The Anonymous Widower

Elon Musk Goes Underground With High-Speed Trains

The title of this post is the same as that of an article in the Business section of last Friday’s Times.

This is the first paragraph.

Futuristic electric trains will soon be whizzing under the streets of Chicago at up to 150 mph after Elon Musk’s tunnelling company was chosen by the city to build a new high-speed commuter link.

Currently, the Blue Line train takes about forty-five minutes for the eighteen miles at a cost of five dollars.

Heathrow Airport is eighteen miles from the City of London and Crossrail will do the trip for thirty-three minutes when it opens, next year for a cost of under a tenner.

So what is Musk proposing?

  • A journey time of twelve minutes.
  • Passengers will ride in skates, which will carry up to sixteen people on concrete tracks.
  • Skates will run at a frequency of 120 per hour for 20 hours a day.
  • The fare would be twenty-five dollars.
  • The system would cost about a billion dollars.

It is a technically ambitious proposal.

There’s more in this section called Chicago in the Wikipedia entry of The Boring Company.

A competition to build a high-speed link from downtown Chicago to the soon-to-be-expanded O’Hare Airport had been reduced to just two bidders by March 2018. The Boring Company was selected in June 2018 and will now negotiate a contract to be presented to the Chicago City Council. Construction is to be entirely financed by The Boring Company, which is subsequently to maintain and operate the link. The system will transport passengers in automated electric cars carrying 16 passengers (and their luggage) through two parallel tunnels running under existing public way alignments, traveling from block 37 to the airport in 12 minutes, at speeds reaching 125 to 150 miles per hour (200 to 240 km/h), with pods departing as often as every 30 seconds

It states it is two parallel tunnels!

Comparison With London’s Crossrail

Crossrail will effectively do the same job in London and a comparison between the two systems may produce some interesting conclusions.

Capacity

Musk’s system will have an hourly capacity of 1920 passengers per hour, based on 120 skates each carrying sixteen people.

Crossrail are talking of six trains per hour, each with a capacity of 1,500 people or 9000 passengers per hour.

I think that Crossrail will need to increase capacity, as Heathrow expands and longer trains and higher frequencies are possible.

But if Musk’s system is a runaway success, can it be expanded easily.

Journey Time

Musk’s system has a journey time of 12 minutes, as against Crossrail’s of 33 minutes

But Crossrail will stop up to ten times!

Intriguingly, the twelve minute is not the headline speed of 125 to 150 mph, but a slower 90 mph.

Routes

Little has been said of the route for Musk’s system, except that it goes between Downtown and O’Hare Airport.

Heathrow to the City of London, also goes direct to London’s major shopping area and the new business area of Canary Wharf.

It is also integrated with London’s existing Underground, Overground and rail lines at several places.

Does Musk’s system have a route structure, that won’t appeal to a lot of possible users?

Musk’s Thinking

This is an extract from the Future Goals section of the Wikipedia entry for The Boring Company.

According to Tesla, Inc. and SpaceX board member Steve Jurvetson, tunnels specifically built for electric vehicles have reduced size and complexity, and thus decreased cost. “The insight I think that’s so powerful is that if you only envision electric vehicles in your tunnels you don’t need to do the air handling for all carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, you know, basically pollutants for exhaust. You could have scrubbers and a variety of simpler things that make everything collapse to a smaller tunnel size, which dramatically lowers the cost … The whole concept of what you do with tunnels changes.

The philosophy is not unlike that of Crossrail.

  • I believe that Crossrail has been designed holistically, using the best tunnel and train technology.
  • The tunnel power supply is a simple end-to-end rail.
  • The Class 345 trains have batteries to make best use of electricity and provide emergency power.
  • The batteries will handle regenerative braking, thus minimising heat-producing electric currents in the tunnel.
  • Platform-edge doors and aerodynamic trains reduce mechanical energy losses.
  • The electric trains do not emit anything into the tunnel, except perhaps a small amount of hot air.

I suspect that Crossrail’s tunnel section will be a very energy-efficient railway.

Conclusion

Summing up both systems we get.

Musk’s system is.

  • A billion dollar cost.
  • Twelve minute journey time.
  • A vehicle every thirty seconds.
  • Only for the few, who want to go from O’Hare to Downtown, who can pay a premium fare.
  • Limited capacity.

A Crossrail-like solution would be.

  • Perhaps a ten billion dollar cost.
  • Twenty minute journey time.
  • A train every few minutes.
  • For everyone, who wants to travel from O’Hare to most places in Chicago with possibly a change, at a normal fare.
  • Expandable capacity.

Musk’s system will appeal to the rich and those who like novelty, but I don’t think it is a long-term solution and just like London, Chicago will eventually have a modern railway  linking it to the wider Chicago area.

Where Musk is right, is that he believes that tunnelling methods can be improved and become more affordable.

This will mean that more audacious railway schemes will be built.

 

 

June 19, 2018 - Posted by | Travel | , , , , ,

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