Cargo sous terrain wants to move freight transport underground

Switzerland now has the world’s longest tunnel thanks to the completion of the 57-kilometer-long Gotthard Base Tunnel in 2016. Freight trains travelling on two lines running side by side transport around 40 million tons of goods through the rocky mountain on a yearly basis. The Swiss wish to use Cargo sous terrain (CST) to once again become a logistical trailblazer and take the country’s freight traffic underground on a large scale – from Geneva to St. Gallen and from Basel to Lucerne, an underground tunnel system measuring a total of 450 kilometers in length is to be built. The first section of the railway is expected to start operating in 2030.

People aboveground, freight underground: That’s the concept behind the innovative freight transport system, which is supposed to expand Switzerland’s transport infrastructure in the short term and then transform the world of logistics beyond national borders in the medium term. Cargo sous terrain will enable Switzerland to have more than just a completely new transport route used exclusively for transporting goods; it will open up the limited space available aboveground for rail and roads by up to 40 percent. Based on the freight traffic forecasts that expect Switzerland’s transport volume to increase by up to 45 percent by 2030, solutions are urgently needed to compensate the increasing flows of traffic.

Cargo sous terrain: fully automatic transport of goods on three-lane tunnels

Cargo sous terrain’s logistics system is based on two main elements: For one, the underground transport tunnel, and secondly the efficient, environmentally friendly distribution of goods to urban centers. CST vehicles running on wheels are to travel in the three-lane tunnels at a constant speed of 30 km/h. At a total of around 80 different access points (so-called “hubs”), goods such as packages, piece goods and bulk materials are automatically fed into or removed from the system on pallets and in containers. The consolidated delivery of goods finally takes place above the ground in cities using environmentally friendly, quiet vehicles. The CST system enables particularly efficient transport because goods can already be organized in the order that they are to be delivered inside the tunnel.

Cargo sous terrain’s purpose is to connect industrial and logistics centers throughout Switzerland to major cities by providing a six-meter-wide and six-meter-high underground tunnel. The upper tunnel in the figure shows a cross-section; the lower tunnel provides a top view of the identical section. Goods to be transported are picked up at the source (top left) and then transported through the tunnel system to so-called city hubs located on the edges of metropolitan areas (top right). A lift transports transport vehicles in and out of the tunnel. On the last mile, the consolidated delivery of goods is carried out aboveground.

“Cargo sous terrain is an innovative overall logistics system that connects industrial and logistics areas with large agglomerations and vice versa – fully automatic and paired with intelligent, future-oriented control systems,” says Peter Sutterlüti, Chairman of the Board of Cargo sous terrain AG, in which key market players such as Migros, Coop, Swiss Post, SBB Cargo and Rhenus Logistics have stakes. Cargo sous terrain’s latest partner is SAP: The market leader in business software is contributing to the project with its knowledge of the Internet of Things and digital platforms. “We are very pleased to be supporting this groundbreaking project with our IoT solutions. In collaboration with project partners, we will also work on innovation topics such as machine learning and blockchains,” explains Dr. Tanja Rückert, President of IoT & Digital Supply Chain at SAP.

Construction work on the first CST railway section measuring almost 70 kilometers in length and connecting Härkingen-Niederbipp to Zurich is slated to begin in 2023. Cargo sous terrain is to be gradually expanded in the years to come. The project is estimated to cost approx. 33 billion Swiss francs (around 29 billion euros).

Text by Benjamin Klare
Figures: Cargo sous terrain