Elon’s Boring Company Talks With Israel About Tunnel Projects

Bloomberg reports that Elon Musk is talking to Israel about tunnels provided by the Boring Company.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed his government was in talks with Elon Musk about tapping into Boring’s tunneling solutions to address infrastructure concerns. Israel has traffic congestion problems. Netanyahu appears to have just won a close election in Israel.

Israel is working or planning on several underground tunnels to improve transportation.

The Boring Company can build tunnels faster and more than 10 times cheaper than conventional approaches. Current tunnels cost about $200 million to $1 billion per mile. Boring Company will dig tunnels for $10 million per mile or less.

The next Boring Company tunneling machine called Line Storm will be ready any day now. It will be twice as fast as the first Boring Company machine. The third machine will be an all-electric tunneling machine called Prufrock will be eight times faster than Line Storm.

Elon is planning significantly increase the speed of the Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM). TBMs are super slow. A snail is effectively 14 times faster than a soft-soil TBM. Elon’s goal is to defeat the snail in a race. Here are the ways they plan to increase TBM speed:

Increase TBM power. The machine’s power output can be tripled (while coupled with the appropriate upgrades in cooling systems).

Continuously tunnel. When building a tunnel, current soft-soil machines tunnel for 50% of the time and erect tunnel support structures the other 50%. This is inefficient. Existing technology can be modified to support continuous tunneling activity.

Automate the TBM. While smaller diameter tunneling machines are automated, larger ones currently require multiple human operators. By automating the larger TBMs, both safety and efficiency are increased.

Go electric. Current tunnel operations often include diesel locomotives. These have been replaced by electric locomotives.

33 thoughts on “Elon’s Boring Company Talks With Israel About Tunnel Projects”

  1. When bombs are delivered by high altitude aircraft then subways are great shelters. When bombs are delivered by fanatics with ticking backpacks then subways are, as London has already found out, quite vulnerable.

  2. I’ll concede that a mountain range in the middle would make me rethink.

    And I’ll also concede that I took the previous fortnight off because I broke a rib and sliced a flap of skin off my shins while mountain biking.

    But I rode today. Time was 42 minutes which is not good at all, but I was taking it easy.

    And yes, changing to a real road bike for the roads makes a serious difference compared to a mountain bike. And have gearing set up for you to do the roads you ride, not for a world champion to ride a high speed race which is, annoyingly, the sort of gearing setup that is usually sold to the general public.

  3. Also 0. And then there’s negative exponents, and fractional exponents, and also imaginary numbers.

  4. You must be pretty fit, I don’t usually beat 10 miles an hour. But I guess if I did it every day I’d get better, and maybe I’d stop using mountain bikes on city roads or actually learn when to shift gears.

    There was actually a route that was a few miles shorter, but you had to zig-zag up and down through the Santa Monica mountain range. That would have killed me on bike, but if I still lived there, I think I’d just get a bike with an electric assist.

  5. 10 miles in a hour? Ride a bike.

    I’m speaking from experience. My commute is almost exactly 10 miles, and driving is 40 to 55 minutes depending on the traffic.

    Switching to a pushbike gets me to work in 35 minutes, and I get to ride every day. Win-win.

    Unless I go via the bush tracks. Then it’s a 90 minute ride, but even more scenic.

  6. Will future Boring machines match the diameter needed by modern subway tunnels? If not, it’s hard to see how even a vast network of car/mini-bus tunnels can compete with a subway system that moves millions of people per day. In NYC, the system moves 4.3m people per day. https://www.ny.com/transportation/subways/
    Maybe this can work in Israel where there are only 9m people or so, and the need to bypass Palestinian areas on the way to Israeli settlements in the disputed territories, safely.
    But if Musk can increase the diameter to NYC subway sizes and roughly keep the costs & speed, Boring company would quadruple its market overnight.

  7. They are more effective for transporting the highest number of people the most miles per hour, but from the perspective of the individual, the transit is very slow, which makes them pretty ineffective where it counts. People are individual packets of destinations and should be routed as such. A more efficient usage of their time translates into a better economy, and then they can afford to pay the higher cost of the transit – already proven out by how well the car has done in comparison to subways. Admittedly there are markets where the subway has done well, but not the US.

    I used to commute about 10 miles in LA. It took a little over an hour, worse depending on the time of day I left and random traffic mishaps. I’m sure if the area had a decent subway system, it could have gotten me there in about the same time, with more convenience, no traffic jams, and for a lower infrastructure investment. Sounds great. But it would never be faster than that. There’s always trips to and from the stations, or if you have lots of stations and an expansive network reaching near everywhere, the time cost of connections between routes. Going the subway development route is giving up on the idea of having a 20 minute trip ever again. It’s like everywhere is connected via stargate, but the stargate takes 50-90 minutes to boot up no matter where you go. Also the stargate is full of aliens. It’s an affordable way to get reliably slow service.

  8. Ah, I see. I never hear anyone say that the cost increases polynomially though. Maybe they should.

  9. For PRT, they would need access points in the form of offline stations every quarter mile from the other stations at the very least.

  10. It is a perfect match. Israel has just started a process of designing one of the biggest subway system in the world, serving larger Tel Aviv 3.5M metropolitan area.

  11. The demonstration shown with a reporter and Musk showed the vehical being bounced back and forth. He had better figure a better way to lay a perfectly smooth foundation for this system to work. Yes he can build a tunnel fast but without a smooth platform it is useless.

  12. I once looked at something like that. The flow rate isn’t high enough. Subways are far more effective for transporting people.

  13. That’s a fair question.

    Part of the answer is probably just that the people you’re hearing this from are idiots. Most science or technology popularized reports are grossly in error, in my experience.

    Cost goes down roughly in proportion to the cross sectional area of the tunnel, for obvious reasons. Musk is also proposing to use the spoil to manufacture bricks to gain some secondary income.

    Speed? I think he claimed that current tunneling machines have never been optimized for speed. That there weren’t enough of them around that anybody had felt pressure to do that.

  14. I agree with you. I am hoping he will start offering different diameter size machines. The smaller machine could be useful for distribution tunnels like transmission mains, water mains, sewer mains, gas mains and steam mains.

  15. Israel is a small country. Musk would be better off looking in Europe, Far East and the Americas for business opportunities.

  16. Article says Prufrock will be all electric. The first was all electric. Maybe it means no electrically driven hydraulics.

  17. Well, if you put a subway in a very narrow tunnel, you cannot move around in the car at all, since there would be no free space in the middle of the car. Seems very inconvenient to me…

  18. Well then the question becomes why would the speed go up by more than the 1/r^2? Also, I don’t get why reducing the diameter would speed up the digging at all. Price, yes, I get that, but speed? And that is still not explained…

    Generally, I would think that you would have more freedom to choose ancillary equipment (belt transporters for the rubble, rails, hydraulics) for a somewhat larger scale than 4.2 meters. Having people in these tunnels to operate equipment (lining the walls, for instance) should be a pain in these tunnels..

  19. Small yes…,I’m picturing the James Bond movie where the guy gets into the torpedo and then is inserted into the oil pipeline to cross the border… hyperbullet… sounds like some thing they would have in Japan… you get into your “sleep tube” not realizing it’s a hyperbullet express to toyoko

  20. I’m thinking the opposite, let’s get some little motorcycle-sized tunnels. Real cheap, faster and more affordable to make a network through the whole city that way, and run dedicated little electric pods in it. Underground PRT. Because it would be cheaper and easier to run a tunnel underneath every street, it would also be feasible to have access points every couple hundred feet, so easy egress in case there is a problem. Sure, you’d have to walk hunched over, but only for a little bit.

  21. IIRC, the geology in much of the area of Israel is well suited for tunneling. (Which has been an occasional problem for Israel!) And you can understand the desire to place critical infrastructure underground, where random bombardment with rockets can’t hit it.

  22. “Exponentially” is a common slang term for “faster than a non-mathematician would expect”, it’s generally not meant literally.

  23. One curious thing. It has been stated that the cost or “slowness” increases *exponentially* with the tunnel diameter. Why is that? I would get if it scaled as the square of the diameter, but exponential..? Why would that be?

  24. The only drawback that I see with the Boring company tunnels is the very small diameter. The tunnels are barely wide enough for a Tesla. So you cannot use these for a subway or a train. Also, if I were driving in a tunnel, I would like a *little* space so that I could walk out of the tunnel in case of a motor failure.

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