Underground roadways could be solution

Global engineering and infrastructure advisory company, Aurecon believes Elon Musk’s futuristic road tunnel system could transform the face of transport as we currently know it.

Musk’s futuristic vision of transportation involving underground roadway systems beneath bustling cities where individual cars are transported at high speeds on metal trolley-like platforms between destinations.

‘As with most radical innovations today, science fact was once science fiction. If we’re going to help design the future of transport, we have to be able to envision it,’ said Aurecon’s chief innovation officer, John McGuire.

According to Aurecon tunnelling expert, Tom Ireland: ‘Musk’s futuristic tunnel system is ambitious and innovative. Going underground makes sense and many cities have vast tunnel networks beneath heavily populated areas, for example, the London Underground – so we know it can work. His vision presents an exciting alternative to our gridlocked present.’

He cites a major barrier as cost however highlights how we live in a complex transport environment where multi-modal solutions must be on the table – ‘for some of the world’s largest cities, this solution could be an attractive option.’

Tom said, ‘Historically there are three elements that make up the cost of tunnel boring: equipment, materials and labour, 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 Musk’s futuristic tunnel system more achievable. This will involve a move away from concrete towards a higher strength, lighter weight material for lining tunnels and may even encompass 3D printing this lining as part of the tunnel excavation cycle.

‘In terms of underground trains, it’s the stations that represent the most significant network cost. Related to accessing the type of tunnels Musk suggests, we’ll need to ensure the mechanisation of the lifts that transport cars underground is cost-effective and quick.’

Aurecon also points out how traditionally, tunnels are designed to integrate a large amount of safety equipment. It claims Elon’s proposal, in which cars are propelled forward by electric trolleys, renders much of this safety equipment unnecessary.