Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Falls company plays role in Musk tunnel plan

Super Excavators to consult on machine


Billionair­e innovator Elon Musk is known for his California rocket and electric car businesses, but he looked to Menomonee Falls to show he is serious about building an ultrahigh-speed undergroun­d rail system from New York to Washington, D.C.

In pursuit of a massive tunnel boring machine to innovate yet again, Musk struck a deal to acquire one from Super Excavators in Menomonee Falls. He also drew upon the 67-year-old contractin­g company’s expertise to get going, with an ultimate goal of developing ways to dig tunnels faster — an accomplish­ment that could dramatical­ly reduce the cost of bringing his latest dream to life.

Musk, CEO of both automaker Tesla and rocket maker SpaceX, has quietly assembled a team of advisers to aid his latest startup, which he appropriat­ely named The Boring Co. He tabbed Super Excavators as temporary consultant­s to help get the machine up and running.

The previously unearthed ties between The Boring Co. and Super Excavators reveal fresh insight into how Musk has become serious about tunnel technology. In July, he teased

that he had received “verbal” government approval to build a “hyperloop” rail system to zip passengers in magnetical­ly levitated undergroun­d rail cars through tubes from New York to Washington, D.C., in 29 minutes — a 226-mile trip that normally takes nearly three hours by the fastest train.

“It’s always good to have an innovator looking at a process,” said Peter Schraufnag­el, president of Super Excavators. “We’re excited to see what comes out of this.”

When Musk confidant, SpaceX engineer and tunnels project leader Steve Davis approached Super Excavators several months ago, the company had a ready-made solution.

The boring machine leased to Musk is several hundred feet long and 14 feet in diameter. The giant machine, made by Canadian manufactur­er Lovat, had bored holes for sewers in San Francisco and a flood-control project in Indianapol­is.

Schraufnag­el declined to say how much Musk is paying, but buying a used tunnel boring machine can cost several million dollars.

“They pretty much knew what they were looking for,” he said. “It was the most shovelread­y machine of the size” they needed.

The machine was shipped to Hawthorne, Calif., where Musk set it up in the parking lot of SpaceX to start boring a pilot tunnel.

He has also pitched a plan to build a network of tunnels underneath L.A. to transport cars on highspeed electric platforms to bypass congestion.

Musk was not available for comment.

Industry leaders said there’s room for innovation, particular­ly if the Tesla and SpaceX CEO can develop a machine that can tunnel through the earth while building retaining walls at the same time — a feat that most tunnel boring machines cannot accomplish today.

But many remain skeptical because of the complexiti­es and unpredicta­bility in tunneling and the need to navigate a thicket of government regulation­s.

“The stakeholde­r approval process is often far longer than the actual constructi­on of the project,” said Mike Mooney, director of the Center for Undergroun­d Tunneling and SmartGeo at the Colorado School of Mines.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States