A truly in-depth idea

Rails and roads in Switzerland will probably not be able to cope with the growing freight traffic of the future – the solution might lie beneath the earth. Current prognoses of the Swiss federal office for roads and the federal office for regional development assume that goods traffic in the alpine republic will increase by up to 45 percent by the year 2030. However, today’s infrastructure will not be able to deal with such volumes. And: The reserves for expansion are limited, especially in densely populated metropolitan areas, where there is hardly any space for additional railway lines or roads. The association Cargo Sous Terrain (CST) believes the solution lies underground. The consortium, in which a number of renowned companies such as SBB Cargo, Swisscom or Rhenus Alpina are involved, already has concrete plans: Accordingly, it is envisaged that autonomous electric transport vehicles will move goods from point to point in three-lane tunnels. At specific locations, so-called hubs, loading and unloading will also be carried out fully automatically. In addition, a overhead package conveyor is foressen under the tunnel ceiling for small consignments. The speed of the electric transportation vehicles will be a uniform 30 km/h or 60 km/h on the package track. The entire system will be computer-controlled, and integration directly into the IT environments of logistics companies should be easily possible.

Cargo Sous Terrain uses tunnels underground between the loading and unloading hubs. (Drawing: Cargo Sous Terrain)
Cargo Sous Terrain uses tunnels underground between the loading and unloading hubs. (Drawing: Cargo Sous Terrain)

Fully automatic

Details of the city distribution system [Drawing: Cargo Sous Terrain]
Details of the city distribution system [Drawing: Cargo Sous Terrain]

By 2030, CST wishes to put a first pilot route into operation between Härkingen-Niederbipp and Zurich. The projected costs are estimated at 3.5 billion francs. This is, for example, significantly less than for the Gotthard Base Tunnel and other major projects. The reason for this lies in the complete automation and the absence of people in the tunnel – apart from when maintenance work is carried out. As a result, the planners can completely dispense with escape tunnels, emergency exits and similar expensive ancillary facilities.
In its final development stage, the overall logistics system of the CST will supposedly connect the cities of Switzerland between Lake Constance and Lake Geneva and thus shift the majority of transport underground. A first feasibility study has already proven the requirements as well as the efficiency of the system.

Innovative complete logistics system

The planned underground freight network, pilot scheme coloured in orange [Drawing: Cargo Sous Terrain]
The planned underground freight network, pilot scheme coloured in orange [Drawing: Cargo Sous Terrain]

It now comes down to convincing investors and getting the money together for the construction of the pilot project as quickly as possible. In any case, Peter Sutterlütti, President of the CST association, has already expressed his full confidence in a press release: “Cargo Sous Terrain is far more than a mere tunnel. It is an innovative complete logistics system, which connects the industrial and logistics areas with the large urban centres and vice versa – fully automatic and coupled with intelligent, future-oriented control systems“.

Author: Sonja Terbrüggen

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