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Elon Musk claims to have “verbal govt approval” for a giant East Coast tunnel

That’s not how this works.

Elon Musk, serial entrepreneur and relentless social media hype man, claims to have received “verbal approval” (whatever that is) from the government to build a gigantic tunnel from New York to Washington, DC, that will provide ultra-fast transportation on the southern half of the Northeast Corridor.

This seems a bit, shall we say, unlikely. The route would involve the states of New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Maryland as well as the District of Columbia, and you’d also need the involvement of the city governments of New York, Philadelphia, and Baltimore and probably other local governments along the way. There are also various federal issues in play — each of several crossings of rivers and bays is going to need environmental review, for example, on top of all the various safety issues involved with a completely unproven hyperloop technology.

A particular challenge with anything like this is that the state of New Jersey probably doesn’t want people building massive infrastructure projects that just skip lightly from Philadelphia to New York.

More broadly, of course, “verbal approval” is not how getting approval for things works.

All that said, a genuine fact about the United States is that we appear to be very bad and very slow at tunneling compared with European nations. Trying to get some people from outside the existing complex of consultants and contractors to look at why that is and if there isn’t a way to achieve higher tunneling productivity is a perfectly good idea.

In the meantime, there’s a long list of slightly dull-sounding incremental improvements that, in combination, could make Northeast Corridor rail a lot faster.

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