BALTIMORE -- Billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk's initial proposal for a high-speed, 35-mile "Loop" tunnel between Baltimore and Washington took a step forward in the process toward government approval with the release of a environmental assessment by federal regulators.
But the "Loop" in the draft environmental impact statement released last week is a far cry from the "Hyperloop" Musk initially described. And some in the community wonder if the costly project makes any sense and will ever get built.
Here's a look at the scaled-back proposal, by the numbers:
150 mph driverless cars, instead of 700 mph pods
While the twin tunnels would be designed to be able to accommodate Musk's proposed 700 mph Hyperloop vacuum-tube pods in the future, it first would use autonomous electric vehicles -- battery-powered, driverless cars with a top speed of 150 mph, allowing the trip to be completed in about 15 minutes.
Once lowered into the ground, the vehicles "would accelerate into a 'spur' or tunnel offshoot, like a freeway on-ramp, before quickly merging into the Main Artery Tunnel," according to the environmental assessment.
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1,000 passengers in each direction per day -- 'with additional capacity'
The main artery tunnels eventually could handle as many as 100,000 riders per day in each direction, according to The Boring Co., Musk's tunneling firm.
But the footprint of the first proposed Loop station in Washington is too small for that many passengers, it acknowledged. Instead, at first, the multi-billion-dollar project would carry only 1,000 riders per day in each direction -- roughly equal to the capacity of one bi-level, six-car MARC train.
"Therefore, upon construction of the proposed Project, the system would only support 1,000 riders per day per direction, with additional capacity potentially added later through the construction of additional Loop Stations," the environmental assessment says. "The locations, quantity, and size of potential future Loop Stations are unknown."