And yes, it would be great if this dalliance produces genuine improvements in tunnel technologies useful for building actual train-sized tunnels that can move the number of people who need to move. But Musk’s prairie-dog burrows are mostly hype, confusion, and elite projection. While delivering almost nothing useful, they are confusing elite opinion about whether we still need to build mass transit, which we do. Is any marginal benefit worth the resulting delay in getting the infrastructure we really need?
It’s gotten me thinking a lot about large infrastructure projects. In a bookshop today I was thumbing through books about Britain’s overground railways system, not quite finding exactly what I wanted. (It doesn’t help that I’m not sure exactly what I want—I suppose I’ll know when I see it.)
I started thinking about London’s Underground, and all the challenges involved in creating the world’s first underground railway, when I came across this piece from The York Herald and General Advertiser, August 6th, 1853:
Intended Subterranean Metropolitan Railway
Among the Bills which have received the sanction of Parliament, there is one which relates to a project, which, when known, will excite very great interest in the metropolis.
It is for the purpose of making a railway under the ground from the lower end of the Edgware Road to the Kings Cross.
The subterranean railway will, for the most part, run beneath the New Road.
The estimated capital for the execution of the work is £300,000 and, as a proof that the scheme can be completed for this sum, a responsible contractor has already offered to undertake the execution of it at considerably less than the amount we have specified.
What is more, a party of the highest respectability has engaged to give a guarantee of six per cent for a period of twenty years, on the amount of the capital expended.
The length of this underground railway will be less than two miles and a half. There will be stations at very short distances – say, at every quarter of a mile; and it si intended that the charges shall be so moderate that the omnibuses running along the New Road will not have a chance against their subterranean rival.
The charge for the whole distance in first-class will be only twopence.
The carriages will be superior to anything to be found on any railway in England.
Owing to the nature of the substratum along the course of the line, it will be perfectly free from damp all the way; and, as every carriage will be abundantly lighted, the ride will be pleasant in the highest degree.
The works will be speedily commenced, and it is expected that the line will be in full operation in little more than twelve months.
I’d be fascinated to read more about how this was achieved. Anyone got any recommendations?
Update: I’ve ordered The Subterranean Railway: How the London Underground Was Built and How it Changed the City Forever by Christian Wolmar.