In its original conception, the Hyperloop consists of capsules that travel through vacuum tubes, or under reduced air pressure, at very high speeds, basically reaching 745 mph (1,200 km/h). To eliminate friction losses and increase energy efficiency, the capsules float in the air using magnetic levitation technology and move forward using electric propulsion.
The idea behind this solution is to create a faster, more efficient and safer means of transport than current conventional systems, by the way dramatically reducing carbon emissions. It has been described as a combination between an airplane and a train, and is mainly intended for the transport of passengers. For now, the technology is still under development and has not been commercially implemented anywhere yet. There are several projects in different stages of implementation and tests around the world, but it is expected that it will take a couple of years before the system is fully functional and operational.
"A lot less technologically optimistic than the Hyperloop project, Cargo Sous Terrain looks considerably more likely to happen."https://t.co/JXEidXn6Vr— EPD Total Landscaping (@EricPaulDennis) July 14, 2022
Now, a project being developed in Switzerland may become the first to demonstrate its technical and commercial viability before the end of this decade: Cargo Sous Terrain (“CST”, translated from French as “Underground Cargo”), though it is not exactly a Hyperloop concept. Its vision is somewhat different from Elon Musk's definition, although it is based on very similar principles.
The CST system is limited only to the transport of goods, which will simplify things a lot, but it is actually more complex at a logistical level, since it combines underground and surface operations. Both have similar goals, though: fast, efficient, emission-free and sustainable transportation systems. Although it is a private initiative, Cargo Sous Terrain is not a small company, but an umbrella organization that brings together multiple Swiss companies specialized in different fields.
This complex logistics system aims to connect the main centers of the country, both underground and on land; which in turn implies the development of multiple sub-projects in parallel. It is not just about developing a new type of vehicle, but also about the locations of the different operation centers, about energy management, tunnel construction and about the information technology (IT) infrastructure that will control the entire system.
CST wants to replace trucks and trains with cargo pods: these are tiny, fully autonomous vehicles designed to operate 24 hours a day and capable of reaching speeds of up to 20 mph (30 km/h). The actual movement is achieved thanks to a system similar to a conveyor belt: powered by induction rails, the driverless capsules would transport one, two or more pallets that would also be loaded and unloaded autonomously.
Special vertical elevators will allow the capsules to move from surface loading operations at designated logistic centers to underground tunnels; the goods (including fresh food products) are transported through them to the destination centers. In this freight system, suppliers do not deliver their goods individually: as per the so-called micro distribution concept, goods are prepared in advance and coordinated so that the entire process is fast and efficient.
CST hopes to drastically ease the burden of rail and road freight transportation. They claim they could reduce heavy goods transport on Switzerland's roads by up to 40%; and in addition, the Swiss company guarantees the use of 100% renewable energy sources.
Unlike similar projects, such as Hyperloop-type passenger mobility, CST ensures that the project is based on the real needs of users and on actual market requirements, as deduced from the detailed feasibility study that has been already carried out. In other words, it is not just an attractive conceptual initiative, but a project that is ready to be implemented.
CST has a relatively optimistic time frame for commissioning the initial phase of this large-scale charging system: by 2031 it expects to inaugurate the first section of the network, connecting Härkingen-Niederbipp with Zurich, which includes 70 km of tunnels and ten centers or connection points along the route.
From there, it will gradually expand to other centers in the country; in its final stage, by 2045 it will be a network with a total of 500 km that will connect Lake Constance and Lake Geneva. The total cost of the project is estimated at approximately 33 billion euros, out of which 3 billion are necessary to start work on the first section. Interestingly, the money will not come from government funds, but exclusively from private investment.
Earlier this month, the International Hyperloop Association was presented, made up of a series of European companies based in Brussels, Belgium, which will act as an intermediary between the industry, the European Commission and the European Parliament for the development of this system in Europe. The president of the new organization, Ben Paczek, has declared that the main developments in this sector will in fact come sooner than expected, during the next few months.
CST is not one of the founding members of this new Association and has not yet begun to build its first tunnels. Despite this fact, this could be the most advanced Hyperloop-related project in Europe, as far as implementation is concerned. It might not be as flashy as futuristic Hyperloop pods, but it could change cargo transportation forever.
Nico Caballero is the VP of Finance of Cogency Power, specializing in solar energy. He also holds a Diploma in Electric Cars from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, and enjoys doing research about Tesla and EV batteries. He can be reached at @NicoTorqueNews on Twitter. Nico covers Tesla and electric vehicle latest happenings at Torque News.