Elon Musk wins contract to build high-speed Chicago rail link
by Tim Bradshaw, FT
June 14, 2018 | 4:16 pm| | | Start Conversation
Elon Musk’s idea for defeating congestion by tunnelling underneath it seemed like a joke when he first tweeted about it from a traffic jam in December 2016.
Now, his Boring Company has won a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars to build a high-speed underground rail link between Chicago’s O’Hare airport and the city’s downtown. The project, which will be privately funded, promises to cut the 18-mile journey time from about 40 minutes to just 12 by using electric vehicles travelling at more than 100mph through twin tunnels.
The deal lends credibility to one of Mr Musk’s more ambitious ideas. It will also present the first real test of his promise to deliver superfast transit at lower costs than traditional infrastructure ventures. The company has only dug a small test tunnel in Hawthorne, Los Angeles.
A competitive bidding process saw its proposal win out over a rival bid from a consortium including FirstGroup, a UK-based transport operator, engineering group Mott MacDonald and JLC Infrastructure, an investment firm backed by former US basketball player Earvin “Magic” Johnson.
Rahm Emanuel, Chicago mayor, is set to announce the contract award on Thursday.
A Boring Company spokesperson said: “We’re very excited to work with Mayor Emanuel and the City of Chicago on a new high-speed mass transit system.”
At a company event in Los Angeles last month — designed to rally support for a “proof of concept” tunnel in the city that could break ground early next year if approved by the city council — Mr Musk promised that the Boring Company’s transit services would be fast, affordable and safe.
The venture has been funded by Mr Musk and other early employees, many of whom are drawn from SpaceX, his rocket company. He has also sold thousands of flame-throwers to fans for $500 apiece, which began shipping a few days ago.
Drawing on techniques and efficiencies honed at SpaceX, Mr Musk has argued that many of the company’s innovations involved “really simple” ideas such as removing dirt quickly, using electric engines to avoid dangerous emissions and building the concrete walls on-site.
However, initial plans to employ his “hyperloop” designs, which use vacuum tunnels and pressurised cabins travelling at up to 700mph (1,100kph), have been pushed back.
The exact details of the Chicago system will be set out in a contract negotiation, to include safety, construction, financing and operating requirements. Although the total cost of the project has not yet been finalised, it is expected to be below $1bn.
The Chicago win comes just days after Mr Musk announced significant job cuts at Tesla, as the electric carmaker tries to control costs while also ramping up production of its Model 3 vehicle.
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