Cargo sous ter­rain

A vi­sion­ary project aims to move freight trans­port to a place it can roll with no de­lays: un­der­ground.

Bulletin - - Contents - By He­lene Laube Il­lus­tra­tion Alex Walker

Freight traf­fic will roll along where there is never any traf­fic: un­der­ground.

In 2017, 25,853 hours were spent in traf­fic jams on Switzer­land’s na­tional high­ways. As in years past, the Swiss Fed­eral Roads Au­thor­ity has named traf­fic con­ges­tion as the main cause of the chaos. The na­tional high­ways carry 70 per­cent of heavy freight trans­port, and the trend is climb­ing. One of the con­se­quences of this grid­lock: More and more goods are ar­riv­ing later and later at their des­ti­na­tions.

In or­der to ad­dress the in­creas­ing trans­porta­tion of goods, the plan is to move it to a place where it will have a much smaller im­pact on peo­ple, the en­vi­ron­ment and traf­fic – namely, un­der­ground. Equal parts in­no­va­tion and am­bi­tion, a lo­gis­tics sys­tem called Cargo sous ter­rain (CST) has been in the works since 2010 and is de­signed to trans­port and tem­po­rar­ily store freight be­low the earth’s sur­face.

Al­most 500 kilo­me­ters long, com­pletely au­to­mated and op­er­ated us­ing re­new­able en­ergy, the tun­nel net­work will ex­tend along the routes most plagued by traf­fic jams, stretch­ing from Geneva to St. Gallen and from Basel to Lucerne, with an off­shoot from Berne to Thun. Pack­ages, cargo and bulk ma­te­ri­als will be trans­ported 20 to 40 me­ters be­low ground, around the clock. CST will also be­come Switzer­land’s largest ware­house, with one mil­lion square me­ters of space un­der­ground.

The vision looks like this: Goods will be trans­ported on pal­lets or in con­tain­ers on un­manned and cli­mate-con­trolled, com­put­er­ized trans­port ve­hi­cles. The ve­hi­cles travel along a six-me­ter wide, three-lane tun­nel at a con­stant speed of 30 kilo­me­ters per hour. They are able to nav­i­gate freely within the lanes, con­nect to trains, and en­ter and exit the traf­fic flow. In­stal­la­tion of a sus­pended mono­rail is planned be­neath the tun­nel’s roof where smaller freight units can be trans­ported at 60 kilo­me­ters per hour.

HUBS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN Over 80 trans­fer points will be built along the route for load­ing and un­load­ing in­dus­trial and trade goods. These hubs will be con­structed on the out­skirts of cities, prefer­ably near ex­ist­ing lo­gis­tics cen­ters. Pal­lets and con­tain­ers can be picked up or trans­ferred to the un­der­ground trans­porta­tion sys­tem us­ing el­e­va­tors. Dis­tri­bu­tion over the fi­nal kilo­me­ters can be taken over by zero-emis­sion elec­tric ve­hi­cles like bi­cy­cles, small de­liv­ery trucks, scoot­ers or some­day even drones or self-driv­ing cars us­ing so­phis­ti­cated soft­ware to fol­low an op­ti­mized route. This city lo­gis­tics con­cept and the IT plat­form be­hind it will al­ready be avail­able for short-range dis­tri­bu­tion within the cities even be­fore the first sec­tion of the CST tun­nel sys­tem is fin­ished, says CST spokesper­son Pa­trik Ael­lig.

The project was ini­ti­ated by Swiss com­pa­nies Mi­gros and Manor. Like many other busi­nesses, these com­pa­nies

de­pend on timely and ef­fi­cient de­liv­er­ies. A project group in­clud­ing part­ners like Coop and Manor was estab­lished in 2011, and 20 busi­nesses in Basel founded the CST Foun­da­tion in 2013. This foun­da­tion was later con­verted into a joint­stock com­pany in March 2017 in or­der to at­tract in­vestors. By do­ing so, CST was also com­ply­ing with a Fed­eral Coun­cil guide­line that re­quired it to con­vert to a joint-stock com­pany as one of sev­eral con­di­tions for ini­ti­at­ing the nec­es­sary leg­is­la­tion to reg­u­late un­der­ground freight trans­port. The govern­ment aims to sup­port the project with this spe­cial law, and work on draft­ing it will be­gin soon.

PRI­VATE - SEC­TOR PROJECT Its trans­for­ma­tion to a joint-stock com­pany also al­lows CST to take on in­vestors who will pro­vide the pri­vate funds to re­al­ize the project, the cost of which is es­ti­mated at a to­tal of 33 bil­lion Swiss francs. Along with Mi­gros and Coop, the 16 ma­jor share­hold­ers hold­ing a seat on the board of di­rec­tors in­clude SBB Cargo, Post, Mo­bil­iar, the Ger­man soft­ware group SAP and the Cal­i­for­nian start-up Vir­gin Hyper­loop One. To­gether with Swiss and in­ter­na­tional in­vestors such as Credit Suisse, Euro­pean in­fra­struc­ture devel­oper Meridiam and Dagong Global In­vest­ment Hold­ing from China, the com­pany has se­cured in­vest­ments of 100 mil­lion Swiss francs. The mas­sive project will be re­al­ized in sev- eral stages, and con­struc­tion is set to be­gin in 2025. A first, 67-kilo­me­ter long sec­tion of tun­nel will con­nect the lo­gis­tics hub of Härkin­gen-nieder­bipp to Zurich by 2030. Price tag: 3 bil­lion Swiss francs.

If ev­ery­thing goes ac­cord­ing to plan, the en­tire net­work may be­come op­er­a­tional in 2045 when it will be ac­ces­si­ble to all com­pa­nies. Switzer­land will then have ac­cess to an au­to­mated, dig­i­tized com­pre­hen­sive lo­gis­tics cen­ter which, ac­cord­ing to CST, “will pro­mote the com­pet­i­tive­ness of its econ­omy and qual­ity of life over the long term.”

The num­ber of heavy-duty trucks will drop by 40 per­cent by mov­ing freight trans­port un­der­ground. Freight traf­fic could be 30 per­cent lower in cities. This off-ramp from traf­fic jams would boost the se­cu­rity of sup­ply, be­cause punc­tu­al­ity is more im­por­tant to lo­gis­tics than speed. “Goods have to move de­pend­ably and there­fore pre­dictably; it doesn’t mat­ter if they move slowly,” says Ael­lig.

Vot­ers seem to sup­port the vi­sion­ary project. In the Credit Suisse Progress Barom­e­ter (start­ing on page 55), the call for Switzer­land to move traf­fic (not only freight) un­der­ground en­joys the broad­est sup­port.

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