On Dec. 10th, the Elon Musk-masterminded Loop will officially open in Los Angeles. Musk himself took to Twitter last month to announce the opening date, as well as to offer free rides the following day (Dec. 11th). What is officially being opened is a two-mile test tunnel along 120th St. in Hawthorne, a suburb of Los Angeles. Hawthorne is located near Los Angeles airport, and eventually the completed tunnel will service riders from downtown LA to LAX.
The current test tunnel is in Hawthorne, Calif., a suburb of Los Angeles. (Image credit: The Boring Company)
The Boring Company, the company Musk created to construct tunnels for the Loop and Hyperloop, has been in charge of the dig site since the Hawthorne City Council approved the plan last year. The tunnel is an extension to the existing tunnel entrance located across the street from Musk’s SpaceX headquarters. The Boring Company notes that construction of the tunnel will be undetectable to the neighborhood because of its tunnel depth, which is expected to reach 44 ft below ground and run beneath underground utilities.
The electric skate will be able to transport a single vehicle or eight to 16 passengers for mass transit. (Image credit: The Boring Company)
Once the tunnel is complete, the prototype electric skate will be used to travel the tunnel. The Boring Company claims the skate traveling the tunnel will be able to reach a top speed of 155 mph. Part of the plan would involve connecting houses to the tunnel via an elevator. The company purchased a private residence to build an indoor elevator shaft which will lower the cars with an attached electric skate into the tunnel for transport. According to Boring’s website, an electric skate can carry a single passenger car, or between eight and 16 passengers for mass-transit purposes.
The Boring Company hopes to connect people’s homes to the tunnel via built-in elevators. (Image credit: The Boring Company)
The city council of Hawthorne has come under criticism for fast-tracking the plan. Typically, prior to beginning, a construction company would be required to conduct a formal environmental review. The Boring Company’s plan was allowed to begin digging without any review having been done. Two local groups, the Brentwood Residents Coalition and the Sunset Coalition, have filed a lawsuit against the city for attempting to exempt the tunnel from review. The Boring Company plans to complete a formal review once the entire system is complete.
Elon Musk plans to modify current tunnel boring machines to operate more efficiently and turn muck waste into repurposed bricks. (Image credit: The Boring Company)
When Musk unveiled his plans to the city of LA, he promised to use innovative methods and different policies to help lower the construction and operating costs of the Loop. He claims that by making the tunnels narrower and by tweaking current tunnel digging technology, through automation, modifying current tunnel-boring machines, and turning the muck into repurposed bricks for resale, he can lower the cost by a factor of 10 and speed up the boring process by a factor of 15.
However, much of this has yet to be proven. For example, repurposing muck for bricks sounds like an interesting plan, but bricks that are potentially contaminated with oil and unknown material from digging may not sell. “Automated segment technology now is extremely well-established,” adds Gary Brierley, a civil engineer with more than 50 years of tunneling experience, who suggests that the efficiency gains claimed by Musk are likely unachievable.
Only time will tell if the rest of the Loop system in LA can be achieved. For now, we have the two-mile test to look forward to as a proof of concept.