The dream of a new and ambitious mode of freight transportation just took a big leap towards reality in Switzerland.
On August 1st, planning stages commenced to build an automated tunnel network that would ship cargo in shipping pods on a self-charging rail system.
Cargo Sous Terrain (CST), or ‘Underground Cargo,’ will begin with a 46-mile (70 kilometer) stretch between Zurich and a major logistics hub in Härkingen/Niederbipp. It could grow to as many as 310 miles of tunnels (500 km) connecting all the Swiss cantons.
Run on renewable energy, the project is estimated to be able to take 40% of all freight-bearing traffic off the roadways in a sustainable way that doesn’t involve clearing any land for additional roads. The electric pods would receive ongoing electric charges as they move along the induction rails.
A similar set of tracks would run on the tunnel ceilings for transporting baskets of smaller parcels.
The tunnels are designed to be around 20 feet in diameter, and the pods will be big enough for a pallet or two, with refrigerated ones to carry temperature-sensitive goods. At the terminals, large elevators will pull the pods and podlets out of the gloom and up into fulfilment centers. Dynamic tracks will prevent the elevator stations from jamming the railways of the system.
Federalism is strong in the Swiss governmental structure, and each canton will deal with the project as they wish. However, in this time of rapid inflation across Europe, the Swiss have maintained their fiscal discipline and ruled out using public money for the project.
“No subsidies are being used in building the infrastructure and operating the tunnel,” parliament ruled.
Switzerland’s Federal Council has ruled out co-financing CST with public funds, but thanks to some new legislation from the Swiss government, the company has been armed with US$100 million in private investment that was sourced pre-emptively.
The project seems very similar to various hyperloop ideas for American passenger transport, but if billions are to be spent, and the Swiss will have to find $35 billion in investment to finish the whole project by 2045, freight seems a much smarter use of underground rails since, to a certain degree, safety, comfort, and aesthetics won’t factor into the design.
So far, two other Swiss cantons in addition to Zurich—St. Gallen and Thurgau—have expressed interest and called it “economically feasible”.