Musk won’t dig a tunnel in Palo Alto

Elon Musk on Dec. 18 unveiled a 1-mile tunnel in Hawthorne, dug by his latest enterprise, the Boring Co. AP photo.

This was originally printed in the Daily Post on Dec. 23, 2018.

Daily Post Staff Writer

Elon Musk, who once lived in Palo Alto and put his electric car company’s headquarters here, isn’t interested in digging a tunnel for trains in the city.

That’s according to Councilman Greg Scharff, who along with councilman Adrian Fine, reached out to Musk’s Boring Company in May to see if they would be interested in boring a 4-mile-long tunnel underneath the city for Caltrain.

Residents have long been pining for a tunnel, but the roadblock has been the cost — an estimated $4 billion. Musk, who unveiled a prototype 1-mile long tunnel in Hawthorne on Tuesday night (Dec. 18, 2018), has said he can dig tunnels for a fraction of the current cost.

The city is interested in a tunnel in order to separate the tracks from the streets at Charleston Road, Meadow Drive, Palo Alto Avenue and Churchill Avenue.

When Scharff inquired with the Boring Company if they would be interested in building Palo Alto’s tunnel, he was told that right now the company is focused on making tunnels for their “pod cars.”

Some of those pod cars were on display in Hawthorne on Tuesday when he unveiled his 1-mile-long tunnel. However, a Tesla was put in the tunnel during the demonstration.
He said his tunnels would be an “underground highway rather than a subway.”

Scharff said he also invited the Boring Company to talk to council or the Association of Bay Area Governments or ABAG. He’s vice president of ABAG.

However, at the time, he was told that the company was focusing on Southern California, and once it had completed a “good demo project,” as Scharff put it, they would be more interested in working with northern California cities.


  1. If these councilmen had a clue they would know that Musk is focusing on small diameter tunnels that can be made quick and cheap. A train tunnel is an order of magnitude larger.

  2. Not to mention the issues of creeks and roads that are already underground and need bypasses or going under doesn’t go away, nor do the costs and headaches. Musk is innovative but not a miracle worker, and even if he shaved a billion off the cost there’s still no funding. As well, the grades necessary for railroads are still there, as well as connections to neighboring town’s ‘solutions’ that have to be paired with. God my old hometown is insufferable in this matter.

  3. Building the trench or tunnel or whatever isn’t as big a deal s they make it. You need to build to right. Just build the thing. I was in the team that built then Union Pacific Railroad trench in Reno Nevada. Everything is difficult.

    • Serious B the B? It took Reno 50 years to get that trench built, and the only reason it happened is UPRR wanted to merge with SP and Reno was able to extort money from UPRR since the OK required federal OK, so could be held up by Nevada federal reps. Fresno is only getting it’s freight bypass built because it is now being called high speed rail, until that collapses. It has taken Fresno over 80 years to get that bypass built, and may be another decade before it is converted for Amtrak and freight use.

  4. Manhattan is an island with multiple train tunnels running under the surrounding waters. The tallest buildings in America at the time, the World Trade towers were built in a ‘bathtub’ because the foundations were below sea level. Tunneling isn’t new engineering, many cities worldwide have engineered transit solutions as far back as early 20th century. Perhaps the biggest question for Palo Alto and the peninsula is what does the future look like – cling to cottage suburbia or one big city between SF and SJ. If a city, the whole region has to join in the transportation scheme. If not, PA, and other towns need to impose restraints on ever expanding job additions and encourage companies to create satellite campuses. Frozen in analysis only speeds the day when most companies, and employees, find better options out of state.

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