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Elon Musk claims government approval to build hyperloop, officials disagree

Image credit: Reuters

Tesla and SpaceX founder and CEO Elon Musk has announced on twitter that he has received “verbal” government approval to begin building an underground tunnel linking major cities on the East Coat of the US. However, officials deny that they have approved any such project.

The tunnel would be dug by his newest company, The Boring Company, which Mr Musk established in late 2016 in order to address the limitations of 2D transportation networks by going “3D down”. The entrepreneur has stated that he aims to reduce the enormous cost of underground tunnelling by a factor of 10.

In January, Musk announced on Twitter plans to begin digging a traffic-easing tunnel under Los Angeles “in a month or so”; although city planning authorities were quick to clarify that he did not have permission for the venture. Since, he has started digging a 9m-wide test tunnel outside his SpaceX offices in Los Angeles, which does not require planning permission.

Musk has taken to Twitter again to announce his plans, announcing to his 10.4 million followers that he had approval to dig a tunnel connecting New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington DC. This would be the world’s longest tunnel.

According to Musk, this could cut the travel time between Washington DC and New York City to just 29 minutes. Amtrak’s high-speed train, Acela, takes three hours to cover the distance between the cities.

He added that the Boring Company would likely create a loop from Los Angeles to San Francisco, and another in Texas.

Musk proposed the concept of the hyperloop in a 2013 white paper. This transport system would allow pods containing passengers or cargo to be sent through vacuum tubes at aircraft speed, meaning that countries could be crossed in a matter of minutes. The absence of air resistance and friction could, proponents say, make the system the most energy-efficient in the world. Musk has since invited other companies to try their hand at making the technology a reality.

He estimated that a hyperloop between Los Angeles and San Francisco would cost less than $6bn to build, and take seven to 10 years. There are no fully functional hyperloops in existence, although recently, Hyperloop One achieved their first (low speed) test run in a vacuum, on a test track in Nevada.

The founding of Musk’s tunnelling company was seen by many as a return to the hyperloop race. While Musk has reportedly had informal discussions with government representations about the future potential for this technology, officials have denied any formal approval for hyperloop projects.

Given the scale of the project, Musk would likely require extensive building and environmental permits to go ahead, even if the technology is demonstrated to work.

In a statement, The Boring Company said that it expected to “secure the formal approvals necessary to break ground later this year”. Musk tweeted again to say that there was “still a lot of work needed to receive formal approval”, although he was “optimistic” about this happening quickly

Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York City, tweeted in response: “This is news to City Hall.” Spokespeople from city, state and federal authorities have also denied that any approval has been given, including representatives from the Maryland department of transportation, the state of Pennsylvania, the New York state department of transportation, the Mayor of Washington DC’s office and others authorities.

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