Chicago Chooses The Boring Co. to Build Underground Tunnel with High-Speed Specialized Vehicles, Chicago to O’Hare


CBS 2’s Derrick Blakley reports on plans the tech billionaire has to build a high-speed underground tunnel with “skate” electric vehicles to link downtown Chicago with O’Hare.

A proposed underground tunnel system of 16-passenger autonomous vehicles might transport people between at speeds speeds of 100 to 150 mph in two tunnels between Chicago’s Loop and O’Hare International Airport, according to a proposal released to today at an uncompleted train station at Block 37. The announcement about the proposed system was held at a barren never-used train station — a part of previous ambitious plans for rapid transit from Chicago’s Loop to O’Hare that was halted by Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2008. A wasted $250 million was spent on the abandoned train station project near the block bordered by State Street, Washington Street, Dearborn Street and Randolph Street.

Under a new high-speed transit proposal being negotiated between Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Hall and billionaire Tesla, SpaceX, and The Boring Co. tech entrepreneur Elon Musk; The Boring Co. would pay for the entire project, including the construction of a new station at O’Hare and the completion of the stalled superstation already partially built at Block 37.

Emanuel has selected Musk’s company from four competing bids to provide high-speed transportation between downtown and the airport. With The Boring Co., Emanuel and senior City Hall officials are counting on Musk’s ambitions, which include solving traffic and commuting problems in major cities. The tunneling technology is unproven, and critics are worried taxpayers may eventually have to help with the cost.

Chicago’s mayor and Boring officials said it’s too early to provide a timeline for the project’s completion or its estimated cost, but unauthorized sources are saying that Boring has estimated the project will cost less than $1 billion. The Boring Co. would use an automated tunnel-digging rig to rapidly construct a 14-foot diameter tunnel. The rig would build a concrete shell as the tunnel is dug. The tunnel-digging rig is still in development.

In exchange for paying to build the new transit system, The Boring Co would keep the revenue from the system’s transit fees and any money generated by advertisements, branding and in-vehicle sales, Rivkin and The Boring Co. said. The City of Chicago would also seek an arrangement if excess profit resulted from the new system. Ownership of the twin tunnels has not been determined, but the City of Chicago would seek a long-term lease to Musk’s company.

Passengers would travel from the Loop to O’Hare in about 12 minutes at an estimated cost of $20 to $25 per ride. A final route for the high-speed tunnels is still subject to negotiations, and a Boring official and Deputy Mayor Robert Rivkin declined to confirm the route location, but leaked information places the preferred preliminary route aligned with the CTA Blue Line route to O’Hare — under Randolph Street west from Block 37 and then northwest under the Kennedy Expressway, under Halsted Street and northwest under Milwaukee Avenue, northwest under Elston Avenue near Goose Island, then straight west toward O’Hare passing under the Kennedy Expressway and running under the area near Bryn Mawr Avenue.

The concept of the high-speed transit system that Musk and The Boring Co. plans for Chicago, does not involve two other methods of transportation also connected to The Boring Co. and Musk — (1) Hyperloop and (2) cars ferried on sleds at high speeds. Hyperloop, which open-sourced by The Boring Co. and also in experimental stages involving other companies — is a contained tube system that would operate a transport pod in a vacuum (a vactrain) at speeds possibly up to 760 mph. The Chicago system is simply known as “Loop” and does not operate a pod in a vacuum. Instead it operates ‘skate’ electric vehicles in an unsealed tunnel.

In the Chicago-O’Hare Loop system, 16-passenger skate electric vehicles are “confined” and will “not be a car on auto drive.”

The Chicago-O’Hare project involves eight “guiding wheels” that will run along a nearly 18-mile track between Block 37 and O’Hare. Four vertical wheels are designed like traditional tires on a car rolling along a concrete shelf on the ground. Four additional wheels on the sides of the vehicle are designed to be made of steel with a polyurethane coating, and would help move the vehicle by running along concrete curbs along the tunnel’s walls. The vehicle is powered electrically.

“It is not on any kind of auto steering,” an official of The Boring Co. explained. “It is a mechanical operation where the guide wheels turn the vehicle.”

The “skates,” as Musk and others call them, would be able to reach top speeds of 150 mph in straight segments of the tunnel. Speeds would be reduced at curves, according to The Boring Co. officials.

Loop is a high-speed underground public transportation system in which passengers are transported on autonomous electric skates traveling at 125-150 miles per hour. Electric skates will carry between 8 and 16 passengers (mass transit), or a single passenger vehicle (The Boring Co.).

The O’Hare station for the high-speed transit system is proposed to be located near the new Global Terminal, where Terminal 2 is located now at the southwest section of the terminal. Development of the Global Terminal is part of a proposed $8.5 billion overhaul, known as the Terminal Area Plan (TAP), and is expected to take eight years to complete after construction begins in 2019. The new O’Hare terminal size will increase by more than 60 percent, and is designed to improve efficiency of passenger transfer between international and domestic flights.

The Chicago to O’Hare project would NOT operate like these sleds, which ferry cars underground in another mode of transportation envisioned by The Boring Co.



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