Why Cargo Sous Terrain (CST) is not the right approach

Cargo Sous Terrain is an initiative that intends to build tunnels below Switzerland for the purpose of automatically transporting goods with a speed of ca. 30 km/h. At this moment, the project is still in its early steps and has not yet found financial sources or any approval by the government bodies.

The idea is very appealing, as it combines automatic transport, i.e. less costly personnel, very little space, i.e. underground, and high capacity, i.e. only 30km/h speed with very little gaps between the containers. This is why I think we ought to reflect first a bit on the future transportation system for goods before making a large scale investment.

The requirement to find in due time a good solution to the upcoming transport capacity problem is clear, but is this the optimal solution?

Brake of system

I understand that under the proposal the optimal logistic chain would look as follows:

  1. Transport by box cars/rail from the harbors in Italy and the Netherlands to Switzerland (i.e. Härkingen).
  2. Unloading and loading on to the automatic transport carts.
  3. Transport through tunnels to e.g. Zurich Altstetten.
  4. Unloading from automatic transport carts to trucks.
  5. Distribution by Truck to local store and unloading.

I think, such a system would be very sub-optimal as we create additional break of transport systems, which will result in loss of time and create additional costs and risks. The system would most likely still require local distribution centers to handle all locally produced goods too.

Investment

To build infrastructure for a project or a business idea creates the problem regarding investment. While money appears to be cheap in the moment, such an investment might make sense. Given the high maintenance costs of a tunnel (much more complex to reach then surface infrastructure), the replacement cycle and in the beginning the operation will be significant.

Capacity within the Agglomeration

The main reason quoted for the system is the intention to decrease surface traffic within the agglomeration. This is certainly true for locations where a tunnel is planned. However, most municipalities and local distribution

Other Technological Developments

The automatic car is already working, so is the automatic heavy truck. Why not use automatic trucks to transport the goods between distribution centers and from distribution center to shop location?

Concluding remarks

It appears to me a bit as if the initiative is launched to allow the distributing industry to not focus on the means of transport they already have: Rail transport. With a fraction of the investment, a fully autonomous unloading of Box-cars at a distribution center and autonomous transport to the local store can be achieved, utilizing the existing infrastructure better instead of building a new parallel system.

A distribution system could also look as follows:

  1. Transport by rail through gateway Limmattal to the local distribution center.
  2. Automatic unloading and distribution of goods among many autonomous trucks
  3. Transport of goods to the store location and automatic unloading

Locally produced goods, e.g. eggs, milk, vegetables, would be picked up at the producers’ location and distributed through cross docking to the distribution carts. Thus the local warehouse would become unneeded.

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