficiency, and it's not even irrational. Transportation planning tends to treat people as little AI zergs that are going to take the most collectively efficient route to their individual destination. It's best to have a system that's as agnostic to how people want to get where they're going as possible, but I have no idea whether tesla's idea is good.

Paris isn't on top of the San Andreas faultline!

Elon already responded to this concern: https://twitter.com/elonmusk/status/824300186834898945

Because cars, which are relatively wasteful spacewise, create negative externalities on the public transportation by causing congestion, which resultantly makes public transportation less efficient.

Not an issue in automated underground systems really.

Yes it is. Cars don't even begin to match the capacity of trains. Look at London or Singapore where trains arrive less than a minute apart at peak hour. Many of London's trains are autonomous and all of Singapore trains are fully autonomous. There is no way individual cars could even come close to matching that kind of people-moving ability.

> But there's no engineering reason why a hole in the ground can't happen.

Depending on the specific location, there may very well be. Underground tunnels are vulnerable to earthquake-inflicted damage, for instance, and you would want to avoid repair as much as possible.

Similarly, there may be environmental or conservatory reasons not to build tunnels, or reasons related to cost, or obstacles not yet encountered (that last one is less likely though).

This is Elon's response to a Twitter users similar comment about earthquakes. I don't know enough about physics to say if he's just throwing things out there or if he already did some research.


Mmm, so I spoke too soon on that front. In my defense, I've said this a lot to people who are advocates of Hyperloop construction (vacuum tubes are far too easily ruptured to be used in conjunction with transportation), but Musk is correct.

Are subways targets for terrorism the same way that airports are?

All public transportation is.

Just look at the Big Dig. One small mistake (using the wrong glue or fasteners) can put the safety of the entire safety into question.

But those exist for above ground systems too, right? Earthquakes damage roads, bridges. Road and rail impact the environment as well.

The Seattle viaduct is a good example of transportation infrastructure that is very vulnerable to quakes. They're replacing it with a tunnel, so I assume they have worked out how much damage an earthquake will do. At least the tunnel can't fall on anyone, unlike the viaduct which would pancake and render the waterfront inaccessible.

broadly, a generic hole is doable, it's been done many places.

just like software is doable. :)

sometimes you can't do it. but generally... you can. :)

  If he's looking for mega-good, Musk would do significantly 
  better to drop a full subway network.
Like Hyperloop?

Hyperloop was a completely infeasible design that Musk quite openly had no intention of building. It mainly seemed to exist as a tactic to attack actual planned public transport expansion in the Bay Area, which Musk compared it unfavourably to based on figures that didn't add up.

I bet this tunnel boring idea was inspired by the lack of an economical path for hyperloop to get to downtown LA. The hyperloop concept took a lot of heat for that.

This is to subways like hyperloop is to high-speed rail. A stupid overelaboration of an existing, proven idea.

Hyperloop is a 'stupid overelaboration of an existing, proven idea'? I was not aware we had so many proven 600mph high speed rails.

They exist. The problem is getting approval to build them anywhere near residential areas is problematic.


That's 600km/h. For 600mph you'd need Hyperloop to prove they can do that speed first.

So...they don't exist. The fastest ones are actually 40% slower.

Show me a working 600mph tube train and then you'll have a case of a superior technology. Until then it's just an idea on a napkin.

China is building new, high-speed maglev trains and there's many lines already open for business.

Maybe one day Hyperloop will get built and will be open for passenger travel. When that day comes it's possible that surface rail may have already achieved the same speed because third or fourth generation maglev trains are in service.

Anything is possible, but you were making the claim they they exist, which they definitely do not. They might theoretically someday exist, but so might Hyperloop.

The idea of a 600mph train running in evacuated tunnels is about as old as the idea of trains itself: http://io9.gizmodo.com/5731620/in-an-alternate-universe-ther...

China is looking at building something like that: http://www.zdnet.com/article/china-developing-600-mph-airles...

Note that it's an above-ground system because the costs of building underground are utterly ridiculous for long distances.

The high speed is the "overelaboration". High-speed rails in many countries can reach 200mph. A 600mph train may be 3x as fast, but the marginal utility is pretty low to me compared to increased cost and reduced capacity.

We don't have any proven Hyperloops at any speed.

Cars and mass transit both have major problems. Cars aren't scalable, and mass transit is often slow when you have to wait for trains/buses to come. (It's worse when you have to change buses or trains.)

The video looks more like a high-speed form of personal rapid transit [1], which is a sort of hybrid system that tries to achieve the best of both. It's like a bus or train system, except the vehicles are smaller and don't operate on a timetable. Instead, they pick you up when and where you want and they take you where you want to go.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_rapid_transit

edit: tunnelling is a broadly solved problem. It's difficult, expensive, slow, etc

Well, which is it? Solved, or difficult/expensive/slow?

It's all four, They aren't mutually exclusive.

> If he's looking for mega-good, Musk would do significantly better to drop a full subway network.

Agree, except that while many ridiculously wealthy people would be willing to help pay for private access to some tunnels — _perhaps_ subsidizing a system that is later available to others — many fewer wealthy people would help pay for a subway.

What? You could put trains on those tracks.

I think it's neat. I like London, but it'd be sweet to have my car while I was there.

Yeah, like you can't use the car transport floats without a car? Why?

> If he's looking for mega-good

I doubt it. I think he's looking for the same thing as everybody else: mega profits.

Yes Musk only works for the $$$

why not both?

I feel like everything Elon Musk undertakes with his companies is just one huge Mars Beta Test.

  - SpaceX:
      Obvious, got to get to space somehow  
  - Tesla:
      Build cars/machines to run on something
      that is guaranteed to exist on Mars (the sun) vs. Oil  
  - Gigafactory:
      How to build batteries 101  
  - Solar roof:
      While Earths environment may not be as
      harsh as Mars you still learn something, and improve
      solar panel production in the process  
  - Boring:
      May not make too much sense on Earth with  
      existing infrastructure, but undereart..undermars?
      transportation is protected from the environment/sand
I also don't know about the mineral composition of Mars and what boring does to the usability of those, but this may be a 2 birds one stone: Bore underground network and get required materials to build out mars base.

How to go to Mars and stay there:

  1. Figure out what you need
  2. Build it
  3. ???
  4. Mars
Where 3. is use it, refine it, perfect it, like landing a rocket on a automated barge in the middle of the sea.

Or he just hates LA traffic.

By the time we've learned how to live on a planet as inhospitable as Mars, maybe we'll know how to make a home on Earth.

I thought we already knew how to make a home on Earth. What is this in reference to?

That our current methods are unsustainable? There are plenty of ideas for solutions.

That the current state of human cooperation is below the necessary threshold to achieve a self-sustaining society on Mars? Maybe, but I'm optimistic that we'll find the inspirational leaders that are required.

I had a bramble of related ideas in mind, and instead of putting in effort to untangle them I lazily let them came out as a pithy aphorism. But:

- Even if all of Musk's enterprises were aimed at colonizing Mars (like gp suggested), they can be quite useful here.

- Turning Mars into a self-sufficient habitat is both an absurdly long-term (and laudable) goal and no guarantee of survival. We have to worry about the problems of surviving on Earth today and, in the very long run, how to live in many other places.

(upvoted your comment, because I agree with it)

> I thought we already knew how to make a home on Earth.

It seems to me that this really isn't the case. Our attempt to make a home here is causing a mass extinction, extremely fast change in atmospheric makeup (compared to historical models), depletion of fresh water reserves (in some areas anyways), increased frequency of bad weather, earthquakes, etc. Under a 'business as usual' model I have trouble seeing our current ecosystem supporting us for long (e.g. another 100 years).

There are a billion or so people living sustainably, and probably 1% of those are doing it at a Western standard of living. We just haven't figured out how to democratize access to the culture of how to do that broadly in all climates.

I think the key difference in Elon's approach is that he snatches the most viable pie out of the sky and figures out how to make it happen today.

In my opinion that's part of "knowing how" - knowing how to make something actually happen outside of theories. Hopefully we'll get there soon.

Why the hell would you be optimistic about that.

Would pessimism help?

By the time we've learned how to live on a planet as inhospitable as Mars, maybe we'll have figured out how to deal with LA traffic.

Self driving cars should fix things. At least a hive mind autonomously driving traffic should, in theory, reduce misery.

That kind of attitude gets you nowhere very quickly. Why do _anything_ better?

What makes you feel moving to Mars will solve issues inherent in humanity?

We know how to live on another planet like Mars. The issue is getting there, and getting there at scale.

Living there at scale is an issue too; the experiments ran here for a year in the desert require lots of training, careful planning and in general lots of time and resources. If we want to go to mars and stay there indefinitely we'll need bigger communities, which means manufacturing in mars, making the transition more seamless for a wider range of people, and in general just making more from less.

PS: Don't think this comment is down vote worthy, just healthy discussion imo.

I didn't downvote you, but I am genuinely curious where you got the idea that we know how to live on Mars already?

In theory, you just go there, plop down a habitat, and live in it.

In practice, it might be a little tougher than it sounds. :-)

At least the low gravity makes a space elevator tenable with current materials -- that'd be a big aid. Getting to and from parking orbit from Earth is such a pain!

Solar radiation? Probably why burrowing would be the way to go.

This crazy theory has to die, it just doesn't make any sense. I've seen this several times on reddit and hn usually with a bunch of upvotes and perhaps the most perplexing thing is how so many presumably smart people don't see how obviously little sense it makes.

Musks starts a healthcare company? Mars-related of course, he wants to solve the cosmic radiation problem on route to Mars. Buys Netflix? Heh, that's pretty obvious, people on Mars will need some entertainment!

Because in some respects it's not a theory, it's his own explanation for why he does certain things. The extrapolation to how it applies to new ventures is theory, but it doesn't obviously make little sense. It doesn't even need to be realistic, all that has to be true for the theory to be true is that Musk believes it, as it's an explanation of his behavior.

Musk has never used Mars as an explanation for any of his non-SpaceX ventures. His own explanations for why he got involved with Tesla, started The Boring Company, or invented the Hyperloop have nothing to do with Mars or space.

It isn't a theory at all. It is what drives him.


It's a joke :p

> Or he just hates LA traffic.

Nope that's the main one. You obviously haven't lived in LA :)

I assume this is part of his motivation. The cost of LA's perpetual traffic clusterfuck must be immense. The car tunnels in the video were silly, but being able to build subway tunnels faster and for cheap would be a huge boon for everyone. I'm sure he's fully cognizant of the utility of tunnel boring technology on Mars though. There's no way he hasn't thought about it.

By the time a significant tunnel boring project gets planned, approved and built, cars will be self driving and the Uber model of rides on demand will be extremely prevalent. Traffic will be massively reduced and existing roads will be much more efficiently used.

I agree with the theory that Musk is aiming these boring machines at Mars. That makes more sense than using them to attack the traffic problem when that problem is already being solved by one of his other companies.

I doubt very much that even self driving cars will solve LA's traffic problem by themselves. The sheer volume of people is so large, that mass transit will probably still be needed.

You may be partly right.

But self-driving cars will enable a sort of ad-hoc, on demand carpooling style 'mass' transit: something like ten-passenger vans that deliver commuters from similar downtown areas to similar home neighborhoods. If only ten percent of commuters switched to that method, taking ten cars off the road and replacing it with one van, the volume of traffic drops immediately to 91% of what it was. That alone, plus significantly smarter, denser, more efficient, networked AI driving, will hugely reduce gridlock.

And at some point as more jobs get automated, and the jobs that remain human-accessible become more knowledge-based and less presence- and specific time-based, we'll move away from the huge spikes in traffic at 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., spreading traffic volumes more evenly out across the day.

This is the only possible answer. LA traffic sucks.

We'll have to look seriously at living underground on mars. It won't protect us from solar rays on the surface. One of the cheaper ways to protect yourself is to put a layer of rock inbetween you and the sun.

Is the main radiation danger the Sun or the background "cosmic" radiation?

I've been assuming the latter, but I realize now that I don't actually know.

Both are significant dangers, but radiation from the sun can be shielded fairly easily. Not so high energy cosmic rays.

You can for example put an entire planet between you and the sun radiation by going out at night.

Doesn't matter too much for the rocks: if a few metre of rock won't absorb the radiation, neither will your body.

That doesn't make too much sense to me, since your body could be harmed by absorbing only a fraction of the energy of a large radiation dose.

Valid point. Though I think given the spectra involved, it probably doesn't apply.

Underground living on Mercury is much more interesting than Mars. (There's a band close to the poles and a few meters down that has very stable and comfortable temperatures.

Perhaps if you're building a cellar. If you want to make a 10-story building - even in a virgin terrain, it's a complicated operation.

Not to mention that you need to make the materials such that they resist a huge side pressure, water leaks and so on.

Psychological costs are also costs.

Water leaks are not going to be a problem on mars. Significantly lower gravity 3.711 m/s vs 9.8m/s also drastically lowers pressure from burrowing.

Wide-open spaces, even enclosed ones, can reduce the psychological burden of confinement quite a bit -- there's a variety of Russian strategic-missile submarine with a swimming pool, for example. This subject also comes up frequently in SF (science fiction, not San Francisco, which has the opposite problem); there was some discussion of it on the "Atomic Rocket" worldbuilding guide, IIRC.

I… I think the picture of that "pool" in your head is slightly wrong [1].

Tangential: the source [2] is pretty interesting.

[1]: http://pics.livejournal.com/igor113/pic/001e551p

[2]: http://igor113.livejournal.com/27205.html

Why build layers at all? Urban concentrations too high?

Is it possible to make a huge nuclear explosion/reaction that produces the same atmosphere we have on earth?

There are ways to teraform the planet, but they are well beyond our capabilities.


Wrong grammar. I was actually asking a question.

how to become ant people

Human evolution would surely change direction after a few millenia of living underground in lower gravity

I'm pretty sure Elon Musk is preserving our species by laying the foundations for us to leave and survive beyond this planet. He's the ultimate prepper.

I'm totally down with that, by the way: I believe there's a nonzero risk that our resource consumption trajectory, population growth and environmental carelessness will combine within centuries (if not sooner) to make this planet incapable of supporting us.

If plan A is "fix human behaviour", then we need a plan B. Plan B must be get another planet.

"All of this was for nothing. Unless we go to the stars." - Sinclair.

> While Earths environment may not be as harsh as Mars you still learn something

Apparently the problem of martian storms is not that rocks are flying around[1] but just plain ol' dust[2] reducing the efficiency to very low levels, both by deposit and by floating in the air.

[1]: http://www.space.com/30663-the-martian-dust-storms-a-breeze....

[2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cleaning_event

I've always enjoyed this theory. Just one guy figuring out how to take over a planet; no big deal.

Obligatory Pinky and the Brain reference.


The thing to do is to check for what is potentially inconsistent with your hypothesis. For example, what about the neural link company?

That is totally how you are going to fly his rockets :-) So much easier if you just put on a helmet and now you can use your thoughts to control the switches and inputs.

As a pilot I find this idea disconcerting because my thoughts are so imprecise compared to my actions. However, I suppose it would be like learning to ride a bike; you'd get used to what it feels like for your brain to guide the rocket much like a bicycle rider shifts their weight. But really, couldn't a computer do this better?

See this article: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/420756/wheelchair-makes-t...

Consider a man/machine interface where the man controls the intent and the machine controls the precision.

I'd hate to see what letting my mind drift does to a flying ship.

Why bring a bottle of earth with us everywhere we go? Why not adapt ourselves to the environments rather than the environments to us?

      Build cars/machines to run on something
      that is guaranteed to exist on Mars (the sun) vs. Oil  
You can run internal combustion engines on Mars, provided you supply your own oxygen. This is discussed at length in The Case for Mars. It's likely that the first indigenous Mars-built Utility Vehicles will be fueled with Methane/O2 or Methanol/O2. It will be far easier to establish the tooling for internal combustion on Mars than it would be to establish Li-ion battery production.

Musk could probably afford to take a helicopter from his home to work everyday if he wanted. It'd be a little ridiculous but feasible. At any rate he could probably rent landing time at one of the skyscrapers on Wilshire if his home doesn't have a helicopter pad. I think he flies from Torrance to San Carlos a lot already.

Still fascinating to see all of this stuff take shape. It's definitely like living in the future. You would think there wouldn't be money in it... but there is!

This project and the Hiperloop to me seems really alike, testing the capabilities of non-rocket launchers.

Kinda like in Verne's "From Earth to the Moon", both try to move and accelerate objects, maybe enough to launch something into orbit?


Or maybe im reading to much scifi :)

PS: sorry for the broken english, not my native language.

That's a really interesting perspective. I've never made those connections with Elon's work.

You can throw OpenAI in the mix also. If there are strong advancements in AI then it could possibly be used to automate the facilities if there are not enough workers or as a possible fallback option, among other scenarios.

There will be lots of positive uses for AI, both on Mars and on Earth, but Musk's main stated motivation for both Open AI and Neuralink is that he's deeply worried about AI being an existential risk to humanity, and he's trying to take steps to mitigate that risk.

He has stated unambiguously that he wants to die on Mars and not on impact. All of his investments lead to Mars.

This was exactly my thought as I watched the video.

Hyperloop is a mass driver too

This is exactly my thoughts

Since this is a thread about Elon Musk, transportation infrastructure, public transportation, and urban design, and because HN has a sort of affinity for the Robert Moses story (The Power Broker was one of 'aaronsw's favorite books), this seems like a particularly on-point Twitter thread to read after the video:


You might not agree with all/any of it but I think it's hard to say this isn't thought-provoking.

It's not thought provoking, it's a series of thought terminating cliches.

I'm as liberal as they come, I'm very sensitive to disguised racism, but the tweets' entire basis of comparison between Musk and Moses is "both are/were ambitious men and now musk is talking about infrastructure". It's free-association garbage.

The Moses story is fascinating because he accomplished great things that built NYC but was also a horrible person. The tweeter you linked is like, "hey, Musk is trying to accomplish great things, he must be just like Moses".

Moses wasn't a horrible person. He was an ambitious, unscrupulous, and effective person with a singular view --- one not totally out of step with the elite of his time --- that happened to be (in the opinion of many, including me) very harmful to the long-term health of New York.

I think it's your rebuttal that's facile here, not the comparison in the Twitter thread, but, like you, I might be wrong.

That disagrees with the Twitter thread you linked to, which claims:

> Robert Moses weaponized Civil Engineering and Urban Planning to suppress marginalized communities. Engineering is always political.

Words like "weaponized" and "suppress" suggest that Emily thinks Moses was ill-intentioned, not merely an ambitious guy who in his monomania happened to overlook some of the more sinister side-effects of his work.

I don't entirely agree with the Twitter thread, but it's also possible to "weaponize" and "suppress" because you think it's the right thing to do. Overly-influential people exerting their power to harm others in the interest of what they believe to be "right" is something that bothers me a lot about the power structure of our industry today. I don't think the comparison is at all unwarranted.

> I don't entirely agree with the Twitter thread, but it's also possible to "weaponize" and "suppress" because you think it's the right thing to do.

Everyone thinks what they do is right. Ill-intentioned refers to whether the characterizer thinks it was right, not the actor.

it's also possible to "weaponize" and "suppress" because you think it's the right thing to do

How does that have anything to do with whether he was horrible? In general, people think they're doing the right thing. That doesn't mean they're not horrible.

In what ways, specifically, is Elon exerting his power to harm others? Or have I misunderstood your comments?

The entire point of The Power Broker is that Moses was ill-intentioned. He deliberately built his projects in ways that froze NYC's minorities out from being able to benefit from them, destroyed healthy neighborhoods when they tried to stop him, and bankrupted the city building highways it didn't need because every new highway project increased his personal political power.

I'm reading the biography of Moses as we speak and the current chapter does paint him as being capable of a unique kind of horribleness, regardless of his other positive qualities.

As one of his friends described him: "He's so forthright and honest that if he saw a man across the street who he thought was a son of a bitch, he would cross the street and call him a son of a bitch, lest by passing him in silence, his silence be misconstrued".

Let's not forget that Musk literally said he wants to bore tunnels because it takes him too long to get to work... and this video is essentially showcasing a rapid transit system for people who own his cars.

Musk also claimed Tesla's solar roof would cost less than a "normal" roof... (PS Musk considers a "normal" roof to be made of slate)

The "affordable" (his words) Model 3 has a standard configuration of about $40k.

I think he's a super interesting guy doing amazing things... but I think he's vastly out of touch with what concepts like "affordable" or "normal" mean to the majority of this country. His "normal" doesn't extend very far outside of silicon valley.

He's more Tony Stark than Iron Man.

The Model 3 starts at $35k [1], which is only slightly above the average price for a new car sold in the US ($34k) [2].

[1] https://www.tesla.com/model3 [2] http://mediaroom.kbb.com/2017-04-03-New-Car-Transaction-Pric...

I watched the roof reveal and Elon made it clear he was comparing to prices of high-end roofing material.

I suppose you could call it thought provoking, but the primary takeaway from that thread for me was to reaffirm why I don't follow many people on Twitter, and why I've grown very reluctant to patiently listen to privileged white people talk to me about the historical and contemporary oppression that people of my ancestry face in this country.

The whole thing comes off so self aggrandizing and baselessly accusatory.

In particular, I enjoyed this person's tweet[0] when challenged for some evidence of Musk's racism. Apparently, the rock solid evidence doesn't even have to do with tunnel boring, infrastructure, or urban planning, but instead with Musk not following any/enough women on Twitter. Truly revelatory stuff right here.


I found the thread interesting and informative up until she drew her conclusion:

Elon Musk doesn't strike me as an innovator when he talks about building tunnels and subways. He strikes me as Robert Moses. Who are these tunnels going to serve? The Latino communities in LA? Or are we just running them straight to the rich neighborhoods?

It's hard for me to believe someone doesn't have an axe to grind when they make statements like this. On what basis does this person claim that Elon Musk bears resemblance to Robert Moses?

This is my problem with many politics-in-tech discussions. People who take politics seriously say, "technology always has political implications." True enough; we do indeed seem to forget that. They stir some history into their argument. Even better. But once they have to perform analysis, free of the rigorous standards of thought you have in e.g. math or science, they start saying baseless things.

I don't see this as baseless to be honest. As someone in the camp of "technology always has political implications", one of the interesting trends I've seen with tech is that most of the benefits go to the rich first. In some ways yes, that makes sense. The problem is when they never transition to the whole population effectively. Take subways, a well-defined technology at this point. Pretty much every city you look at, there's a minority community without proper access because the city sees the cost as not worth it to build the additional line or pay for service. The Orange Line and Roxbury come to mind in Boston, who instead got a talked up bus system to replace a line moved out of a minority community.

When you see a technology like this and think of the benefits, considering who gets those benefits is a big part of the value of the idea practically. To me, it's nothing against the ideas technological merit, academic impressiveness, creative ingenuity, etc. It does reflect what ideas someone like Musk is focused on though, and I don't think bringing it up inherently means they have an axe to grind. I think Elon is doing a ton of good and is one of the few SV bigshots that deserves hype (looks sideways at Peter Thiel), but we should have realistic views on who his projects are exactly helping both short and long term.

I hear what you're saying and actually agree. The somewhat pedantic point I was making earlier was just that the author could've more conservatively written, "here are some possible dangers down this path which we should think carefully about."

(Sorry for replying to a long, substantive comment with a short one; I just don't have anything to add.)

Yeah, that's also not the conclusion I would draw, either. And that's fine: I don't have to agree with the whole thread to get value out of it.

The trick with this kind of thing is separating malicious deliberate exclusion from just trying to finance a project by catering to people who have money to fund it.

Sure it would be very nice and charitable of Musk to make sure that poorer communities are served by tunnels too, but that runs more risk of his already super risky business going bankrupt. In that case nobody, rich or poor, would benefit.

I imagine he'll follow a strategy similar to Tesla where he starts by pursuing the most wealthy markets while his costs are high and as the company refines its technique he'll go down market and become accessible to a broader swath of the population.

The Power Broker is one of my favorite books and I agree that Moses was ultimately a despicable man, who made NYC a much worse place to live to withholding funding for transit while pouring money into road building in a hopeless attempt to deal with the congestion he was causing.

However, I think the tweetstorm misses that it is poor and middle class people who are most hurt today by inadequate transit, and one thing that would have an enormous effect is an order of magnitude drop in tunneling costs.

My other post <https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=14225045> links to a look at why the Second Avenue Subway's $2.2 B per km costs are 20x higher than other cities. A technology that drops tunnelling costs will be great for the poor, and thankfully, I do not believe the news media (with all of its flaws) would ever allow someone like Moses (or Musk) to operate the way he did today.

Very real risk for developing transport infrastructure... Would checks against this kind of malicious intent be on the digging company, or on the city planning departments that determine route alignments, etc.?

(Real question - I don't understand the relationship between technical contractors and cities in this context.)

Every self-driving car video I've seen is set in a place built for cars, not people. Not a coincidence.

This seems like a fairly average Five Minutes of Hate that Twitter users seem to produce all the time.

The only though it provokes in me is, Man, here we are a century later, and the ignorant masses are still letting rich white dudes decide their future for them.

"This white dude is a racist. Elon Musk is white! He must be planning to do the same imaginary thing!"

Not through-provoking; just more verbal diarrhea from a very angry, misguided individual that uses twitter as a platform to spread their dumb ideas.

I think there is nothing more boring than reading a bunch of people who never propose anything point out flaws.

You all sound like Balmer.

This is a CONCEPT!!

Elon is THINKING you all are pointing, laughing and adding no value to the conversation of "What comes next?"

If your idea is "the metro works", a 150 year old system, then this video is not for you.

To the video, I like the concept of combining public and private transportation in the same path.

It also makes sense as a way to directly link far distances. To me, this is a modification of the hyperloop concept. Something more feasible in the shorter term and definitely less risky.

Of course all this depends on the economics and physics of boring becoming cheap and 10x faster. keep thinking Elon.

Earth needs more of your "fantasies". Let the pointers keep pointing.

If that is your idea of value, there exist plenty of scifi writers/artists with concepts like this, except more practical, better thought out, or so on

So perhaps instead of 'pointing' you should take your own advice?

That's really unfair considering the source. This is someone who continually has proved the skeptics wrong. At what point does he earn the benefit of the doubt in your eyes?

Proven what? His main claim of glory, Tesla, still hasn't achieved what he built the company for: making EVs mainstream. Rather than the ecological revolution he pretends it to be (his focus on climate change), it is still nothing but an expensive toy for the wealthy. Not exactly selling at the levels where we could talk about making a change for the planet.

Maybe you're referring to SpaceX in proving skeptics wrong? We have yet to see if that company ever becomes profitable. Reusing rockets is not what made people skeptical as much as pretending it'd make financial sense to do.

Most of his other popular pet projects are even more pie-in-the-sky. Neuralink? That's nothing but talk. Hyperloop? not a single prototype built in the real world, in a real location. OpenAi sounds like what a conspiracy theorist would come up with.

I think this crazy tunnel thing Elon just announced looks horrible, but the moment you claim that Tesla and SpaceX aren't doing anything special is where it becomes pretty obvious that you don't know what you're talking about.

Tesla sells high tech luxury vehicles that, as yet, aren't mainstream, and there are several road bumps to overcome before getting there. To laud Musk's success today to the point of proving success on his future products is premature. He hasn't completed his initial goals -- making electric mainstream and space flight an enterprise.

Not saying it isn't possible or what he has achieved isn't great. Just saying his existing successes don't prove what he's proposing will succeed, since, his new goals are as big or bigger than his initial as-yet-incomplete goals.

> as yet, aren't mainstream

Maybe it takes more than 5 minutes to make all cities capable of powering electrical cars then competing with the existing car market? He's already built a successful product, has successful competitors, prevented the 2000's era proprietary cell phone charger fiasco from happening again. It's a little too late to be skeptical.

I agree. Just saying it isn't evidence for future big plan success. I'm glad some people are optimistic for it. I wonder what will happen to all these goals if / when the next recession hits. But that's more of my cynical view coming in. You keep being you and I'll be me ;-)

> aren't mainstream

Citation needed. I see teslas multiple times daily. In my book that counts as mainstream.

"I think there is nothing more boring than reading a bunch of people who never propose anything point out flaws."

This just isn't a very rational statement.

We need some solar frickin' roadways!

This is just FUD to crowd out practical solutions that compete with his magical car bullshit.

The costs of tunneling are like FAR more expensive than most think. Breaking, excavating, and supporting rock is slow, time and cost heavy, and precarious work. While this is an interesting concept, unless there are serious advances in rock boring techniques (personal opinion: there are none coming) this will never approach fruition. I would suggest anyone interested in further research look into the "Big Dig" of Boston and the staggering costs and challenges it faced.

Good luck, Elon. It'll be another moonshot company if you can pull it off.

That's the entire point of The Boring Company. It's way more expensive than anyone expects. That's the problem they are trying to solve. The entire goal is "serious advances in rock boring techniques".

That may be a lofty goal, but at least the message I got is that it is the one they want to reach.

>> "(personal opinion: there are none coming)"

Former tunnel boring engineer here.

There is a ton of room for innovation around tunnel boring machines built by the major manufacturers (primarily Herrenknecht and Robbins), around reliability, durability, ease of serviceability etc. I cannot emphasize enough how modern TBM's require an unbelievable amount of engineering attention, repair labor, spare parts infrastructure etc, similar to many super-early-stage fragile prototype technologies. Unfortunately TBM's are no longer early stage, but for some reason the technology is frozen at just-good-enough-to-barely-work."

However I don't know if the economics will work out to fix any of these. Here are a couple of the big problems:

* Most TBM's are semi- or fully-customized for a single job. This raises machine costs. It'd be better if there were only a small range of small-medium-large TBM's that work ~everywhere.

* Most TBM's are fully assembled in the factory, smoketested aka turned on to make sure they work, disassembled and shipped to the job, then reassembled and used. This is not efficient, surely we can figure out a better way.

* Most TBM's are entombed aka thrown away at the end of the job, because getting them out of the hole is expensive and difficult.

* Changing the cutterheads is labor intensive and dangerous and requires highly trained very expensive humans, and it's slow. While you change the cutterheads, your billion dollar toy is sitting there doing nothing.

* TBM architecture is highly dependent on geology. A slurry faced TBM that works in mixed soils is a totally different beast from a hard-rock TBM. It would be cool to have one machine that works in many geologies, perhaps with minimal or automated modifications.

* TBM's require lots of care and feeding from a small army of humans. This raises job costs.

* Topside support infrastructure such as slurry plants and ground freezing machinery comes from different vendors, often even from different countries. E.g. it's common to buy your topside slurry plant from the MS company, in France, while your ground freeze vendor might be Tachibana from Japan. Often each subsystem's engineers on site literally don't even speak a common language. Hilarity predictably ensues. Vertical integration would pay huge dividends here.

Ideally Elon can mass-produce TBM's that just work out of the box for most jobs, and that are easier to work on. Then we can laugh him out of town for his stupid "put cars in tunnels" ideas and use his miracle machines to build sensible train tunnels.

Now that's a useful comment.

Here's Crossrail's video explaning how their TBMs work. This gives enough detail that you can get an understanding of what's going on.[1]

There's so much variation in geology. The Seikan tunnel to Hokkaido had huge variations in soil and the project went very slowly. Eurotunnel is mostly through chalk, and went well. The Gotthard Base Tunnel in Switzerland was a long grind through hard rock well above water level. That's a slow process, but was reasonably uniform. SF's BART tunnel, unusually, was built onshore in sections and lowered into a dredged trench. NYC's Water Tunnel #3 was in hard rock, and that project went very slowly.

Many things can go wrong. Hard rock may not be competent rock capable of supporting itself. The Tom Lantos tunnels south of San Francisco were through a small mountain of loose shale. One tunneling project in Japan hit an underground river.

The most advanced underground rail project today is probably the Tokyo-Osaka maglev line.[2] 43 kilometers of this is already operating, and most of the route is in tunnel. Tokyo to Nagoya is scheduled to open in 2027. The connection through to Osaka was scheduled for 2045, but the Government has decided to accelerate the program and get it done sooner. Here's what the ride looks like.[3] 500km/h. Working now.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C5%AB%C5%8D_Shinkansen

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z38JIqGDZVU

[3] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltqp4McM2wY

So they are somewhat similar to the problems Elon tries to solve with rockets. Rockets are not normally reused, which makes them expensive to use.

They are often custom built (at least partly) and thus not mass produced. While we won't see that for rockets any time soon, it believe he managed to bring down the cost of building rockets and continues to do so (he uses his own money after all and does not have the support of every tax-paying citizen like NASA used to during the Apollo missions).

Sure the engineering challenges are probably different for the most part but the economics are the same. Rockets are more expensive then they should be. Boring is also more expensive then it needs to be.

First, I want to say that I'm a _massive_ fan of what Elon Musk is doing with SpaceX.

> he uses his own money after all and does not have the support of every tax-paying citizen like NASA used to during the Apollo missions

This isn't really true. SpaceX, like pretty much all private Spaceflight providers, has received many development contracts from NASA. These are basically NASA giving the company a bucket of money to develop launch capabilities to certain requirements.

SpaceX has _absolutely_ been supported by the US taxpayer, and likely will continue to be. It definitely has been _much_ cheaper for the taxpayer than Apollo, but we haven't gotten a free lunch on this one.

Well, that's true but the only reason spaceX was given the money is because the government wanted to put satalties in orbit. They just figured SpaceX was the cheapest way to get them up their.

They had to prove that they could do it before they saw a dime. The NASA has a project and gets funded without having at least a prove of concept (e.g. A single rocket that can do the job) as long as congress likes it. I'm not saying that this is bad, but this way he earned the money.

Furthermore, unlike the Apollo missions, sending satellites into orbit served a practical purpose. Sure the apollo missions were really cool and have helped science a lot but their practicality was a lot less.

I really wish this was a top-level comment so it could be voted up to the very top. More informed than 99% of this entire comments section. Thank you!

That's a lot of good insight into tunnel boring. Thanks for that.

I know Cincinnati's subway failed because of some bad tunnelling that caused foundations to sink .. well that and the great depression. If they had started earlier or designed it better, Cincinnati could have a Chicago like transit system today. Unfortunately it took them years to get a tram and there are people still trying to shut that down instead of expand it! Unbelievable.

I know in Seattle, many of the tunnels (like to Northgate/UDistrict) have actually been fully bored. The new stations are still not due to open for a few years, mostly because the majority of time isn't spend on the tunnels, but installing track, electrics and building the underground rail stations.

Precisely this. Most people are focusing on the wrong issues, whether it should be tunnelling cars and not Subway trains etc. That is like arguing SpaceX is putting humans on Rocket and not Satellite.

If Elon could make tunnelling 10x faster, requires much less Human labour and reusable, this will dramatically cut down the cost of building SubWay, or other underground Networks. I am not sure if such tech could be used to build like a underground Shopping Mall in Cities. But if we could build a Walk way under every Car Road would be great for urban cities.

Fantastic post, thanks.

I have a naïve question about subterrean _housing_.

With the real estate skyrocketing in some cities, and scarcity of terrain, I wonder why there is not much more underground liveable habitations (for example, near an expensive city center with no space left).

London is seeing a bit of this - people are building massive 3+ story basements under existing properties. http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/24/business/going-underground-lon...

For anyone interested, there are a few Grand Designs episodes featuring underground residential work. Some are quite inventive due to space constraints. Amazing how expensive some of the groundworks can be dealing with weather or underpinning neighbouring properties.

In my city that's where they put parking spots which are even more profitable than housing per square foot. Over $60k a spot.

Even if just having a semi-underground floor with ground level windows for a bit of extra space (gym, etc) for residences.

Very interesting. Your comment should seriously be at the top.

I think this is really just Elon's goal, and the talk and fluffy marketing video are just that. Fluffy marketing and PR for his companies.

It seems to me that there may be room for disruption. Currently every TBM (tunnel boring machine) is completely bespoke and is used for exactly one project and is then dismantled/recycled. They cost hundreds of millions of dollars each. I imagine there are relatively few manufacturers out there building TBMs.

Actually in some ways it bears a resemblance to the spaceflight industry (expensive, custom-made, few players). Coincidence?

Seattle's Bigger Dig is also worth studying: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alaskan_Way_Viaduct_replacemen...

Sending rockets to another solar system would be cheaper than the tunnels depicted in this video. I'm not even kidding.

Where is all that material going to go? There's so many tunnels there you could build a small mountain with it. Maybe he can team up with some sea-steading outfit and build a small continent off the shore of San Francisco.

You'd need three or four orders of magnitude reduction in tunnelling costs to make that anywhere near affordable, and even then you'd still have unbelievably complicated logistical issues. How much concrete do you need for those tunnels? What about ventilation? Safety procedures? Flood control? A single one of those could cost upwards of a billion dollars and I'm not sure there's a lot of cost savings by doing more of them, the complexities don't scale that way.

The more you dig, the more you're likely to hit something expensive you're going to have to pay to fix.

Somehow I think Elon Musk has made it through the middlebrow dismissal phase of this if the concept has made it this far(to include actual digging in SpaceX's parking lot even).

Musk could also be bullshitting to help get funding to create a boring machine that is just twice as good as what we have now. That would be a very profitable company and would reduce subway costs, etc.

Musk's a sales technique to promise the moon (Mars really) and then use the cash to build a revolutionary but realistic company.

SpaceX isn't going to colonize mars, but its putting satellites in orbit.

People said moving phonebooks to the internet was stupid. Then he founded Zip2. People said moving banking to the internet was stupid/insane. Then he founded x.com which merged with and became what we now know as Paypal. People said he couldn't possibly make rockets from scratch that go to space. Then he did it. People also said he wouldn't land rockets on boats. Then he did it. Then they said he would never refly a "launch proven" rocket. Then he did.

As absolutely insane as his goals are, betting against him overall tends to be a losing bet. I'd be careful about what you think SpaceX "isn't" going to do. If it is technologically possible, they will do it. Period.

There's people who will think any issue is stupid, but by no mean did the vast majority of people think those ideas were stupid. I particularly don't recall anyone saying reusable rockets were a bad idea.

And X.Com didn't become Paypal. Paypal became Paypal. Paypal was already developed before the merger and it was not Musk's idea.

I wouldn't be surprised if a 2x or 3x more efficient boring machine is the ultimate product of this and it makes future infrastructure projects much cheaper as a result.

I wouldn't be surprised that for such a niche industry he couldn't make it 20x more efficient. I also wouldn't be surprised if he could only increase efficiency marginally because its a hard problem. But these niche problems often have huge potentials for efficiency gain.

Somehow I think Elon, who's a pretty smart guy, has run out of challenges and is now resorting to trying crazier and crazier things.

Next up: Elon's Space Elevator! Elon's Fusion Reactor! Elon's Teleporter!

Make an underground concrete factory in the tunnel system and use the tunnel material to make concrete to make the tunnels.

(I'm kidding)

Loose dirt off of the coast of SF? That doesn't work so well in an earthquake. Lookup "liquefaction".

If you start the tunnel down far enough, you could be below anything that could be hit. Would that make it less expensive?

You make it sound like all that's down there is uniform layers of perfectly intact rock just waiting to be bored.

No, it's a hellacious mess of rocks of different types, of muck of all kinds, of brittle, water-filled pockets of who knows what, and every inch you dig you find out there's another problem up ahead.

In the case of Seattle they planned, they surveyed, they did test drilling, and they plotted a course that should have avoided everything, yet they still managed to slam into a steel pole that shouldn't have been there. It set their project back months, the machine was trashed and had to be dug up and fixed.

Plus, these tunnels are only part of the package. You need those surface access lifts, and those may well be the most logistically complicated of the whole system. To make this accessible you'll need hundreds of them, potentially thousands, and each one is a mega-project unto itself if you've sunk the tunnel down deep enough to avoid all those hazards you're now digging straight through.

The deeper you go, the more those lift stations cost. The shallower you go the more you'll come into conflict with infrastructure. There's no easy win here.

Thanks for the info. I asked because I didn't know, didn't mean to say that it was a piece of cake or anything like that.

> unless there are serious advances in rock boring techniques

I'm pretty sure Elon Musk doesn't enter a market unless he intends to do just that.

Edit: I got downvoted a bit but it is his MO. He takes things that are expensive and makes them cheaper. For what it's worth though, I do think the tunnels in that video are ridiculous.

And concrete production? And underground hazard detection? And coordination with city infrastructure? And...

You could change...

> And concrete production? And underground hazard detection? And coordination with city infrastructure? And...


> And battery production, and driving hazard detection, and coordinating with the FAA and NASA, and rockets, and...

It's not guaranteed success (not even remotely) but if I had to bet on anyone...

You act like Musk does all the work himself. If he wanted to he could hire the best and brightest in each of those areas and they can work in parallel.

I don't even know if the guy is a good engineer. But I'm pretty sure to have the success he has had he knows how to inspire them.

I think he's gone one step too far on this project. Concrete is something that's necessarily expensive to produce, there's inescapable costs in the production cycle, so while he could probably make it 80% cheaper, he can't make it 99.9% cheaper.

I agree that video goes WAY too far. The tunnels in that video are absurd. I give way better odds of him actually sending people to Mars than building that absurd tunnel system.

But he might succeed at something somewhere in between the tunnel he is boring in his parking lot and the video.

Context: I lived in Boston during much of the Big Dig. Large tunnel projects scare the heck out of me as a tax payer.

If he wants to get into the tunnelling business and start bidding on these "big dig" projects in various cities, I think he'll find some success. His engineering aptitude, his ability to think around problems, that's gotten him to where he is today.

If he retreats from this and builds some kind of pneumatic tube system to transport goods, people, or whatever, he still might have a chance of a win. Those systems have been proposed, and in some cases actually built, and in many cases they've been great ideas.

If he stubbornly insists on pursuing this batshit insane system of tubes he will fail, and he'll fail hard. There is not enough concrete in the world to make that many tunnels.

Maybe he can use something that isn't concrete

Maybe he can. The construction industry has explored a lot of options, but let me tell you something: If there's one group of people that are necessarily conservative about these things it's civil engineers.

A rocket can go to the moon and come back safely, that takes an abundance of caution and significant attention to detail, but it's a fixed-length trip. Civil infrastructure has to exist for decades, or in the case of many American undertakings, well over a century. That requires extreme caution.

If you invented a concrete alternative today it'd take at least twenty years for it to be considered a viable alternative to concrete because long-term studies of the mechanical characteristics of it under a wide variety of conditions will have to be taken out.

Concrete is an extremely complicated material, I know people that have gotten a Ph.D. in aspects of it, and it's very well understood. This hypothetical alternative you're talking about has a lot to measure up to.

>Concrete is something that's necessarily expensive to produce

That's true. But techniques like compressed stabilized earth blocks can reduce the required percentage of concrete from ~30% to 4%.[1] For example, recently a 4% concrete and 8% ash CSEB was shown to be as strong as class 30 concrete.[2] Fly ash can also be used. Obviously considerations like longevity and manufacturability need to be validated, but the strength is there.

Essentially you're mechanically squeezing all the air out of the concrete, thus reducing the cement requirement. Since TBM tunnels are made from precast formed concrete currently, it seems like a natural cost (and CO2) saving improvement.

[1] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/267637559_Effect_Of...

[2] https://www.hindawi.com/journals/je/2016/7940239/

Honestly though these same sentences came up around Teslas too.

And battery production? And crash test safety? And coordination with NHTSA?

People made electric cars before Tesla and they'll make cars after. People made rockets before SpaceX and they'll make them after.

He's cut component costs on the Tesla by maybe 70%. On the SpaceX project it's more like 80% compared to the highest cost competitor. Both of these are huge achievements.

The problem with tunnels is they're not cars, not rockets, not anything like he's ever done before. If he had a functioning Hyperloop system, if he'd proven he can build out infrastructure on a geographic scale and not just product from a factory I'd be more likely to agree with you.

This is a bad idea, a bad project, and a total waste of time.

I really, really hope I get to see you eat your words in 30 years.

I have to struggle to think of a dystopian future any more hellacious and soul-crushing than Musk's vision here. It's just tripling down on the concept of living a life centered around the car. Another step to eliminating all human interaction in the course of your daily life.

If, by some stroke of genius and fluke of luck, this thing does get built it will go down in history as the most absurd thing ever constructed.

Then perhaps a hundred years after it goes bankrupt someone will be drilling down there and hit a tunnel that nobody knew existed and re-discover its brief and absurd history just like Chicago has done with their own boring company: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Tunnel_Company

> It'll be another moonshot company if you can pull it off.

Your phrasing is interesting given that SpaceX announced sending two people around the moon next year.


Anyone know what it's costing Tokyo Mwtro to keep digging tunnels at very large depths? They have great coverage yet they're still digging new lines.

The issue with Tokyo is that the density supports metro expansions.

Per distance costs should be theoretically comparable? (Regulation costs and labor coming to mind as drivers of cost differences)

I was talking about the demand side / use more than the supply side / cost. But after a cursory examination of the statistics, Tokyo doesn't seem to have a measurably greater density by any common metric vs other cities.

So I suppose my above was wrong. I'd guess the more reliable enablers are only sufficient density, coupled with good geology and a cooperating regulatory / permitting structure.

Not only the drilling, but the shoring up and walling of the tunnel. Also, people tend to be opposed to "move fast and break things" if they're likely to get buried under them.

Until you remove the "they" by fully automating the system.

People also tend to object to "move fast and break things" when they, and their very expensive buildings, are on top of said things and get broken as a result.

Point. Although I'd assume the majority of subway routes tend to be built under roads (also bad, but less terrible)?

Not sure what the geology of San Francisco / California tends to be like, but I believe most of the Manhattan skyscrapers are anchored down to the bedrock. Which I'd expect would require cutting and reinforcing vs just "drill on through".

Ultimately you want to put passengers in the tunnel, yes?

From parent comment, I was guessing that the point of greatest risk would be during tunneling / initial bracing? Rather than final static bracing.

I was thinking of the NATM failures: http://www.tunneltalk.com/images/laneCoveCollapse/Ref5-Heath...

(which were during construction, but happened in "finished" sections, I believe. NATM applies a single pass of shotcrete to the cut rock surface)

Elon has stated that he believes it is possible to reduce tunnel creation speeds by 5 to 10 times, and that this is what they will work on doing:


possible to reduce tunnel creation speeds by 5 to 10 times

He's going to involve the government? :|

Maybe one day we could connect the individual pods, and even gasp route these "coupled cars" on rails above ground.

I wonder if anyone has tried that yet?

That would be amazing! I wonder if car manufacturers wouldn't oppose it through some sneaky moves though...

Above ground rail isn't practical in urban areas. The video had silly car tunnels, but in practice, I'm sure the bulk of their business will be subway tunnels.

What? The Chicago L and NYC subways (both of which carry hundreds of millions of riders per year) have many, many miles of either at-grade or above-grade track.

"unless there are serious advances" ...which is precisely what Musk is researching (bottleneck of boring machines): “We’re trying to dramatically increase the tunneling speed,” Musk says. “We want to know what it would take to get to a mile a week? Could it be possible?” See https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2017-02-16/elon-musk...

AFAIK, in many major cities, a major part of the cost of tunnelling is the fact we simply don't know where hundred-year old utilities are.

And, hell, the fact that many cities aren't built on rock (e.g., London, Berlin, Moscow), so even if you can bore through solid rock you're probably not actually that well off: can you also bore through clay and gravel?

The whole process can be fully robotized, and the energy comes from cheap solar. It's not even a moonshot, it will happen. We will do even crazier things than this. In the future we will bore tunnels out of boredom.

Did anyone else notice that cars being lowered leaves a giant fucking hole in the middle of the street?!

This is a marketing fluff video untouched by engineers

I mean, you can easily cover up the hole with a sliding door pretty quickly after dropping, or, as someone else mentioned, raise fences during the process.

This is far from the hardest problem to solve in the video.

I'm just pointing out that the flaw is egregious. PR videos are supposed to give people a view of the future, suspend disbelief for a minute. This just looks like something slapped together by an intern told to "put some future cars in a tunnel"

A damn disappointment for something hyped a while back from Musk himself. He should learn from Hollywood, movie trailers are far more important than the movie itself when public interest is involved.

Except most people will probably not notice that.

This is obviously just a marketing video, but that isn't a very hard problem to solve. The bigger issue is building an enormous underground highway network under an existing city.

I was too busy noticing how there was no contention between the newly raised car leaving the platform and a new car driving into the platform, or the endless line of cars queueing to be raised or lowered, or the amount of time it would take for a car to make it in or out at rush hour, or brain sizzles

Do you really think that no one, not even Elon did notice? I would rather assume, that for this concept video they considered this detail as non-essential and the actual entry points would look quite differently (and safer) than displayed. They most certainly would be different to those "parking spots" shown in the video.

So you raise a fence around it (stored on the sides, underground of course), or slide a roof in (once again, stored below the surface) to prevent anyone from going in even if they wanted to. This doesn't sound like a biggie to me.

The ongoing maintenance of tens of thousands of sliding doors, elevators, and retracting fences sounds like a biggie to me.

Every subway contains a whole bunch of sliding doors that open and close every single stop.

Yes, and they frequently need repair and maintenance.

Now imagine having tens of thousands of subway cars instead of a couple hundred.

There are tens of thousands of teslas out there already with automatic doors.

And (most?) new minivans nowadays. And most cars have power windows as well. And most supermarkets have sliding doors as well. And probably most garages in the suburbs have automatic doors. This is actually run of the mill technology.

The easiest solution is to make it a covered "garage" with doors on both sides then the hole is always covered. But that doesn't look as good on a promotional video.

You didn't see the force field the appeared as the car lowered past the threshold?

uh duh??? Ever heard of a concept? How many concept cars actually get released as the "marketing fluff" that you see in auto shows?

Tesla releases every one they've shown. Or they will have, starting in July. (Though they'll soon have more to show.)

If this is ever built someone will absolutely ghost-ride the whip in the tunnel.

And die.

And lawsuits.

Someone needs to edit the video so you see a pedestrian falling down the shaft and breaking their neck

There's a sidewalk I walk down, it's quite narrow and runs along a shoulderless road with a steady stream of cars whizzing by at 50 miles an hour. I think to myself 'how much more or less dangerous is this than walking along the edge of the Grand Canyon? One misstep and I'm toast. One misstep from one of those cars and I'm toast.'

We have a hardwired respect for heights, but at no time in our evolutionary history did we ever have to deal with the kind of speed cars move at. So we look at a 10 foot deep unprotected hole in the ground and instantly think 'Hey, that's a hazard', but we don't give nearly enough consideration to speed, and as such 2 million people each year who are killed and injured in US motor vehicle accidents, and we just sort of shrug our shoulders.

Reminds me of this image: http://i.imgur.com/mE7uGoA.jpg

Might as well add Judge Judy and a scene in court when the lawsuit happens.

The amount would be way over Judge Judy's limit.


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