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Elon Musk’s Boring Co. Wins Chicago Airport High-Speed Train Bid (bloomberg.com)
361 points by uptown 4 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 416 comments



Chicago already has two rail systems that go in that direction. One, the CTA Blue Line, literally connects O’Hare and the Loop. The other, Metra, goes most of the way to the airport already.

The El (that’s the blue line) already has absurd capacity problems. Chicago airport transit, at both Midway and O’Hare, is already pretty great compared to similarly sized airports: https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/planes-trains-and-taxis...

In conclusion, maybe we should have more trains on the El, express and otherwise, or invest in Metra to get to the airport, instead of betting on an unproven, totally new, single-use kind of transit?


That was somewhat my first thought - "Why not just upgrade the Blue Line to a 4 track system so they can run express trains on it?"

I wouldn't be at all surprised if they could halve the El service's time from the loop to O'Hare by having a train that only has stops at major connection points - Clark & Lake, (maybe) Logan Square, Jefferson Park, Cumberland, and O'Hare.

But, of course, the Blue Line runs down the middle of I-90 between Jefferson Park and Cumberland, so there's probably not really any room to expand to a 4-track system.


Yep, the El’s number of stops contributes greatly. Metra follows it starting Jefferson Park and Mayfair or so, and it gets to downtown a lot faster.

There already are some express trains but they still have more stops than what you’re suggesting.

The El hasn’t kept up with the massive increase in popularity of Wicker Park and Logan Square. Not so huge in absolute numbers but disproportionately people more likely to take transit. Surely CTA has already mined that out of their ridership data.


The El's "express" trains aren't really express. It's just a way to get a train back on schedule if it's been severely delayed for some reason. The system isn't set up for one train to be able to pass another, so it has to go back to regular service once it's back on schedule.


Sure there is... Just take out some of the lanes!


Unironically support this.


> Why not just upgrade the Blue Line to a 4 track system

Is think they are limited by the space available to expand.


True, but they’ve been pretty happy to expand 90 our past 94. Judging by the amount of trains on the blue line even during rush hour and the relatively tiny capacity of the proposed shuttle, we can do a LOT more with the infrastructure we already have though!


The Blue Line is already operating at the electric and signaling capacity of the line. There is no simple/cheap fix so you get the stagnation you see everywhere in transportation everywhere in the nation.

They are currently working on a signaling modernization program, but I don't know the details well enough to know if it will help much. New rolling stock that should offer a bit more capacity also starts arriving around 2020.

I agree it's frustrating to watch. I moved to Chicago in 2004 and my El stop on the Blue Line was pretty lightly trafficked. Now you are lucky to get on the train during rush hour, much less get a seat. As the neighborhoods continue to heat up along the line something has to break at some point, but NYC shows things can get really bad and there is not enough focused rage to get anything done even then.


And it would require huge investment from the city, which this project doesn't require. That said, there are already projects to increase capacity (new cars, more power on the Blue Line), southern expansion of the Red Line and the Belmont Flyover.


Do you believe that it’ll ship and the on-paper cost will be 0? Or that even accounting for operations and externalities it’ll be zero? (I appreciate the city wouldn’t get the profits directly, but I imagine it’ll benefit via taxes. I’m suggesting the externalities won’t be even close.)


This is just the opening of a negotiating window, once we see the plan we can make those calculations. For example, Boring will likely have to rent the Block 37 station from the CTA, bringing in some money (but we have no idea how much yet).


Sincerely asking since I don’t know: when I lived in Chicago there was constant talk of how old and crappy that infrastructure is—how confident are you that pushing it harder when many people think it needs replacing wouldn’t cause problems and endless construction delays?


Probably less than drilling a new tunnel through all of Chicago.


You think drilling new tunnels would cause lots of delays to the existing trains?


The question was about endless construction delays, not limited to existing trains. My understanding of the current plans is they don’t overlap a lot with current rail lines.


How about instead the US as a nation returns to not being cowards about attempting aggressive new efforts at leaping forward on infrastructure.

We should be doing a lot more things like this, rather than basking in our pathetic decades-long stagnation of clinging to barely good enough.

Every American should be angrily protesting the backwards, ancient transport systems the US relies on.

The Fed should be mandated with establishing a $1+ trillion infrastructure development fund, by 'printing' dollars over 20 years to fill the program. We should further leverage Federal agencies like DARPA, corporate R&D, inventors, foreign capabilities, and the vast US university system, to fund and spur radical efforts to build new, experimental infrastructure everywhere.

Today's regressive, conservative approach would have never enabled the US to build the Interstate Highway System. It's time for a radical change, the sooner the better. We must stop tolerating mediocrity by proclaiming that things are good enough as is.


America is sclerotic and timid and doomed to stay that way. The seeds were planted with the "liberty" meme hundreds of years ago. "Taxation is theft" has become a mainstream refrain. There is no trust in government to execute even basic projects, a position advocated even by the government's leader.

You want infrastructure innovation, move to China.



Geez did that building just not have a foundation...? Damn that's shitty engineering


> The Fed should be mandated with establishing a $1+ trillion infrastructure development fund, by 'printing' dollars over 20 years to fill the program.

Or the federal government could spend less money killing brown people on the other side of the world and more money on domestic infrastructure -- give back to the taxpayer (for once) and foment international goodwill (for once) while not increasing the rate of currency devaluation.


That is my frustration with American infrastructure investment. We can never just invest in what exist and what works, on a consistent reliable basis. It always has to be some kind of ego project like this. It’s infurating because we waste so much money and make all of our lives harder for it, but the population at large seem to be suckers for it.


Curious, What are the other 'ego project' examples from the past.


As Elon Musk would say do not underestimate the power of people to be inspired by new technology.


This is why Musk is so dangerous to cities. His future fantasy projects muddle the conversation and distract people away from proven technologies that can help people today.


Just like the way cars and freeways distracted perfectly fine horse carriages and country routes?


Cars, as great as they are, did disrupt and significantly negatively impact cities. They remain incredibly dangerous and kill and injure shockingly large amounts of people every year.

The widespread adoption of automobile technology without much thought in the 20th century should be a cautionary lesson for tech enthusiasts.


Sure will see you in your horse carriage soon.


I mean Chicago is literally investing nothing in this. So there's nothing they're betting here. Their "bet" basically is that they don't need to spend any more money on transit. The worst case is they're in exactly the same situation they are now.


Exactly. This tunneling project and improving current infrastructure aren't mutually exclusive.


No risk no reward


I don't get it. Aren't there lots of companies around the world that already have this equipment and have done this kind of work for years? Drilling holes for trains is nothing new. What does Musk's company offer that is different? Is it just branding and marketing to make drilling holes the next big thing?

Is there really that much margin in drilling tunnels that they can just undercut competition while using the same equipment and technology and still make money?


I see a lot of parallels between Elon and Isambard Kingdom Brunel's careers.

Brunel was an excellent marketeer who consistently over-promised and under delivered. He also drove technology forward more than anyone else of his generation.

When Brunel was making the Great Western Railway, he decided to survey the route himself because he felt the existing surveyors were slow, expensive and crap. He did this on horseback. During the process he concluded that the horses he was hiring were slow, expensive and crap, so he started his own horse hire company. Somehow, despite this insanity, we got a railway, and it was good.

Disclaimer: it's twenty years since I read a Brunel biography. I might have some of the details a bit wrong.


...then again, his Atmospheric Railway was a glorious expensive failure. An evacuated tube carried a piston pushed by the atmospheric pressure behind it (hence the name). The piston had a connecting rod to attach a carriage. Quiet, clean, lovely.

Pumping houses along the route made vacuum for each leg. It was a great idea, but materials science wasn't up to it: the seals kept cracking in the sea air and rats ate the leather skirt that kept vacuum round the piston rod. It was out of service a lot, and was soon abandoned for traditional railway.

I don't want Musk's implementation of a spitball idea that's been going round for ages to be like that, but I can't help wondering...


From Wikipedia.. "It is often asserted among enthusiasts' groups that the primary cause of the failure of the leather flap was rats, attracted to the tallow, gnawing at it. Although rats are said to have been drawn into the traction pipe in the early days, there was no reference to this at the crisis meeting described above."


Also on that project, he designed a brick arch bridge that everyone thought was too low profile to stay up. It's still there: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maidenhead_Railway_Bridge


> When Brunel was making the Great Western Railway, he decided to survey the route himself because he felt the existing surveyors were slow, expensive and crap. He did this on horseback. During the process he concluded that the horses he was hiring were slow, expensive and crap, so he started his own horse hire company. Somehow, despite this insanity...

Was he wrong on those counts?


I think it is hard to tell. I guess he just had more drive and energy than everyone he depended on, so replacing them with himself was often a win. I like to imagine the metal struggle he went through we he decided the animal feed he was getting was sub-standard and thought about designing a steam powered tractor and buying a field: too much latency, gotta survey this god-damn route today.


*Brunel


Oh dear. Very sorry. Now fixed. Thanks.


What's interesting is dozens of message on HackerNews and nobody links to any type of studies or evaluation of Elon's work, just repeating is selling point that because the tunnel is smaller, it will be cheaper. Public transportation and cost is a very well studied topic internationally (outside the US) and we can't just assume that for a fact. Actually, boring is actually not the most expensive part of building a subway. Even this idea of saving 10x the amount of money, actually just works when you compare with other US subway construction projects. Close to 10x saving has already been achieved in Spain and in South Korea, and surprise, it didn't need some new fancy technology.

Great article here: https://pedestrianobservations.com/2017/12/15/elon-musks-ide... Basically


I used to be an Elon Musk fan until I realized I fell for the advertisement.

After reading the 48 laws of power, Elon became crystal clear.

SpaceX was his PR scheme to gain fame, he promised the moon, he shows off his toys. He was a cult leader.

Since his reddit topic(with fake upvotes) saying "Tesla quietly delivers solar panels to PR", I woke up. It was fake and it was advertising.

Since I've actually looked into Tesla quality(not good) and got increasingly skeptical of his businesses(not good).

Makes me sick to know I fall for advertisement like anyone else, but it was a good wakeup call. Wonder what else I believe in...


He has revolutionized payload delivery to space w/t significant cost savings, pushed most of the major auto manufacturers into converting their product lines mostly/entirely to electric, and is slowly building out models of what battery storage grid-load-balancing looks like all over the world (which will be essential as we transition to irregular flow clean energy sources). How you can possibly say these are PR stunts is so far beyond me I wonder if we inhabit the same planet.


Tesla has pushed the needle but the automotive was trending towards electric before Tesla. How much energy have the on grid batteries saved?

It isn't an outlandish thing to say that those companies deliver a disproportionate amount of hype to results as other companies in the same space.


A few companies had built extremely compromised electric vehicles (Leaf, e-Golf, etc) with anemic range. No one built a 200-300 mile range electric sedan with the best in-class performance and best safety features seen in an auto to-date. (speaking of crash safety, not Autopilot).

Asking how much energy the on-grid batteries have saved is a non-sequitur. That's like asking how much energy Tesla automobiles have saved. Probably very little, but that is irrelevant in the grand scheme. The short-term (1-2 yr) question of energy saved doesn't matter. The long-term (10-50) question of "is this pushing the entire industry in a better direction" is the important question. I think it is Yes for on-grid battery storage, as it is Yes for Tesla automobiles, as it is Yes for reusable rockets for space transit. Must take the long view.


There's certainly a middle ground, however. You can appreciate the ground-breaking work done at SpaceX and the fact that Tesla helped drive the demand for practical, desirable electric vehicles without falling victim to hype machine. Being skeptical of say, the Tesla autopilot claims should not make you deny the real accomplishments done by his companies.


What SpaceX did and does for Space Explpration is far beyond what anybody has even dreamed since the 80s. He has revolutionised the Space industry.

You can listen to everybody from austronauts, CEO of companies (Tory Bruno), people from NASA and CNES, startup space companies and so on. Pretty much all of the agree on how great these achivments are.

But sure, its just a cult and non of theae people understand anything about the space industry.

Go to r/spacex and tell me its "fake".

It seem the issue here is that you went to far in one direction and now you backlashed in the other.


> What SpaceX did and does for Space Explpration is far beyond what anybody has even dreamed since the 80s

I wouldn't quite go that far. When it comes to space, there are lots of very grand dreams (e.g. see https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCZFipeZtQM5CKUjx6grh54g ), some far from theoretical (e.g. the various studies from the British Interplanetary Society), and some even reaching the prototype stage (nice examples at https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC726J5A0LLFRxQ0SZqr2mYQ/vid... ).

In comparison SpaceX's approach is actually quite conservative (multi-stage, cylindrical, unmanned, liquid fueled rocket). The big difference being that they actually got them flying commercial missions! Plus it turns out that their main advantage (effective reusability) is such a big win that (a) it allowed a startup to leapfrog established military/industrial players and (b) forces everyone to treat reusability as a priority (e.g. adding it to roadmaps, or justifying why they can't).

I'm excited to see how their projects like BFR go, but SpaceX's biggest contribution might turn out to be shaking up the industry enough to start trying out ideas which were previously shelved as being too radical.


Musk got America interested in space and electric power. I'll forgive whatever handwaving he needed to do to get that done.


But he HAS put solar panels and powerwalls in Puerto Rico, how is that fake?


no


Well, The Boring Company is claiming they've improved the speed of a traditional boring machine by 10x. So, maybe they are making the argument the improved speed makes larger projects more practical?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Boring_Company#Boring_mach...


If the Boring company could produce a reliable boring machine that dug at 10x speed, the boring machine would far far more valuable than these tunnels. It makes me think that the claims are exaggerated or misleading.


It makes me think that the claims are exaggerated or misleading.

Which is why they need to get their first paid job so they can prove it. They can make lots of bold claims for their own tunnel, but if they prove it's true on a real job, then their technology suddenly becomes much more valuable.

That said, I'm skeptical too.


The history of the telegraph is entertaining. It was so good, investors thought Morse was just flim-flam man. Morse finally wised up, and devised a demonstration that could not be faked.

He set up a line between Washington and Baltimore, and transmitted the news from a convention in Baltimore. It arrived in Washington 64 minutes before the train bearing the news did, thus proving it worked.

Within 2 years, there was 2,000 miles strung, within 4 years, 12,000 miles. People had discovered they could make money by using the telegraph. People who received news faster made money.


Note he didn't fund it himself, the US Government gave him $30K:

In March 1843, the US Congress appropriated $30,000 to Samuel Morse to lay a telegraph line from Washington, D.C. to Baltimore, Maryland, along the right-of-way of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.

$30K in 1843 was around $1M in today's money. I wonder if that $30K paid for the whole project or if Morse had to kick in some of his own.

Without environmental and employee protection laws, or permitting concerns, maybe it would be doable for under $1M today. Since copper is so expensive, I thought the cost of wire would dominate the expenses, but 5000 ft of uninsulated 16 gauge wire sells for $400 on ebay, so 45 miles worth of a pair of wires would cost around $40K


And low latency trading is still alive and kicking.


"Which is why they need to get their first paid job so they can prove it."

Shouldn't the boring company prove that it works before they get offered the job?


Is that necessary? If it turns out that their machine isn't 10 times faster than others', that's just their own problem.


Not sure. Did finishing in 1/10th time part of the contract? If not, then it we can think of the '10 times faster' claim to be bullshit which was only meant to win the bid...


There's no advantage to promising more than needed to get the contract, and there's a big disadvantage in that projects universally tend to take too long, whether the tech is 10x better or not.


Based on other transit tunneling projects, even if it just came in on time and on budget, that'd be a huge win.


They're making tunnels in LA. Presumably some results from that were used as part of the proposal.


Isn't it prohibitively expensive to make a tunnel yourself?


Musk has posted video from the tunnel they made themselves.


They're not being paid for the job so why shouldn't they be allowed to try?


> The project is unusual in that no government funding is involved, forcing the winner to finance the entire construction cost itself.

Don't think this is paid.


> If the Boring company could produce a reliable boring machine that dug at 10x speed, the boring machine would far far more valuable than these tunnels.

My understanding is that the way he gets most of the way to 10x is to dramatically decrease tunnel size and to have the machine dig and create the tunnel simultaneously. The second part may be valuable to other tunnel boring companies, but most municipal projects tend to use quite large tunnels, where Musk's machines wouldn't be a viable solution.


I think there's another, more prosaic aspect to consider. It's possible that when Musk did his research, he found that the reasons tunnel boring were unreasonably slow weren't actually technical in nature. But actually coming right out and accusing an entire industry of essentially graft wouldn't be good PR. So he alludes to it by giving BS reasons.


I’d assume musk would just say it.

And now that you mention it, this is going to be the other major issue with the boring company - unions, people and regulations.


Well, we're already seeing Musk's approach to human resources in Tesla. And the regulatory issue he probably thinks he can get around simply by being useful enough to the government that they'd be willing to give him political cover.


Say what you will about unions, or even automotive unions, but the crap the unions pull when it comes to tunneling projects is insane.

We probably need unions to help stop wage stagnation. Which is why it sucks that unions in the US are so terrible.


> the crap the unions pull when it comes to tunneling projects is insane.

That tells me all I need to know about why The Boring Company exists.


As far as I know, there are already boring machines that assemble the tunnel as they go. I recall seeing video of one being operated, though perhaps it was a prototype? Perhaps those manufacturers' machines don't operate at the speed of Elon's but if that's the distinguishing factor then it's not really much of a distinguishing factor.

EDIT: Theptip below found the URL I could not, for boring machines that assemble the tunnel while operating: https://www.herrenknecht.com/en/products/core-products/tunne...


Why would an order of magnitude improvement not be a distinguishing factor?


Because there is nothing in the design of the Boring Company that shows any significant or magnitude improvement over the existing ones. https://pedestrianobservations.com/2017/12/15/elon-musks-ide...


Throughout the centuries there were men who took first steps down new roads armed with nothing but their own vision. Their goals differed, but they all had this in common: that the step was first, the road new, the vision unborrowed, and the response they received — hatred. The great creators — the thinkers, the artists, the scientists, the inventors — stood alone against the men of their time. Every great new thought was opposed. Every great new invention was denounced. The first motor was considered foolish. The airplane was considered impossible. The power loom was considered vicious. Anesthesia was considered sinful. But the men of unborrowed vision went ahead. They fought, they suffered and they paid. But they won.


The second part has been available for decades. I visited the prep site of a TBM doing exactly that back in the 90s, and there was nothing new about it back then.


The tunnel diameter is much smaller. Like 1890s-built London Underground diameter tunnels.

The standard with US subway construction today is massive tunnels with huge, expensive stations. Seems to be a design choice from Musk.


I think both of the latter approaches make sense in the context of their era. With classical train / subway-style approaches, it made sense to have a bigger upfront cost, so that you could have fewer (but larger) trains. On the other hand, with today's relatively reliable small-scale electric vehicles and automated driving, I can certainly see lots of smaller pods being perfectly viable.

That said, I don't have any particular insight into the field itself; however I do have a respect for Musk's ability to rephrase the problem just slightly (e.g. landing boosters to save costs) and to turn the whole economics of the situation on its head.


> On the other hand, with today's relatively reliable small-scale electric vehicles and automated driving, I can certainly see lots of smaller pods being perfectly viable.

How? These pods take 16 people, and per the article, only one can set off every 30 seconds. This limits capacity to 2k people per hour (even assuming that it manages the promised numbers, and historically Musk stuff doesn't), which is far less than one would expect of a decent bus rapid transport line, never mind an underground train.


With a 10x increase in tunnel-boring speed, it may be possible to build several parallel tunnels, all serving the same route. In this case, each individual tunnel would be launching 16 people every 30 seconds.

Parallelzation applied to subways.


Or, for 10% more cost, you could build a regular subway and move the same amount of people in much less space. You even reduce the truly expensive part of subways (i.e., stations), since you only have to have a mezzanine that covers two tracks rather than 20 tracks.


Think about it from a redundancy standpoint.

Single big trains get delayed due to any number of reasons - something on the tracks, broke-down train, etc...

With 10 smaller tunnels, they can just be rerouted.


Not really. If the other tunnels are essentially full up with other trains, then there's no space to squeeze in the trains from the blocked line. Furthermore, you'd have to have crossovers in place to enable that kind of routing, and those underground switching crossovers are not going to come cheap.


Or just build longer pods. Or link them together like a train. Can still be narrow.


small pods introduce the insanity of the highway system into spaces meant for trains. perhaps there are some improvements to be made through automation and scheduling of lanes but it seems possible pods would prove to be significantly less efficient when compared to the traditional use of lanes with large vessels that hundreds of people fit into


I guess it depends on just what size vehicles we're talking about. I agree that having tiny one or few person pods would probably not be efficient. But a "10-person cars on rails", type of scenario might not be as insane as you make it sound. Since it neatly side-steps the most complex parts of automated driving, we could have the reality of a well orchestrated fleet of smaller units. These could link up for efficiency on demand (maybe even while in motion), then separate again if they are operating in a complex web. Having a cheaper way of making tunnels feeds back again into the loop. Without doing any rigorous analysis, I can't comment much, but I wouldn't dismiss it offhand.


So, it would presumably be like loading small trams at a ski area--if they had lots of intermediate stops rather than maybe just one. Yes, those work. Everyone is typically also able-bodied enough to be skiing and you have attendants supervising the loading and unloading.


It's definitely a design choice.

Generally, every city has big transportation hubs - airports, train stations and so on - located at strategic places within the city. Musk's idea is to ditch these hubs and replace them with more frequent and much smaller stations which get you closer to your destination. On the other side if they don't have to move millions of people to the same hub but rather move a much smaller number of people, they can afford to dig smaller tunnels and stations which are way more easy and fast to build.

For instance, in London every time they build a new transportation hub, it takes years. These stations are massive, they literally dig in every direction for several meters.

I don't know if it's going to work but surely there's thinking behind it.

Edit: typo


I think if this tech proves to somehow work (aka actually reduce expenses by at least 10x) the real play becomes PtP tunnels that don't follow the traditional "heavy rail" subway routes, but connect to those stations for transfer.

This also could really only be the long time play anyways - it's the only reason using autonomous battery powered model X's as the "cars" makes much sense.

I think it's an interesting idea, Musk obviously likes his sci-fi. He is basically attempting to implement packet switching for human mass transport vs. the current circuit switching we have.


> On the other side if they don't have to move millions of people to the same hub but rather move a much smaller number of people, they can afford to dig smaller tunnels and stations which are way more easy and fast to build.

The actual cost of tunneling itself is generally fairly cheap--somewhere around $50 million / mile. The expensive part is the stations. You can probably save money without having to build mezzanines, but the lower utilization of the tunnel and the greater number of vertical access shafts needed (not to mention the challenges inherent in moving through that very crowded portion of real estate) is probably going to cause cost blowouts compared to subways. Particularly if you design the tunnels to move cars, not people (SOV cars being about the worst use of space possible).


Usually you rate a boring machine by volume/hour so diameter is irrelevant. If Musk is ignoring that to say they are faster, it's snake-oil.


He has specifically said they are making smaller tunnels to dig faster and will use transportation tech that fits in smaller tunnels to take advantage of this efficiency. I think many industries could benefit from this kind of thinking. "Because that's how we've always done it" is a great way to stagnate


I think the grandparent is nitpicking the "faster" claim here. To make your comment more specifically address that, Musk isn't claiming to have technology that can bore 10x more volume than competitors. He's reframing the market needs from cubic volume bored to distance bored.


But that really isn't the metric you actually care about. The only things that matter is distance tunneled per time and that the resulting tunnel can handle your transport needs. Musks believe is that the transport needs can be handled by smaller diameter tunnels than everyone else is boring. At least if they also built the "trains" and casually looking at subway networks that very well might be true.


A smaller tunnel can transport the same volume/time as a larger tunnel, if the transport is correspondingly faster.


Why would it be? If you can run fast in a small tunnel you can run just as fast in a big one. The size of a tunnel is a factor of what you want to do with it and what you want to run through it. TBM manufacturers can scale down to 3ft if that's what you need.


Train speed is not the limiting factor. Most tunnels have very low utilization in terms of % of time with trains in them.

If you have 4x as many trains but don't load and unload on the same platform you could easily get by with 1/4th as many passengers per train.


Fun fact: a subway trunk line is more frequently physically occupied by a train than a highway lane is by a car.

The factors that limit train frequency are station dwell times and switching time. A subway line can generally hit 26TPH, and the top speed of most subways is usually about 70mph, with average speeds generally being in the realm of 30mph. Making trains faster actually reduces capacity; a HSR that goes 220mph is considered to have a capacity of around 4-6TPH. You can also improve throughput by cutting out all branching; Moscow gets about 40TPH as a result, which is about the feasible limit of rail systems.


I’ve been to Moscow twice in the early 2000s. The metro system there is still my mental benchmark for a metro system. The scale of everything is impressive. The number of people moved as well as the grand scale art. Say what you will about the soviet system, but you have to give them style points for one hell of a metro.


I am going to call BS on your train occupancy.

30 MPH which is low = 5280 * 30 = 158,400 feet per hour / 26 TPH = 6092 feet per train. Actual subway trains are 600 feet or less long ~= 10% utilization. At 30MPH cars don't keep 126 feet between each other. Bump that to 60MPH and the trains are at 5% or less utilization and again cars don't keep 266 feet between each other even if they should. And again this is very long 600 feet subway trains most are significantly shorter than that.

Further trains have a stopping distance @ 62MPH of 820 ft with (0.15 g) deceleration. High speed trains can get an extra 0.3 m/s2 deceleration which could also be added to normal subway trains but would be an emergency situation as they knock people over.

PS: At 60MPH the theoretical limit is over 220 trains per hour assuming all trains can stop before hitting the train in front of them. But you can only approach that with full automation and multiple lines for acceleration.


There are 40 trains on the Victoria line at peak, each about 125m in length, which gives a total length of 5km. The length of the line is about 21km, so that's 5 / (2 * 21) = 12% occupancy.


Trains travel in each direction so 20 trains per direction or 6%, unless this is entirely single tracked.

We can also exclude any car stopped at a station, as you can have multiple cars unloading at the same station or have a train bypass a station without making a wider tunnel.


I included both directions in my calculation, hence the denominator being (2 * 21km). And for the Underground there are no passing trains or multiple trains unloading at a station, platforms are generally only a few metres longer than the train itself.


The Victoria Line in London runs at 36 trains per hour at peak, one every 100 seconds. Station dwell times are already a limiting factor at this point, and having separate load/unload platforms would provide only a small decrease in dwell time as you'd need to open the unload doors before the loading doors to prevent people just exiting the wrong side.


You can have multiple platforms and send trains to each not just separate load/unload platforms. This was very common with passenger trains as boarding times could extend for long periods. Even when it was a single line for loading and unloading they would normally have a bypass line to avoid the station.


> You can have multiple platforms and send trains to each not just separate load/unload platforms.

Sure, but we're talking about subway networks underneath major metropolises, and adding extra tunnels and platforms is basically as expensive as digging a whole new line - when it is even possible due to space or geological constraints.


> Why would it be?

Building a new network would not be constrained by existing implementations. For example, you can't just drive the trains faster on existing systems. Everything would have to be redesigned/upgraded to do it - the motors, tracks, track bed, brakes, suspension, safety equipment, schedules, signals, everything.


> Building a new network would not be constrained by existing implementations.

That doesn't answer the question. Why would the transport be "correspondingly faster" in a smaller tunnel than a bigger one, given both are new digs?


Because capacity needs are not infinite.

If the units/hour capacity can be met with a smaller tunnel running fast little pods on a single track, then boring out a larger tunnel that could fit perhaps three tracks would be redundant.

And that assumes that the pods could run on adjacent open tracks like railcars, whereas the intended design may require a smaller tunnel bore that is close to the size of each pod.


Air resistance is greater in smaller tunnels though, and aerodynamic drag is the most significant factor on speed when considering underground high-speed trains. This is one of the reasons for building tunnels significantly larger than the size of the train.


That’s assuming the current system speeds are being met - as I recall the New York subways are run at lower and lower speeds than capacity to avoid other problems and accidents.


If you can still get people through the smaller tunnel you have dug more quickly (because you're using smaller, low-profile vehicles on 'skates') then it's not snake-oil, it's smart.


Don't forget also being able to handle evacuations and emergency situations. A lot of tunnel design isn't just getting a train through, it's getting people out.


According to boring company: Many of the speed improvements come from the design of the system. Smaller tunnels, automatic stone placement, removal of dirt.


None of that is new. The TBM that drilled The Tube’s crosstown could do that as well.


Building rockets wasn’t new, landing rockets wasn’t new, grid fins weren’t new. But now we have an 80% reusable orbital launch system and he’s working hard on the other 20%.

Likewise with the Boring Company. Of course they still need to prove themselves, but the factors that work in their favour in tunnel construction are the same ones that favoured SpaceX.

ULA and the established rocket manufacturers made big profits off the fact that launching rockets is stupidly expensive. That meant their profit margins ended up being stupidly large quantities of money. Musk’s contention on big tunnelling projects is that big construction companies have similar incentives not to reduce the costs of tunnelling. However Musk as an outsider is free to innovate and develop the engineering and technology because he doesn’t have big fat profits he’s already tied to.


> automatic stone placement, removal of dirt.

All these features already exists in current and older machines. And the rocket market is different from the boring market.


>>And the rocket market is different from the boring market.

Actually its not. TBMs are crazy expensive as of now. Any major disruption in price will be a total game changer for public transit systems.


> But now we have an 80% reusable orbital launch system and he’s working hard on the other 20%.

Has the reused items proven reliable and profitable in he long run, which was the only reason others were not doing the same...


Others weren't doing the same, because they very specifically claimed that doing it at all was flat out technically impossible, so they didn't even consider looking at the economics.


>because they very specifically claimed that doing it at all was flat out technically impossible

They claimed what was technically impossible?


Landing and reusing the first stage booster. This is why Vulcan is designed to only recover the engines, because recovering the whole booster while still launching a useful payload was thought to be impossible. It was thought that the stresses of re-entry would be too severe without excessive weight increases and that it would not be possible to retain enough fuel for a propulsive landing.


>It was thought that..

Do you have a citation for that?


Yes, its called 'action throughout history'.

These things have existed for a century now. The fact that no one tried and it took a person with money from early dot com start up exit means others goofed up enormously.

Anybody could have tried. They didn't. Pulling down other peoples achievements because one didn't try the obvious themselves already reeks of envy.


In other words, it is just something that you think. mm. Thought so.


It will be, it's just not ready for sale yet. "Currently under development as of May 2018." The company still needs revenue, so they bid projects, which is probably the best way to test new technology, I mean, other than drilling random tunnels in the desert.


How valuable is the Boring machine and how valuable are the tunnels? What's the quantitative measure you're using?


A boring machine that could dig 10x as quickly (and hold all other desirable characteristics equal) would save tens of billion of dollars in infrastructure projects around the world and substantially increase the financial viability of tunneling globally. It would totally transform the sector, much more profitability and meaningfully than these tunnels will change transportation.


apple makes a chip that's 2x faster than their previous model, why are they putting it in their own phone when they could sell it to other phone manufacturers?


Boring speed is not the main limiting factor for those projects. Unforseen blockages that take a long time to resolve (see the SR-99 tunnel) are what makes them impractical. I doubt that any reallistic speedup they might be able to achieve will offset that significantly.


The 99 tunnel blockage would have been resolved far faster if the machine had such high tech features as the reverse gear[1] which would have alleviated the need to spend 2 years digging a massive pit to get repair it when it ran into a steel pipe.

[1] I have heard that the machine supported a reverse gear but Seattle elected not to include its use in the contract because it added a few million in cost. :/ I don’t know if this is actually true though.


From what I've heard from a relative of mine who works in the industry, there were also a few features requested for that machine which haven't been included in another boring machine of nearly that size, so very experimental. They also said that Hitachi Zosen ultimately won the bid because all the other competing companies bowed out because they considered it to be far too risky, and it seems that they were ultimately right in doing so.


How would you reverse a tunnel boring machine? Sure, you can take part of it out the back but the cutting head is usually one piece and is at least the size of the outer diameter of the tunnel. You couldn’t fit it back through - you’d only be able to go as far as you hadn’t lined, which is usually only about a metre long at most...


Detacheable and separable head? Don’t honestly know. I’d heard that it was an option for Bertha that was declined. Maybe there was lots of misinformation because I heard similar things several places.


Its not just the boring speed itself. Its also the cost of equipment. Public transit and home prices in a lot of countries could be lower if cheaper Tunnel boring machines would be available.

For too long that part has been fiefdom of big earth mover companies.


> Boring speed is not the main limiting factor for those projects.

It's equivalent to measuring software developer productivity in lines of code.


I don't think they're claiming they have already achieved this speedup. They're claiming some speedup, plus the possibility of achieving more.

Also, as a sibling comment mentions, the 10x claim is pretty disingenuous in the first place.


As it turns out, tunnel boring isn't rate limited by boring speed, but by the relocation of shit that needs to be bored through like underground utility conduits.

Has Elon's company figured that problem out?


Yes. They will bore below all utilities.


Beyond the environment.


BoreX or SpaceBore will dig down into the void where it will be unencumbered by the physics of laws. Using Thielenite, it can tap into a liberterranean powersauce that can transform any argument using continental selfishness ... hup. Someone please fix this.


Buzzword poetry :)


Well played.

Antithenes is referring to this classic Clarke and Dawe bit: https://youtu.be/3m5qxZm_JqM


Found the Aussie.


In this case most of the route will be underneath a freeway or the existing subway, so probably not too much to worry about there.


> anticipated to be ten times faster than conventional boring machines

Anticipated. And this is probably top speed in perfect London clay, not average speed in average conditions.

EDIT: Oh, and it's also by reducing the size of the tunnel by 4?


While I like what The Boring Company is doing, and I personally aspire to one day found a multimillion dollar company based on a joke, I've always found this claim to be a bit disingenuous.

E.g. https://www.quora.com/Why-does-Elon-Musk-think-he-can-bore-5...

A large part of the "10x faster" claim is from a 4x speedup from drilling a 4x smaller hole. That's not a boring machine improvement, anyone could drill such a hole with an existing machine. (I've heard the claim "10x cheaper" too). If you make a smaller tunnel with lower throughput than a subway, then you need more of them, so it's not clear to me that you can claim a speed improvement just because you can do one of your tunnels faster. Indeed if you more than halve the throughput by halving the tunnel cross-sectional area, and halving the boring time, then you've made the whole system more time consuming to create.

Another claim is that current tunnel boring machines (TBMs) stop for 50% of the time, to allow the supports to be put in; this will give them another 2x speedup. However a cursory Google search (I'm not an expert in this field) shows that the technology for continuous TBMs already exists [1]. That reference contains a very in-depth video if you want to see exactly how these things work, it's very cool. This machine can apparently do 2.8-12.5m diameter holes, which covers the diameter that TBC is targeting. (As I've fact-checked this point further, the Boring Company's website makes the more restricted claim [2] that "current soft-soil machines tunnel for 50% of the time"; maybe the overly broad claim came from misquotes in the press and not from TBC themselves. I haven't found any soft-soil continuous TBMs yet).

Finally Musk claims that current TBMs are operating well below the thermodynamic maximum, and so he can get another 3x speed boost. On this point I'm not qualified to debate; it seems unlikely that there's that much gain left on the table (surely the TBM companies that currently exist have spent a lot of money plucking the low-hanging fruit of efficiency gains?) but Musk has sent rockets into space so perhaps he knows what he's talking about here.

[1]: https://www.herrenknecht.com/en/products/core-products/tunne... [2]: https://www.boringcompany.com/faq/


The thing is, traditional tunneling projects in the US are incredibly expensive and wasteful. Someone approaching it from a fresh perspective (or even a, say, European perspective) can easily improve on it.

What we need is more people like Elon. It's not magic, many others can do what he does, though few do (maybe because of social pressure? Look at all the crap Elon gets). There's a lot you can do just by having energy and willingness to try things and being unsatisfied with the crappy status quo.


"anticipated to be ten times faster" rather than actually done.


That is their goal, they are not there jet.


Ask the MTA - several billion to dig a tunnel that should cost a couple hundred million. Hundreds of no-work jobs nobody can explain, with unions dictating that there needs to be 25 people there operating a machine that takes 8 people to operate.

Just cut out the corruption and you've saved hundreds of millions.

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/nyregion/new-york-subway-...


”The project is unusual in that no government funding is involved, forcing the winner to finance the entire construction cost itself. That limited interest from bidders”

Musk is willing to take more risk in business than others. That likely made his offer a lot lower than that of the competition.

Also note that this is a tender for a combination of building, financing, and running that line, with strict limits on what ‘runnig’ entails:

”In its request for proposals, the city set a goal of connecting downtown with the airport in 20 minutes or less, with service every 15 minutes for the majority of the day. It also requested that fares be below the current rates for taxis and ride-share trips”


As in article:

"The project is unusual in that no government funding is involved, forcing the winner to finance the entire construction cost itself. That limited interest from bidders..."


As I understand it, the Boring Company's strategy is to dig smaller tunnels. Since the volume of earth that must be moved scales with the square of the tunnel radius[1], a tunnel that is half as wide only requires a fourth of the dirt to be moved.

I believe this accounts for most of their estimated speed/cost advantage - dig thinner tunnels and move less dirt. They also seem to be coupling that with more continuous tunneling and less labor.

As far as I know, they're doing this with existing tunnel boring machines, just used differently.

Volume = pi * radius^2 * length


Aren't tunnels the size that they are to allow evacuation during emergencies and or to lower the pressure wave forming in front of a fast moving train (i.e. reduce drag)?


Don't you need wide tunnels to fit normal trains, let alone high speed trains, because they operate on a higher gauge? I know in London the new Crossrail tunnels have been deliberately made a lot wider than the existing Underground tunnels, because that allows normal trains to run through it. The Underground trains are narrow-gauge light-rail.


Not just Crossrail, even the new tube lines, such as the Northern Line Extension to Battersea are dug much wider than the old tunnels they connect up to. Obviously they carry the same trains as the rest of the line.

The narrowness of the old tunnels is a constant hurdle to improving the tube.


Indeed, wider tunnels make maintenance much easier, and also allow evacuation of the train via the regular side doors rather than through the cab door.


> The Underground trains are narrow-gauge light-rail.

No, they're standard gauge heavy rail; in some places the track is shared with ordinary passenger trains. The older tunnels just have very tight clearance.

You may mean the structure gauge, which is the clearance for tunnels, platforms and so on. That is normal-rail for Crossrail.


You need wide tunnels to reduce aerodynamic drag on the trains.


The innovation claims to be that they’re drilling smaller holes. We’ve always been able to cheaply drill low diameter tunnels but we haven’t been able to use them for anything but aqueducts. The idea is that using little electric sleds they can make a transit tunnel using aqueduct-sized tunnels.


How come someone didn't come up with the idea of smaller trains (sleds) before? London tube is fairly small in diameter.


They did. Modern safety standards make them uneconomic (you're required to provide a safe evacuation route for disabled people). It's a regulatory arbitrage just like hyperloop (if you make a train line to car safety standards you will have much higher capacity than a train line that follows train safety standards, who knew?)


This won't have anything like the capacity of a train line.

Even if they do get their quoted 30 second headways and manage to cram 16 people into a car, and they run 20 hours a day like they're claiming, that's only 38,400 trips per day. Realistically it would probably more like a third of that. The Red Line alone averages 250,000 trips per day.


Uh, how is that going to get permission to run, though? Regulators are past the "wait for a tragedy then say we told you so" thing.


Firstly most of the London Underground was built cut-and-cover which is no longer practical in modern cities. Secondly, this will be much smaller than even the Tube. Crossrail’s tunnels will be about 6 meters, most existing are more like 4. BoringCo is talking about something like 2 meters. Note that a 2m tunnel requires excavating 4x less earth than a 4m tunnel and 9x less than a 6m tunnel.

Most modern tunnels built for existing transit systems are built to fit existing rolling stock, so the idea of smaller tunnels gets ruled out early on. In the past, smaller tunnels were used. In fact, one of the most extensive small tunnel transit networks was in Chicago: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_Tunnel_Company


> Firstly most of the London Underground was built cut-and-cover

The small-diameter tunnels we're talking about were built with a tunnel shield, which is the hand-operated predecessor to the TBM.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_London_Undergro...


Most of the London Underground is above ground.

Of that underground, I Elise the majority is the deep tube bored lines (pic, jubilee, bakerloo, central, northern) rather than pretty much just the circle that's cut and cover.


> Most of the London Underground is above ground.

Technically true, it's 45% that's underground, which includes 32km of cut-and-cover lines and 150km of tunnels out of the 402km total.


Elon Musk has effective control of a public company in which he has a minority stake. He already sold one failing business to Tesla's shareowners (SolarCity). Why not do it again?


Salty


Other companies probably had more realistic cost and service projections. Or maybe this is a sick marketing move by Rahm and in a year they'll pick some well-established contractor.


SpaceX was completely unrealistic. Like we in the aerospace industry thought it was a joke and sat smugly with their string of spectacular failures in the mid '00s. My friend at NASA JSC launch operations especially. Now, he does launch ops at SpaceX.


The sector before solely consisted of a few government agencies. He showed that a private company can operate successfully in that space, which many doubted before. That he can be cheaper is then not much of a surprise, government agencies have little incentive to be as efficient as possible.

Tunnels are different, it's already done solely by private companies and there is some competition. Beating a Swiss company will be harder than a EU or US government agency.


> The sector before solely consisted of a few government agencies.

Not at all. This seems to be a common misconception. NASA, the USAF and the Navy have never built a launcher themselves.

The US Army did, in the late 40s and 50s.


ULA wa s private but government supported. They coild have competet in the international launch market but largly didnt.

While tunneps are private, not many pivate companies come up with new transportation systems.


I don't know a lot about SpaceX but I think I read somewhere he wanted to buy a rocket, and the price given to him was insane, so he looked up how to make a rocket and figured he could do it for less than the cost of buying one, and then after reducing costs decided it also needed to be reusable.


That's more or less what happened. The supplier of the rockets were Russian and they basically screwed with him. And now, SpaceX.


If you can't beat them?


It's the same logic behind the medias fawning admiration of Boring Co's putting a roofers torch in a nerf-gun housing. Which is to say, none, there is no logic, it's pure unalloyed hype and worship.


Musk isn't selling a better TBM. He's selling an entirely new transit system. Well, an entirely new transit system that sounds very much like personal rapid transit and shares most of the disadvantages with PRT and adds a few of its own (such as focusing on supporting cars).

If Musk were selling better tunnel boring, what you would see is attempts to subcontract on major infrastructure projects. This bid is for an express "rail" system to O'Hare from the Loop, and the intent on Chicago's part is to make The Boring Company suffer all the risk of construction and possibly even pay for the entire thing (Chicago did previously have a construction plan for an express rail to O'Hare, but it was nixed due to cost overruns).


Musk has improved the process and the speed a lot. You should watch his recent interview:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ofRm13SbP5g



They are able to recoup some of the costs by using the waste material to make bricks on-site. They could give the bricks away for free and it would still work out cheaper (as trucking waste away is extremely expensive). Anyone could obviously do this, but Boring Company currently has the pipeline set up to do it.

They use an electric train to move the waste away underground. This comes with many benefits - including eliminating the need to drill ventilation shafts for workers (which cost time and money).

If you're not receiving federal funding for the project, the cost is pretty important. The Boring Company can likely do things cheaper than anyone else.

Raw drilling speed isn't the only area where innovation is occurring. I'm not sure if their biggest optimization (cross-section area) applies here, because the type of vehicles in the tunnels is a factor in that vision.


I think Musks main idea is that everyone else is drilling tunnels with larger diameter than necessary and that drilling scales badly with tunnel diameter. Also he probably thinks that SpaceX material tech and brunt force can make it faster.


And no one before thought of that? The reason tunnels have become larger over past decades is because of additional requirements (safety, electricity, larger rolling stock). That small tunnels are easier and faster is known at least since the 1890 when much of the London underground (deep underground, not cut and cover) was built.


I don't know about thinking. A lot of people thought about landing orbital rocket stages, during the last 70 years of rocket technology. Yet it's only been done by SpaceX a startup everyone laughed at with the argument that obviously the existing players would have done it if it were feasible.


And as anyone who's been in the London underground and is more than 5ft tall can attest, it's also very uncomfortable. Only place where I had to bend to enter and exit a subway car, only place were I could comfortably stand was the center alley, and I'm hardly tall.


That's why the Boring company vehicles are more like cars and you'd enter them while on the surface from which they'd use an elevator to get underground. Also they wouldn't block the rail while waiting at a station. Subways are pretty efficient systems but that doesn't mean they are anywhere close to the most efficient system, especially considering they were invented during a time where it would be unthinkable to dynamically compute optimized schedules. When the London underground was built you'd need a room full of people working many hours to come up with a workable scheduling.


> Subways are pretty efficient systems but that doesn't mean they are anywhere close to the most efficient system, especially considering they were invented during a time where it would be unthinkable to dynamically compute optimized schedules.

Personal rapid transit systems, which is basically what Loop is and sounds like what you're proposing, have been proposed several times and even built in a few places (Morgantown's is perhaps the most notable, at least in the US). They just haven't shown themselves to be very capable.

Subways are probably the most efficient system possible. They're a 1-D system, with transfers between separate 1-D system. When there's no conflicts between different lines (i.e., everything is grade-separated), you can dedicate most of the space to the actual trains themselves and the safety buffers for moving trains to stop. As you move to more complex systems, now you need to have extra gaps that other trains on other lines can merge into, which reduces scheduling flexibility. In other words, subways are much simpler, and it turns that simple systems are often the most efficient in practice. (If you want to see an example of what can go wrong even with computerized scheduling of dynamic routing, look at Denver's baggage system).


I think the way it works is that the company that bids the least takes the project. By law. Also I think before you bid you have to get through the requirements. So if they had the cheapest offer, Chicago city has to take them.


maybe they haven't yet got unions in their work.


I hate this so much.

First, nobody who's lived in Chicago for more than about thirty minutes can possibly believe that this will end up being free to the city. At some point, somehow, we're going to pay.

Second, we already have a perfectly fine train to O'Hare! This is an incredibly marginal improvement, and only benefiting a group that already has plenty of options. The existing train systems are focused entirely on an outdated model of exclusively bringing people to and from downtown. And huge swathes of the city don't even get that.


The blue line is slow, crowded, loud, frequently requires delay-inducing maintenance, and is often very dirty and smelly. The article says “40 minutes,” but that’s the absolute best you could hope for. You have to plan at least 1:15 minutes for the blue line from the loop if you want to be confident you won’t be late.

A 20 minute direct trip on a modern train would radically improve every aspect of getting between the airport and the city, and would be a welcome support as the city’s ancient trains continue to deteriorate.


> The blue line is slow, crowded, loud, frequently requires delay-inducing maintenance, and is often very dirty and smelly.

The times I've traveled to Chicago, I don't mind taking the train. Most of these things either don't bother me or are roughly comparable to most other mass transit systems of the same size and distance.

But holy cow the sound. Loud is an understatement - it is likely the loudest train I've ever ridden. Once you hit those tunnels the wheel squealing is positively ear splitting, to the point I've started bringing earplugs with me when I know I'm going to be riding that line into town. I can't imagine the kind of hearing damage being done to people who ride that line frequently or people who work on it.

It would be nice if they could find a way to reduce the volume.


I don't really see the point of an express train to the airport. Who's in a rush to get to the airport where you already have to get there very early anyway and do a lot of waiting?


In some parts of the world, a short flight is supposedly just as convenient as hopping on the bus or train. Hop over to the next city, the next state.

At least where I live, a two hour flight becomes a six to seven hour ordeal, with ninety minutes for security etc, ninety for travel to and from each airport, ultimately turning what is really not that long a flight into a full day of traveling.

I understand the dream of getting to & from the airport in a speedy timeframe.


People who don't go early and wait around.


New trains are difficult because of right-of-way - everything's built up by now, no room on the surface. Boring a tunnel can be a way out. Why all the resistance? If this one works out, Chicago may get their 'huge swathes' on a workable underground transit system.


I'm sure there are civil engineering issues I haven't thought of, but it seems like there would be a lot less tunnel to bore if they take the existing line that already goes from downtown to O'Hare and just convert it from being partially underground to being completely underground.


how do you do that without service interruptions?


You don't.

Don't worry, blue line people are used to it.


> Second, we already have a perfectly fine train to O'Hare!

People who don't like or use transit love to talk about trains to the airport. It reveals a lot about how they view transit. To wit: it's a novelty, for special situations, for when you couldn't otherwise use your car to get where you're going.

It's not real transportation, in other words. It's a shuttle for the exceptions in your life.


You’re not the only one to note this phenomenon. Airports in general aren’t the biggest generators of trips.

I’ve watched the process unfold in Seattle; the light rail opened first with service connecting the airport to downtown. During this period actual ridership was fairly small. Then they opened the second phase which connects downtown through a major neighborhood to University of Washington. Over night, ridership jumped massively.

I’m not opposed to airport rail per se, but there are generally much, much better places to build rail to and from.

Caveats about Seattle’s airport link: Building to the airport first did in some sense prioritize service to poorer neighborhoods in the Rainier Valley. That’s good-ish, but was made less good by making it a surface train, and cutting local bus service which often better served the local needs of those communities.


But that jump in ridership is also lots of people heading to/from the airport. I live in Ballard and twice in the past year I have ridden cross town to the UW station and then rode the light rail to the airport. Lots cheaper than an Uber. I noticed that a lot of people also had the same idea, quite a few people ride the train to the airport from the north.


Certainly connecting light rail to other destinations has also yielded improvements to airport ridership. But that doesn't change that downtown to airport, by itself, was a relative ghost town. We already had a major destination (downtown) connecting to the airport. That tells me that thing on the other end (the airport) just wasn't a very major destination.

Bellevue, West Seattle, and Ballard links can't happen soon enough. I suspect each of those will also generate far more ridership than the downtown-to-airport link as well.


>twice in the past year I have ridden cross town to the UW station and then rode the light rail to the airport.

Right. But...twice in one year. You're making my point.


Why would anyone expect it to be free? Of course they'll charge fares. It important to remember that CTA fares don't cover the full cost of services, it also gets money from taxpayers. And building a new line would most likely involve an appropriation or maybe issuing bonds that get paid back over decades. For this, the city won't have to put out any money of its own, nor take any risk.

I am curious how they'll deal with the new line siphoning off revenue from the existing service. I assume that they'll negotiate this (maybe a share of revenue?), what the price will be, routing, etc.


Yeah, of course there will be fares for riders. I meant tax revenue that the city could be spending on other things.

I see that they're claiming there's no risk for the city, and that is a very nice claim. It's also a naïve one.


>Second, we already have a perfectly fine train to O'Hare!

I wouldn't say that it's perfectly fine. The Blue Line to O'Hare has become notorious for it's overcrowding. I think the goal is to reduce some of that congestion to O'Hare and get people to stay at hotels in the city. I'm not convinced that it's worth it though.


Crowding exists on the blue line because there's not enough power to run more cars to support the increase in rush-hour ridership in the neighborhoods of Logan Square, Bucktown, Wicker Park and Nobel Square. Outside of rush hour, it's not that bad. If the Blue Line could run 5mph faster, and run an extra car or two, that'd make a huge dent in that congestion.


Yes, and there is a project to increase power in progress. With the upcoming O'Hare expansion and increased TOD development along the Blue Line this is could very well help mitigate future overcrowding at minimal cost to the city.


I'd argue that for the red line as well. Especially for rush hour. Anecdotal but I've always gotten a seat while traveling to O'Hare (Mon & Thurs 8am-ish).


That's because most people are going in the other direction at that time :). Fortunately, most flights aren't at like 7 pm though.


Elon taking advantage of the government?

Say it aint so!

I dont think he can stay around without exploiting crony capitalism, his businesses have failed.

EDIT: Was forced out of paypal, spaceX is reliant on taxes, Tesla isnt profitable, SolarCity wasnt profitable and was bought by tesla(which outrages anyone who knows anything about corruption and stock ownership) and Boring is reliant on taxes.


> spaceX is reliant on taxes

How is that an argument? There's plenty of companies that service only governments, and as such are entirely reliant on taxes. Sounds like a perfectly real source of profit.

> Boring is reliant on taxes.

TBC is self-funded and has been all this time. This is literally the first commercial thing TBC is building, and even this they're financing themselves. So this is simply untrue.

> Tesla isnt profitable

I'll give you this. I'm curious if he'll be able to make it profitable like he's promising now.


SpaceX is not reliant on taxes. That is a simple lie.


Bold words for a private company that lives off NASA.


Again. That is simply false. The waste majority of their flights are not for the government and they do not depend on the government contracts to keep them going.

Also they are offering their services to NASA cheaper then all competition (domestic and global) by as much as 50%. NASA itself admitted that they can not do it cheaper then commercial partners.

So what you problem?


> we already have a perfectly fine train to O'Hare

I wouldn't call that perfect. It takes at least an hour from the loop to O'Hare on a good day.

In comparison, the Stockholm Arlanda airport is 5 miles further from Stockholm Central than O'Hare is to the Loop, and it takes the Arlanda Express high speed train 20 minutes to get there.


The Shanghai Pudong maglev is a couple miles longer than the train to O'Hare, and it takes just over 8 minutes. Well, except during rush hour, when it takes 7.5 minutes!


That is fantastic. I am always amazed by the devotion many East Asian countries have placed in high-speed public transport, and it saddens me that the "developed" western countries are being left behind very quickly both in speed and quality of public transport, especially rail (and its variations).


The key is putting tax money where your mouth is, prioritizing projects with high impact over projects that cater to the voter base that you need to get reelected, and using eminent domain to get the best route against the interest of some individual people.

It's a two-way street. People like to look at it and be amazed, while most wouldn't be prepared to follow through on it given the drawbacks and their own principles of how governments should work.


A little OT but what is it called when a rail system is setup purely to ferry people to and from the heart of the city?

Philadelphia is the same way. New York on the other hand is more of a spaghetti mess. I wonder if that interconnection does things for the city too, like encourage growth in more areas.


> New York on the other hand is more of a spaghetti mess.

Not really. Look at the map again. Everything flows through Manhattan. The entire system is setup to take you to Manhattan. If you want to go from the Bronx to Queens or Brooklyn, you go through Manhattan.

There's really only one line for which this isn't true: the G from Queens to Brooklyn.

Lines like the M [0] that could fairly easily have been designed as a full circle, are actually U-shaped, because it's really about funneling people in and out of Manhattan.

[0] https://i.imgur.com/yK4JtoG.png


Ah that's true. I haven't really ventured farther out from Manhattan than the G. Lots more city out there.


Radial?

London is a bit like this as well, most of the trains that come in from Outer London are commuter trains that go to a ring of termini around the centre, then you have to change onto the Underground.

They're trying to tackle it at the moment by setting up new lines that go through the centre, but start and end far out regionally, so to go north to south you don't have to interchange from one terminus to another. Thameslink and Crossrail are both part of this concept. The model comes from Paris, which has the RER network, separate from the subway.


There's probably a more jargony, urbanist term, but I would generally just say "hub and spoke".


The loop system isn't about purely shuttling people to and from the heart of the city. Look up a bit on how it works.


Sounds like the transportation model being considered could have entrypoints along the way, while still being nonstop for each individual pod.


> Second, we already have a perfectly fine train to O'Hare!

No way man. I used to commute from cumberland stop to downtown, I would be physically exhausted by the time I got to my stop 1 hr later. 1 hr on CTA is very different from 1 hr on metra, the seats are so cramped, you cannot open your laptop, constant pee smell, so many stop-starts take a toll on your body. Current CTA cars don't allow for people travelling to ohare with even one suitcase, there is no place to put your suitcase.

If the commute was 12 minutes, I can imagine so many people with families will move out of the city to enjoy more space out northwest. I would definitely consider moving out near ohare if commute was 12 minutes to downtown. I can only imagine this will bring down rents/ housing prices in the city. I will go downtown to enjoy an evening if the commute was only 12 mins. This is a game changer in my book not ' marginal improvement'.


Well hopefully no more than 2000 people do that during commuting hours because there's not enough capacity here. Not to mention that they'd have to get to O'Hare.


Yes you are right. But thats a differnt argument than what I was responding to 'we have CTA that works, don't increase my tax'


> 'we have CTA that works, don't increase my tax'

I'm sorry if that's how I came across, it's definitely not my feeling. I think the CTA works in that it's a system we should be investing much more in. And taxes should probably go up. I just don't want that money going to private enterprise, especially one run by someone who by all accounts does not believe in society.


Not sure why my comment was downvoted :\


Detroit's Mayor Mike Duggan wants a subway to run from the airport to downtown. He said he's waiting for Boring Co's project to finish in LA so he can check with the mayor to see if it's worthwhile.

https://www.detroitnews.com/story/news/local/detroit-city/20...

Meanwhile Chicago's mayor, Rahm Emmanuel, just slipped ahead of him in line ;<).


I've heard some people cynically suggest that stalling public transportation projects is the true objective of the Boring Company, similar in motivation to the General Motors streetcar conspiracy. But I'm pretty skeptical of this since Tesla sells luxury cars; public transit seems unlikely to threaten their business.


I don't think Musk's goal is to destroy public transit, but things like the hyperloop have been used as a bludgeon to attack high speed rail initiatives. [1]

(https://www.investors.com/politics/editorials/hyperloop-deve...)


It may not be his goal but he has certainly spoken of his dislike of public transit.


I agree with him. Public transport doesn't scale well, doesn't completely replace individual transport and is uncomfortable for everyone. Optimal (not the current system) individual transportation is much better.


Public transport scales much better than private transport. The single lane for buses in the Lincoln Tunnel carries more people across the Hudson River than all the other road crossings combined. The NEC tunnels outpaces even that.

A single rail line at 26 trains/hour can carry around 20-25,000 people per hour. A highway traffic line carries about 2,000 cars per hour, or 2,000 people per hour if it's SOV. Personal rapid transit systems have been demonstrated to carry about 7,000 people per hour.

The only way to scale transit to highly dense areas is to minimize the amount of space each person has to themselves. SOV cars are horribly, horribly inefficient uses of space; standing-room-only subway cars are very efficient uses of space.


Please read the rest of my comments here. You're talking about a different idea of individual transport than me.

The problem is that you can't use public transport for cargo, for disabled people, for luxury rides, etc - there are many more use cases. Another problem is time - the bigger area and the more people your bus line has to serve, the less efficient it is for your customers.

There are better ideas than to minimize space (comfort AND usability) per person. E.g. optimizing your route in a way that you go from point A to point B as directly as possible, utilizing buses and shuttles on the way, taking people that need it. Bus lines are just like this, but fixed to specific pickup points, which would definitely remain existing, but the traffic around it would get optimized as well.

Why? Because with growing population, there are more and more people that need to go individually because of time constraints, comfort requirementa, disability or cargo. My solution supports your approach, just extends it to all vehicles on the road.


> The problem is that you can't use public transport for ... for disabled people

Wait what, why not? If anything, public transport is the sole means of transport for many people with disabilities. I'm not going to claim that all public transport is fully accessible to those with physical disabilities, but every new transport project fully accommodates the needs of those with disabilities, and existing ones are gradually retrofitted as they are refurbished and upgraded.

To give you an example in the UK, specifically London;

* All buses and trams are wheelchair accessible, with audio and visual announcements of routes and stops.

* Some parts of the tube network are completely step free. All trains have audio announcements, most also have visual. A map of current accessibility can be seen at [0]. Every time a station is upgraded or refurbished, it is made step-free.

* Many heavy rail stations have step-free access to the platforms, and staff can deploy a ramp to enable wheelchair users to board and alight. At some newer stations, level boarding is available.

So sure, public transport today is not 100% universally accessible to those with physical disabilities, although other disabilities are better catered for. However, in the context of new public transport projects and surface public transport there's no doubt - public transport is much more accessible than other forms of transport and is an absolute lifeline for those who have either temporary or chronic disabilities.

0: http://content.tfl.gov.uk/step-free-tube-guide.pdf


What about harder disabilities? What about multiple disabled people in one vehicle (Prague public transport can handle only up to 2 at a time, and their space is combined with space for child strollers and standing people)? What to do when the vehicle is full of standing people? What if the bus stop is too far away either at origin or at destination, or if you need to change vehicles during the route? Have you ever tried it, have you seen how much physical effort it requires?

And let me correct you: the majority of disabled people with more serious disabilities sit at home because going outside and getting to the bus stop is too hard for them.


People with more serious disabilities can use "Dial-a-Ride", since Transport for London recognize that road transport is more suited to the final 0.0001% of the public.

https://tfl.gov.uk/modes/dial-a-ride/


And the rest? How do I go around buying food for a family of 5 for a week?


Delivery. Although it's a fairly new concept with US grocery stores, supermarkets in the UK have offered delivery to your door (or even a place of choosing inside your house/apartment etc!) for over a decade. I just place my order online, pick a 1-hour timeslot between 7AM and 11PM that i'd like it delivered (any day of the week) and it magically arrives.

If anything, it's even more convenient than going in person. I'm not spending ages having to drive to the supermarket, trudge round picking up everything, going through the checkout, loading up the car, driving back etc. I can place the order any time, from anywhere and it arrives when I want it to.


> Public transport doesn't scale well

Much better than individual transport. Just compare the space taken up by a bus with 40 seats, with 20 individual cars (I'm generously assuming an average two persons per car).

> doesn't completely replace individual transport

That was never the intention of public transport. It aims to supply the majority of rides.

> is uncomfortable for everyone.

Aaah, I get it. You're from the US.


> Aaah, I get it. You're from the US.

I was born in a smaller city in the Czech Republic and now I live in Prague, Czech Republic, a capital city (±2.8m people in the metro area) with advanced and well functioning public transport that I use regularly. And while today it functions well enough, it has many shortcomings, especially problems connected to more people coming into the city (the metro population has doubled over last 30 years).

> That was never the intention of public transport. It aims to supply the majority of rides.

Yes, and the problem is that it won't, because it doesn't scale well, because it has so few use cases for so many people and is used out of necessity, not desire.

> Much better than individual transport. Just compare the space taken up by a bus with 40 seats, with 20 individual cars (I'm generously assuming an average two persons per car).

I never said that I agree with the current state of things. I actually despise it.

I'm in favor of a decentralized self-managed system of individual self-driving vehicles where usage of a road would cost money per time unit. Sharing rides would be encouraged and parking unused vehicles on the street would be expensive - carsharing and carpooling would be the best option.

Even buses could (and most certainly would) give shared rides, solving the inefficiency you've described. The difference is that this system would be much more flexible.


If usage of the road cost money per time unit, the incentive for whoever is getting that money is that roads become less effective, not more. Wouldn't distance traveled be better? That way ineffective traffic engineering would lead to jams that would mean less money made.


My idea is that no one will be getting this money, the road would be owned by an autonomous organisation and maintained automatically, thus completely eliminating the human factor. The same autonomous organisation would optimize routes, and optionally even announce free places in shared vehicles.


The system described in the link is limited to 2000 passengers per hour, even assuming that Musk's claim of a departure up to once per 30 seconds comes true (hint; it will not). That is less than a decent BRT route, never mind a proper underground train. This system scales far, far, far worse than modern public transport.


I agree, I was not talking about this specific transport system being better.


Well, either you compare optimal public transport vs optimal individual transportation, or you compare current public transport vs current individual transportation. And current individual transportation doesn't scale at all. Just observe how much city space is wasted on individual transportation (e.g. large streets through cities, parking spots etc.), and how further that can grow...


I'm comparing optimal public transport against optimal individual transport. The problem is that it never will be a solution for everyone, and additionally, the public transport system you're imagining can be integrated into the individual transport system I'm talking about (see my other comments here) - and IMO it's better to do the more integrated, future-proof and optimal solution. Public transport as it is now can never satisfy all people, and making it optimal means moving towards more individual means of transportation.

Thinking about it now, it seems like the distinction of public vs private/individual transport will become less and less important - and that's what we should encourage. Let everyone choose the best option for them - given the prerequisites I talked about in my other comment, the market could take over from there. I'm 100% positive that buses would not cease to exist, just operate more efficiently.


There's certainly a grain a truth to that cynicism, as the hyperloop has been used to try to stifle less exotic transportation projects multiple times already.

Tesla has an interest in keeping the governmental investments in automobile infrastructure going strong. It's really an enormous subsidizing that's been going on since the 50s that more than anything else has shaped the way we work and live.

PR plays an important role here. And even if, worst case, that's all the Hyperloop and Boring Co turns out to be, the bang for the buck will be incredible. You have to give them that. It's not a coincidence we're talking about them right now.


It's obvious that Elon Musk's true motive for the Boring Company is to build underground habitats on Mars.


The goal of making humanity multiplanetary is what drives him and is the reason for Tesla, SpaceX, Boring, and things to come.


If we'll need that flamethrower in space I don't want part of it. I've seen how those movies end.


Have you seen how far the flamethrower shoots? I would consider it a glamorous BBQ-starter, but fairly useless in a fight against anything bigger or faster than a rabbit.


That's not obvious to me. It seems very plausible that Musk talks a lot about Mars to give himself a solid support base of science enthusiasts, many of whom work in technical fields and have salaries that make them a valuable demographic.


People imagination is sometimes beyond me. The guy is clearly a space nerd since he was a kid. He loved video games and sience like many of us.

He has also spent 100s of millions of his own many to realize his dreams. But sure, its all a synic ploy to get the support of people on reddit and hacker news.


> But I'm pretty skeptical of this since Tesla sells luxury cars; public transit seems unlikely to threaten their business.

Tesla has always been clear that their growth plan is to continue to move down-market from the high end to the mainstream, and they've acted in accord with that. Public transit does than that arc.


I don't think public transportation was threat to Tesla at any point. Would families stop buying cars and prefer public transportation over their own car? Some may but the majority of them are still going to use their own cars.


I'm not sure if you realise there are many world cities where you don't need a car.

I think great public transit is extremely threatening to car ownership, especially when zoning changes as a result of public transit.


In Hong Kong, which is one of the densest cities on earth and probably the world capital of public transit, many families (at least those who can afford to) still prefer to use cars to get around.

It's just easier - until car sharing is functionally seamless and available more-or-less instantly, that will continue to be the case.


There are apparently ~500,000 private vehicles in Hong Kong (population 7.5 million). While I'm sure there are plenty of rich families doing that (perhaps partially as a status thing), it's not the norm.

Apparently Tesla isn't having much luck selling its cars there anymore anyway:

https://qz.com/1024886/nobody-in-hong-kong-wants-a-teslanasd... https://www.ft.com/content/2b8eb480-0a45-11e8-839d-41ca06376...


I live in Hong Kong. In a city this small and dense (and where a residential parking space can cost several hundreds of thousands of dollars), 500,000 private vehicles is a huge number.


Actually I misread https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transport_in_Hong_Kong#Private... and that's the number of licensed vehicles. Maybe a substantial portion are taxis/delivery trucks/etc.


But only one car per 14 people. I don't have the numbers for the US but I'd guess it's somewhere closer to one car per 2-3 people. Advances in public transport and ridesharing could lower demand for cars significantly. Sure, families and many others will still want to have cars but even if demand just decreases by 10-20% that's a huge number and could kill 1-2 car manufacturers.


As crazy as that might sound to you, that is in fact not unusual in places with good public transit.


Do families with babies and young children prefer public transport over cars in these places?


No reason why not. I see prams on public transit in Sydney all the time.

Depending on the age of the children they can also take public transport on their own, so can the drunk, elderly, and disabled.

(Kids are so overprotected in this age - freedom to travel on their own on bicycles or public transport is great!)

These people may not be able to drive cars. No, they can't get a self-driving car trip for $1.50 yet. When they can, we won't have enough road space anyway (one 8-carriage Sydney train carries 1200 people, that's a long line of cars!)

I really like what Citymapper is doing - augmenting buses with modern tech, similar to Uber Pool but coming from the other direction: https://medium.com/citymapper/good-bus-part-1-3-77d65e6f8ce3


To an extent, yes. Basically you have three possibilities: a) daycare is close to home, b) daycare is close to work, c) daycare is in random place.

Of these, b) is the least common, but for these people public transport works well. From our previous house, we did this, I took both kids (5 and 2) by bus with a jogging stroller to and from daycare every day. This was approx. 15 minutes faster than going by car, due to dense traffic and very limited parking spaces. Now we live close enough that we bicycle instead.a


I mean if you asked them, they might prefer a helicopter ride or a flying car, but they certainly do use buses and trains. Subway stations without elevators or escalators are not ideal for strollers though.


None of the people in my gf's family in singapore has ever owned a car or a driver's license.


Yes, even here in a rural area with good public transport. Not just us as parents, but our 2-year old loves going by train or bus.


yes


Yes.


> Would families stop buying cars and prefer public transportation over their own car?

There's indication that that's happening to some extent where I live (Dublin); number of people commuting into the city by car has dropped recently. More families can get by on one car, or no cars, than could before.


Detroit can probably handle its demand for airport-downtown travel with a bus lane on one of its many freeways, if the freeways are even congested enough to warrant that...

In fact, bus lanes on freeways would probably be a better solution for most of The Boring Company's applications...


Buses on dedicated lanes have found to be cheaper and as fast as subways in some cities. But they're not as prestigious and it's harder to ensure that the next government won't destroy the system by opening it up for other vehicles.

Trains make sense for longer distances (more efficient) but in cities, buses work as well and can be used more flexibly.


That's not entirely what public transport companies have found. Busses don't scale as well as using entire trains. I have seen a bus route replaced by a tram, because they had to send double-length busses at every few minutes. Which in practice meant that you would see two or three of those busses arrive at the same time. A well-planned public transport system will use a mix of busses of diverse sizes in conjunction with trains/trams for trunk routes.


The big problem with fully segregated bus lanes vs subways is that they have a lower peak capacity. However, this Boring company thing has a peak described capacity of only 2k/hour, lower than even a BRT/segregated lane bus system. Real subways have far higher capacities, obviously.


There are reasons for trains over buses (like increased capacity and lower dwell time), but neither of those are important to the system that Musk is envisioning.


Detroit’s connection between airport and downtown is a complete disaster compared to either Chicago airport. A high speed rail link would make a ton more sense there.

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