When a tunnel is not at all boring

Dr Johnson Shen's interview with the ABCFancy a twenty minute drive to Katoomba or Lithgow from Sydney’s West? Travelling, like a band of brave hobbits, under the mountains?  Not on hairy foot, of course, but in your own car -  in a high speed transit tunnel.

NSW State MP Jeremy Buckingham put the million dollar question via Twitter to Elon Musk, the billionaire technology entrepreneur,  ‘how much would a 50 km tunnel under the mountains cost Sydney?’

‘Our city is choking with traffic,’ he told Musk, and suggested that a Blue Mountains tunnel could reduce congestion and open up the western region of our state.

The ever active Musk responded on the same day – with what turned out to be a billion dollar answer. He estimated costs of $15M per km plus $50M for each station. Total - $US 850M  - ie $ 1.1 billion in Australian dollars.

The ABC promptly called on our CIES expert on future-ready construction tools, Dr Johnson Shen, Director of the UNSW Autonomy and Intelligence in CONstruction laboratory (AICON) to discuss this latest transport thought bubble.

While Dr Shen would not be drawn on the dollar costs, apart from suggesting the Musk tweet might not include indirect construction project costs, he was very positive that the engineering work itself could be done. 

It turns out that sandstone is an ideal material for boring through –  the rock itself provides a secure stable base for the tunnel boring machines.  Moreover, said Dr Shen, the technology was not new, it was proven from decades of project work.

‘The boring company’ said Shen, who serves on the Board of Directors, International Association for Automation and Robotics in Construction (IAARC),’ is not boring at all.’

For the full ABC TV  news interview see


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