CRE N Illinois

Chicago taps Elon Musk’s Boring Co. for high-speed airport train bid

The business end of a Boring Company tunnel-boring machine. The business end of a Boring Company tunnel-boring machine.
A concept of the electric skate that would transport passengers through the tunnel. A concept of the electric skate that would transport passengers through the tunnel.
A Boring Company tunnel-boring machine. A Boring Company tunnel-boring machine.

The city of Chicago has selected the Boring Company—the nascent brainchild of billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk—to build a high-speed, high-tech transportation link to O’Hare International Airport. Dubbed the Chicago Express Loop, the transit system will move passengers and their luggage at speeds of up to 150 miles per hour via tunnel-traversing, battery-powered vehicles.

“We’re really excited to work with the Mayor and the City to bring this new high-speed public transportation system to Chicago!” the Boring Company tweeted and Musk retweeted last night, after reports of the selection emerged.

The city issued a request for qualifications last November and in March released a shortlist of respondents that was very short: only two companies. Those were Musk’s Boring Company and O’Hare Xpress LLC, a consortium comprised of Meridiam, Antarctica Capital, JLC Infrastructure, Mott MacDonald and First Transit.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel joined Musk in the basement of Block 37, the downtown mall that, upon completion, contained an empty chamber meant to serve as a future airport superstation. “This is the fast lane to Chicago’s future,” Mayor Emanuel said.

The Boring Company was created less than two years ago, apocryphally after Musk daydreamed of tunneling beneath the Los Angeles traffic he found himself stuck in one day. The company has been in discussions with LA and Washington, DC, but otherwise has no experience aside from a test tunnel that is under construction in Hawthorne, California.

The agreement with Chicago would give legitimacy to the young company. It may also help to position Chicago as a world-class city, befitting more high-profile corporate relocations. Though the idea was first championed by Mayor Richard M. Daley in the 1990s, Emanuel has been pushing the idea, pointing to cities like Toronto, which opened its Union-Pearson Express in 2015.

Chicago already offers rail access to O’Hare via a 40-minute ride on the CTA’s Blue Line.The intent of the Chicago Express Loop is to cut that travel time down to just 12 minutes. Fares on the new high-speed system would cost more than a CTA ride but less than or equal to the price of a taxi or ride-sharing trip.

Under the terms of the procurement announcement, the Boring Company will design, build, finance, operate and maintain the Chicago Express Loop. Emanuel has stridently claimed in the past that no public funds will be used to build or operate the system. Musk hopes to begin tunneling in as soon as four months, with the project up and running in as little as 18 to 24 months after digging commences.