Driverless electric vehicles, each carrying up to 16 passengers plus luggage, will shuttle between Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and downtown Chicago in just 12 minutes when Elon Musk's Boring Company completes new twin tunnels connecting the two.
The distance from the airport to downtown Chicago is 29km (18 miles); today the journey time is 30-45 minutes.
Plans call for the express service vehicles, called skates, to travel at up to 150 miles per hour, departing from O’Hare and from Chicago's commercial core, known as the Loop, as frequently as every 30 seconds.
Musk, who founded Tesla electric cars, says the electric skates are public transportation vehicles built on a modified Tesla Model X chassis.
The Chicago Express Loop's skates will be mechanically confined to a concrete track within the tunnel and operate under safety approvals issued by both federal and state agencies.
The project will be funded entirely by the company with no taxpayer subsidy, said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, announcing the City's selection of Boring Company, so-named for its ability to bore tunnels.
“Bringing Chicago’s economic engines closer together will keep the city on the cutting edge of progress, create thousands of good-paying jobs and strengthen our great city for future generations,” Mayor Emanuel said. “This transformative project will help Chicago write the next chapter in our legacy of innovation and invention.”
There is likely to be plenty of demand for the express service. The current total daily number of air passengers traveling between O’Hare and the Chicago Central Business District is approximately 20,000 and is forecast to grow to at least 35,000 daily air passengers in 2045.
The express service will be a zero-emission system, replacing automobile traffic on a congested highway and generating a positive environmental impact.
The Chicago Infrastructure Trust selected Boring's system over a previously favored high-speed rail system to speed the trip to and from one of the world’s busiest airports.
Musk has been developing a new tunneling technology - trying to achieve 10 times current efficiency by halving the tunnels' diameter from 28 to 14 feet, automating and speeding up the tunnel boring machine, and using electric rather than diesel borers.
But critics point out the new technology is unproven. Boring is still digging its first test tunnel in Hawthorne, California, and the electric skates have yet to be approved for public use.
The project includes the construction of a new station at O’Hare and the completion of a mothballed station built in the Loop under previous Mayor Richard M. Daley, who had supported high-speed rail access to O’Hare.
Mayor Emanuel and Boring officials said it’s too early to provide a timeline for the project’s completion or its estimated cost.
Chicago is eager to strengthen its position as a global city. The tunnels will help to provide that strength through faster, more convenient mobility, when combined with an upcoming expansion that will increase O’Hare’s gate capacity 25 percent and the Chicago Transit Authority’s $492 million investment in modernizing the rapid transit Blue Line, which connects downtown and the airport.