Transport

Elon Musk Claims ‘Verbal Approval’ to Build Hyperloop From DC to NYC

But the cities Musk says he plans to connect with an ultra-fast underground transportation system say they haven’t heard anything from him about the project.

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Tech entrepreneur Elon Musk caused a stir Thursday with a startling claim to have “verbal” government approval for his drilling venture, the Boring Company, to begin working on an ultra-fast underground hyperloop transportation system connecting major cities in the northeast corridor.

The project, Musk said in a series of tweets on Thursday, would shorten the 225-mile trip from Washington DC to New York City to just 29 minutes, make stops in Baltimore and Philadelphia, and have “up to a dozen or more” entry and exit elevators in each city.

But there’s a catch: At the time of his tweets, Musk hadn’t yet told the cities involved about the project.

“Just received verbal govt approval for the Boring Company to build an underground NY-Phil-Balt-DC Hyperloop,” Musk tweeted Thursday. “Still a lot of work needed to receive formal approval, but am optimistic that will occur rapidly.”

Musk may have been referring to conversations directly with the Trump administration. The White House confirmed Friday that it's held “promising conversations” about “transformative infrastructure projects” with Musk in a statement giving no more details. 

But representatives of all four cities said they’d had no word from Musk or the Boring Company about the proposed hyperloop.

“Elon Musk has had no contact with Philadelphia officials on this matter,” Mike Dunn, Deputy Communications Director for the city of Philadelphia, said. “We do not know what he means when he says he received ‘verbal government approval.’”

A representative of Baltimore said Musk hadn’t raised the plan with them, either, although Baltimore mayor Catherine Pugh issued a statement welcoming the idea.

“I am excited to hear about Elon Musk’s underground hyperloop connecting New York to Washington, DC through Baltimore,” Mayor Pugh said. “If his plan becomes a reality it has tremendous potential to create new opportunities for Baltimore and transform the way we link to neighboring cities.”

Musk, the billionaire technology guru behind the electric car company Tesla and space venture SpaceX, first floated the idea for an ultra-fast transportation system in 2013 with a 58-page outline titled Alfa Hyperloop. The idea is to build a pneumatic tube that would whisk passengers between Las Angeles and San Francisco in 35 minutes. The system would send transit pods at 700 miles per hour, achieving great speeds by reducing air friction inside the tube.

On Thursday, Musk tweeted that the east coast system would be built in parallel with the LA-San Francisco route.

But building a mega-project through the most populated areas of the country would require several layers of permitting at the municipal, state, and federal levels, including environmental appraisals, said Madeline Brozen, associate director at the UCLA Institute for Transportation Studies — not least of which from the cities intended to be the main destinations.

“I have a lot of doubts and questions about the feasibility of getting it done,” Brozen said. “What’s the environmental review process? What’s the technology? People are scratching their heads about what this actually means.”

The project would likely cost billions, Brozen said.

Musk’s tweets might be aimed at generating excitement about the concept in advance of having concrete plans and permits, Brozen said.
                                    
“It’s not uncommon for people with big ideas to make big pronouncements to try to get people excited,” Brozen said, or to “put out a big idea and see if it sticks.”

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Musk himself followed up his initial round of tweets with a call for people who support the idea to push local and national officials to allow it.

“If you want this to happen fast, please let your local & federal elected representatives know. Makes a big difference if they hear from you,” Musk tweeted.

A spokesperson for the mayor’s office in Washington DC welcomed the idea, but said no one in her office had heard of it before.

“To be honest, this is the first time we’re hearing of it,” said Susana Castillo, deputy press secretary for the mayor of Washington DC, Muriel Bowser. “We’re looking forward to hearing what they have to say. Right now we haven’t been approached by them.”

Eric Phillips, a spokesman for the mayor of New York City Bill de Blasio, tweeted: “The entirety of what we know about this proposal is what's in Mr. Musk's Tweet. That is not how we evaluate projects of any scale.”

He then went on to joke about constructing a “Midtown-to-the-Moon gondola.”

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