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Elon Musk’s Boring Co. unveiled its prototype tunnel. Here are the first reviews.

It’s safe to say not everyone was immediately impressed.

(Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

Key Takeaways
  • The Boring Company invited journalists to take a test ride on its mile-long prototype tunnel in Hawthorne, California.
  • The tunnel transports regular cars along electric skates at about 35 mph.
  • Although the prototype doesn’t match up with early concepts of The Loop, most reviewers seemed to suggest the system could prove viable, once the kinks are smoothed out.

In December 2016, Elon Musk tweeted that he was sick of Los Angeles’ nightmarish traffic and was therefore planning, like any good billionaire inventor, to start digging tunnels under the city to speed up travel.

On Tuesday, two years after that seemingly offhand tweet, a handful of journalists got to experience some of the first test rides in the mile-long prototype tunnel that Musk’s venture, The Boring Company, dug near its headquarters in Hawthorne, California. So far, the reviews aren’t exactly glowing, mainly because the prototype is far off from what the company had promised in early concept videos.

The initial concept for The Loop — not to be confused with the company’s Hyperloop, which is a separate and not-yet-constructed project — was a system in which 16-passenger pods would descend from street level into the tunnel and glide along electric skates at speeds reaching 150 mph.

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The Boring Company

But that’s not quite what the company unveiled on Tuesday. What the journalists entered instead was a system that transports regular cars along electric skates at speeds of about 35 mph, and most noted that the ride was bumpy. Musk told reporters he had scrapped the 16-passenger-pod idea in favor of a more conventional approach.

The Boring Company Loop System

“It’s much more like an underground highway,” he said.

Musk clarified that the company is still working out kinks in the prototype.

“We kind of ran out of time,” Musk said, attributing the rough ride to problems with a paving machine. “The bumpiness will not be there down the road. It will be as smooth as glass. This is just a prototype. That’s why it’s just a little rough around the edges.”

Those rough edges will presumably need to be smoothed out before The Boring Company can start digging tunnels for the three other projects it has in the works, including tunnels in Chicago, Washington, D.C. and near Dodger Stadium in L.A.

That might take a while, as suggested by some of the first reviews of the prototype:

Laura J. Nelson at the Los Angeles Times:

The trip through the tunnel took about two minutes, illuminated by the car’s headlights and a strip of blue neon lights tacked to the ceiling. The Model X rolled on two molded concrete shelves along the wall, which were so uneven in places that it felt like riding on a dirt road.

Matt McFarland at CNN:

Red lights atop the tunnel suddenly turned green. The Model X jolted forward and we were off. The trip was bumpy at times as we jostled against the tunnel. The narrow space made the low speeds — we traveled mostly at 35 mph — feel faster. It felt like an amusement park ride. After about two minutes, the car emerged from the tunnel into a large pit in the SpaceX parking lot.

Angie Reyes English, a former member of Hawthorne’s city council, told the New York Times:

‘It’s a little bumpy,’ Ms. English said. ‘I believe it’s going to be improved. It’s a test tunnel. I think it was cleverly done.’

Amanda Lee Myers at theAssociated Press:

Guests boarded Musk’s Tesla Model S and rode along Los Angeles-area surface streets about a mile away to what’s known as O’Leary Station. The station, smack dab in the middle of a residential neighborhood — “basically in someone’s backyard,” Musk says — consists of a wall-less elevator that slowly took the car down a wide shaft, roughly 30 feet (9 meters) below the surface.

The sky slowly fell away and the surprisingly narrow tunnel emerged.

‘We’re clear,’ said the driver, who sped up and zipped into the tunnel when a red track light turned green, making the tube look like something from space or a dance club.

The car jostled significantly during the ride, which was bumpy enough to give one reporter motion sickness while another yelled, ‘Woo!’

The Chicago Tribune interviewed Ald. Gilbert Villegas, 36th, chairman of the City Council’s Latino Caucus, about his ride in the tunnel, which he described as “a little bumpy”:

Villegas said his trip was comfortable, but he still has questions about how the Chicago project will be financed and how taxpayers will be protected.

‘It looks OK, but there has to be a lot more questions answered before we can begin a type of project like that,’ said Villegas. One concern is making sure the vibrations from digging the tunnel will not cause problems for people living nearby, he said.


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