Aurecon engineer comments on Musk’s ‘ambitious and innovative’ vision of underground roads

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A tunneling expert from one of the world’s leading infrastructure and engineering consultancies, Aurecon, has commented on entrepreneur/inventor Elon Musk’s futuristic vision of transportation involving underground roadway systems beneath the world’s busiest cities.

The organization that will make it all happen, a new Musk venture called ‘The Boring Company’, will rely on a vast network of tunnels. Musk’s vision of the city of the future, which was announced last month, has been described as ‘amazing and impossible’ by some commentators.

A brief concept video (available here) shows a red Tesla vehicle amid gridlocked traffic. The ‘game changer’ appears in the form of a futuristic metal elevator that lowers the Tesla underground to a road network in which individual cars are transported at high speeds on metal trolley-like platforms between destinations, eliminating traffic congestion and potential collisions.

Aurecon is currently working on a multitude of city-shaping tunnel projects worldwide, including major schemes in Australia and New Zealand. The company’s tunneling expert, Tom Ireland, has commented on whether Musk’s vision is as impossible as it sounds, noting, “Many of the world’s largest cities have reached their capacity to absorb new infrastructure ‘on the ground’, and are looking at solutions, both above and below the surface, to overcome mobility challenges.”

Ireland continued, “Musk’s futuristic tunnel system is ambitious and innovative. Going underground makes sense and many cities have vast tunnel networks beneath heavily populated areas, so we know it can work. His vision presents an exciting alternative to our gridlocked present. A project of this scale would transform the face of transport as we currently know it. A major barrier will be cost, however, we live in a complex transport environment where multi-modal solutions must be on the table and this could be an attractive option.”

Ireland concluded, “Historically there are three elements that make up the cost of tunnel boring: equipment, materials and labor, each making up roughly a third of the cost. If we see significant enough advances in tunnel boring and new materials (perhaps at the heart of Musk’s invention), cost will likely decrease sharply and make his futuristic tunnel system more achievable. This will involve a move away from concrete toward a higher strength, lighter weight material for lining tunnels, and may even encompass 3D printing this lining as part of the tunnel excavation cycle. Accessing the type of tunnels that Musk suggests, we’ll need to ensure the mechanization of the lifts that transport cars underground is cost-effective and quick.”

Click here to find out about the first ever Future of Transportation World Conference, taking place in Germany from July 5-6, 2017.

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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