Elon Musk completes construction on Las Vegas Convention Center Loop
By Jenny LescohierJune 03, 2021
If you’ve ever been to a tradeshow in Las Vegas - particularly one as epic in scope as CONEXPO-CON/AGG - then you understand the challenge of schlepping from one end of the convention campus to the other. It’s a distance of approximately one mile and a quarter, which when trekked alongside tens of thousands of other people can take a long time, sometimes 30 to 45 minutes.
Those days might be over, if Elon Musk, renowned entrepreneur and co-founder/CEO of Tesla, has anything to say about it. His venture, The Boring Company (TBC), has just completed construction of the Las Vegas Convention Center Loop, a 1.7-mile transportation system utilizing autonomous Teslas to take people from end to end in as little as two minutes.
According to results revealed on May 29, the system can handle more than 4,400 passengers per hour.
Loop is an all-electric, zero-emissions, high-speed underground public transportation system in which passengers are transported to their destination with no intermediate stops. It’s similar to a subway, except the transport mode is an autonomous electric vehicle (AEV) - in this case a Tesla Model X or Model 3 - as opposed to a railcar. The AEVs are guided by conduit sensors in the tunnels and can safely travel up to 155 mph, although they’ll stick to a conservative 35 mph limit here.
What equipment was used for the tunneling?
The LVCC Loop system currently includes two tunnels and three stations (two surface and one subsurface). It was built in approximately one year using the now-legacy Godot Tunnel Boring Machine, at a cost of approximately $47 million. Tunneling occurred during large conventions (>100,000 attendees pre-Covid) with zero road closures and zero attendee disturbances.
The Boring Company’s broader vision for the U.S. is a large network of tunnels many layers deep. By tunneling underground, there is less societal disturbance during construction. Then, as infrastructure demand increases, additional tunnel layers can be constructed to increase passenger-transporting capacity in the same general area. What’s more, The Boring Company says tunnels are proven to have the ability to withstand earthquakes.
Tunneling has yet to really catch on in the U.S., primarily due to the high cost of traditional equipment, but that might be changing. The Boring Company says past tunneling projects often ran at $1 billion per mile. In order to make tunneling a more practical alternative to traditional roadways, that cost needs to be reduced by a factor of 10.
Better boring technology
Tunneling speed and equipment utilization needs to be improved. Traditional equipment only spends half its time tunneling; the other half is spent erecting tunnel support structures. But The Boring Company says existing equipment technology can be modified in order to support continuous tunneling.
Tunnel boring machines also need to operate faster, and according to The Boring Company, a machine’s power output can be tripled when paired with the appropriate upgrades in cooling systems.
Tunnels also need to be smaller, and due to their more compact size, AEVs make it possible to reduce tunnel diameter by 50% to 14 feet. That alone reduces construction cost by 300% to 400%.
Smaller tunnel boring machines are already automated, however, larger machines are not. The Boring Company says more emphasis must be placed on automating these larger machines, which currently require several people to operate.
Steve Hill, chief executive officer and president of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA), announced the recent results of TBC’s LVCC Loop test run with real passengers. “Loop capacity testing exceeded 4,400 passengers per hour... confirmed today after reviewing results,” he was quoted.
“Vegas FTW!” Musk tweeted in a reply to Hill.
Brian Yost, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) chief operating officer, told KSNV News 3 that moving 4,400 people per hour was the expectation.
The loop is expected to be operational for World of Concrete, June 8-10, the convention center’s first major trade show since the Covid-19 pandemic began.