Is the Elon Musk Tunnel Boring Machine a Game Changer?

By Tabitha Mishra
Published: March 26, 2018 | Last updated: July 5, 2023
Key Takeaways

The Elon Musk tunnel boring machine (TBM) is surprisingly a used one he named Godot, which is 14-feet in diameter and about 400-feet long. Godot is already working his way through underground Los Angeles.

It’s one thing to be a billionaire and something entirely different to be a billionaire with a brain for innovation and a heart to use those billions on productive endeavors. Elon Musk is one of those few people who are on the news every day for reasons other than politics and scandals. This man is capable of dreaming up reality, and transforming fiction into science; exactly what has made him a sensation in such a short time.


Who Is Elon Musk?

Elon Reeve Musk, born on the 28, June 1971 in South Africa, is now in his 40’s but hasn’t lost his boyish charms or his brilliant mind. He was already a millionaire in his late 20’s when he sold his startup Zip2 to Compaq Computers. He later founded (later Paypal) in 1999, SpaceX in 2002 and Tesla Motors in 2003. According to Forbes, his net worth is estimated at $20.2 billion.

He shot to fame in May of 2012 when SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket to send a commercial vehicle carrying 1,000 pounds of supplies for the astronauts at the International Space Station. In December 2013 Falcon 9 launched a satellite into geosynchronous transfer orbit; and in February 2015, Falcon 9 launched a Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR) satellite. While that’s not all, his latest launch of a Tesla car into space stole the show. Down to earth, his electric cars, battery products and solar roofs have been quite a hit. His latest company is simply called The Boring Company because that’s what it’s all about – boring tunnels.


The Boring Company

No one ever heard of a 3D road, but that’s what Musk dreamt up lately while he was stuck in a traffic jam. Launched in January of 2017, The Boring Company aims at building a network of tunnels underground that would be the answer to congestion issues faced by many cities today. However; it’s no secret that tunneling is an expensive affair, and that’s what The Boring Company aims to decrease by working at increasing the speed of tunneling and dropping the cost factor by 10-percent or more. (Read "An Overview of Trenchless Tunneling.")

The Elon Musk Flame Thrower

To raise money for his boring company, Musk held a sale for the Elon Musk flamethrower that sold in the thousands. It is estimated that the company sold The Boring Company caps and Elon Musk flamethrowers worth millions of dollars. The Boring company flamethrower gimmick was a success and it waits to be seen what other marketing tricks Elon Musk will come up with to fund his ambitions.

His plan is to build a tunnel network underneath the streets of Los Angeles to bypass traffic congestion by transporting cars on high-speed electric platforms. Many skeptics wonder about how Elon plans to navigate through the complexities of government regulations and unpredictability of tunneling operations using trenchless technology.

The Elon Musk Tunnel Boring Machine

The Elon Musk tunnel boring machine (TBM) is surprisingly a used one he named Godot, which is 14-feet in diameter and about 400-feet long. Godot is already working his way through underground Los Angeles.

In Oct of 2017, Musk announced that another machine he calls Linestorm is almost ready to start digging. Elon Musk aims to increase the speed of the TBM in order to reduce overall cost and save time. The Boring Company believes that by placing vehicles to be transported in the system in stabilized electric skates, the tunnel diameter can be reduced from the standard diameter of 28-feet to a reduced diameter of 14-feet. This reduction of the diameter in half itself will reduce the tunneling costs by 3-4 times than that originally required. (Learn More in "Studies Claim the Trenchless Construction Cost Comparison is Massive.")


As Elon Musk appropriately pointed out, snails are about 14 times faster than TBM’s that dig through soft soil. Since he has a pet snail he calls Gary, he has set himself the task of defeating the snail in a race between Gary and Godot.

Increasing the Efficiency of the Elon Musk Tunnel Boring Machine

Here are some of the ways The Boring Company has come up with to increase the speed of the TBM and efficiency of the operation:

Increase Power

By increasing the power of the TBM and upgrading the cooling system, the output of the TBM can be tripled.

Eliminate Errors

Errors can be minimized and efficiency can be increased by automating the TBM and eliminating the need for human operators, as is the case in smaller diameter tunnels.

Continuous Tunneling Support

Tunneling technology to support continuous tunneling activity can help save a lot of time because, currently, soft soil TBM’s operate for half the time while the other half is used for erecting support structures.

Go Electric

By using electric vehicles instead of currently used diesel operated locomotives for tunneling operations, the speed of the project can be increased.

Reduce Waste

Using bricks made from the excavated earth to use as a portion of the tunnel lining that is generally made of concrete can reduce the cost while making it environment-friendly.

Eliminate Surface Disruption

Trenchless digging also eliminates the problem of interference from human activities that can cause delays, as is the case when constructing on the surface.

Trenchless construction in itself is filled with a myriad of challenges because of the fact that it depends on data from geotechnical investigations, soil core sampling and municipal records rather than visual data. It remains to be seen how Elon Musk will overcome these challenges while making it time-efficient and cost-effective. (Read "Why a Detailed Geotechnical Report Means Success for Your Trenchless Project.")

Trenchless methods have proved to be both of these, but the scope has not been as large as what Elon has in mind. Going by what he has already accomplished in the past, there’s not much room for doubt that he will pull this off too. Skeptics will have Elon to thank for at a later date when they too will be whisked away in their cars on electric skates across D.C. and L.A. in next to no time through a maze of tunnels that his innovative TBM’s dig under the streets.

It seems like Elon Musk’s TBM will be a game changer after all now that his Roadster is up there somewhere in space orbiting Mars. Not to forget, it waits to be seen what marketing strategy Elon Musk comes up with next, similar to The Boring Company flamethrower gimmick to fund his ambitions.

Share This Article

  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter

Written by Tabitha Mishra | Civil Engineer, Technical Content Writer

Tabitha Mishra

Tabitha has a Bachelors Degree in Civil Engineering from Mumbai University, India, and is currently freelancing as a technical content writer. Prior to writing, she has worked as a site engineer and site manager for various building construction, building rehabilitation, and real estate evaluation projects.

Tabitha is also certified as a Primavera project management professional and is well versed with Auto CAD. In her spare time, she does private consultation for small-sized home builders and assists with plans and permissions.

Related Articles

Go back to top