Underground Logistics System

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Underground Logistics System (ULS) or Underground Freight Transportation System (UFTS) is a system designed for the transportation of goods through an underground tunnel or pipe network.

ULSs of varying sizes have been considered.[1][2][3][4] Smaller systems focus on the distribution of mail and consumer goods to homes and businesses, often in high-density urban environments. These systems are referred to as underground parcel delivery networks,[5] "e-mail for things",[6] "transport internet"[7] or "physical internet".[8] Heavier systems known as underground freight networks are aimed towards transporting heavier cargo such as pallets and shipping containers, particularly around high-traffic areas such as ports, airports and distribution centers.

A ULS is a type of infrastructure. Heavier systems are sometimes considered as a mode of transportation next to road, rail, air and water.[9][2] Lighter systems can be considered as a kind of public utility service, next to water mains, sewers, power lines, gas pipes and communication lines.[10][11]

A variety of techniques and technologies are considered for the construction of underground logistics systems. They include various tunnel (or pipeline) construction methods, propulsion technologies and routing schemes (or operational designs).

Most of the technologies envisioned for ULS can also be applied in surface-level pipeline networks. Many concepts therefore envision a hybrid system where pipes are placed underground when is it desireable to do so but run on the surface elsewhere. For this reason, the meaning of the ULS acronym is sometimes generalized to Unimpeded Logistics System.

The International Society on Underground Freight Transportation Systems (ISUFT[12]) holds regular conferences on the development of underground logistics systems.[13]



  • Reduction of surface level traffic and its associated downsides, such as emmissions, noise pollution, crowding
  • Can be more energy-efficient through the use of electric propulsion and shorter routes
  • Can be faster and more reliable, because it can be
    • Insensitive to traffic jams and roadblocks
    • Insensitive to weather such as blizzards and storms
  • Can be operated 24/7 without causing inconvenience, especially when combined with automation
  • Possibility of new business models enabled by just-in-time delivery and shipping


  • High initial construction cost
  • Possible maintainance costs
  • Increased risk of flooding, such as in the Chicago Flood
  • Increased security risks due to an additional hidden entrance

Historical systems

  • Pneumatic mail systems such as the Prague pneumatic post were used to connect post offices and buildings with small pneumatic tubes.
  • Chicago Tunnel Company was a network of 6 feet (1.8 m) wide tunnels beneath virtually all streets of downtown Chicago, connecting into building basements and railway stations. It was estimated that this "freight subway" did the work of 5000 trucks in 1929.[14]
  • London Post Office Railway was a dedicated underground automated railway system running between sorting offices.
  • Disney theme parks are known to be equipped with underground tunnel networks known as utilidors (utility corridors). These are used to transport people, supplies and garbage without disturbing the surface level theme park.

Modern proposals

  • CargoCap[15] is a German company launched in 2002 under the direction of Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dietrich Stein. It promotes a freight system capable of transporting capsules containing two euro-pallets through 2.0 meter (6 feet) diameter tunnels or pipes, over distances up to 150 km (90 mi).[9][16]
  • Mole Solutions Ltd.[17] is a British company founded in 2002 aimed at developing underground logistics systems or freight pipelines. It has developed a demonstration project in Cambridgeshire, UK featuring a 1.3 m (4 feet) diameter pipe equipped with rails and linear induction motors.[18][19][20][21]
  • FoodTubes[22] ("Really fast food") was a 2008 British proposal by Noel Hudson for a 1.2 m (4 feet) diameter polyethylene tube system through which 2 m long capcules would travel at speeds up to 60 mph, powered by air pressure. It would be a packet-switched-style network connecting food producers and retailers. Costs were estimated at 5 million euro per kilometer. [8][7][23][24][25]
  • Urban Mole was a 2009 concept for the transportation of packages through urban sewer systems.[26]
  • Cargo Tunnel[27] was a concept published in 2009 by Russ Tilleman et al. They envisioned a 4-feet (1.2 m) diameter tunnel network connecting homes and businesses, enabling automated delivery of cillindrical packages up to 18x18 inches (45x45 cm). Delivery would take place through access cabinets, each equipped with an elevator to access the tunnel system.[10][11]
  • Cargo Sous Terrain is a planned system to complement the Swiss road and rail network, in development since 2013. It will feature 6.0 meter diameter tunnels and transport euro-pallets and shipping containers.[28]
  • Magway[29] is a British start-up founded in 2017 aimed at developing a pipe network for the delivery of packages to consumers and businesses. It plans to use small HDPE pipes with a diameter less than 0.9 m (3 foot), equipped with magnetic propulsion.[30][31][32]
  • JD.com launched an Urban Smart Logistics Institute in 2018 to study underground logistics systems for their fulfillment centers.[33] No details have been published, but animations show a system similar to CargoCap.[34] JD.com is reported to be collaborating with the American firm Magplane Technology Inc. to develop a magnetic levitation system.[35]


  1. De Decker, Chris (February 2008). "A world without trucks: underground freight networks". Low-Tech Magazine. Retrieved 2020-08-08.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  2. 2.0 2.1 Chen, Zhilong; Dong, Jianjun; Ren, Rui (2017-09-01). "Urban underground logistics system in China: Opportunities or challenges?". Underground Space. 2 (3): 195–208. doi:10.1016/j.undsp.2017.08.002. ISSN 2467-9674.
  3. Vernimmen, Bert; Dullaert, Wout; Geens, Erik; Notteboom, Theo; T'Jollyn, Bob; Gilsen, Walter Van; Winkelmans, Willy (2007-08-01). "Underground Logistics Systems: A Way to Cope with Growing Internal Container Traffic in the Port of Antwerp?". Transportation Planning and Technology. 30 (4): 391–416. doi:10.1080/03081060701461832. ISSN 0308-1060.
  4. Wiegmans (2010). "Review of underground logistic systems in the Netherlands: an ex-post evaluation of barriers, enablers and spin-offs" (PDF). European Transport. 45: 34–49.
  5. "JD.com to Study Underground Urban Parcel Delivery Network". CargoForwarder Global. 2018-10-29. Retrieved 2020-08-08.
  6. "Underground Freight Networks - Slashdot". tech.slashdot.org. Retrieved 2020-08-08.
  7. 7.0 7.1 "FoodTubes slideshow". YouTube. September 2010.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. 8.0 8.1 "Foodtubes Proposes Underground, Physical Internet - Slashdot". tech.slashdot.org. Retrieved 2020-08-08.
  9. 9.0 9.1 "What is CargoCap? | CargoCap GmbH". www.cargocap.com. Retrieved 2020-08-08.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Barry, Keith (2009-08-12). "Someday, A Tiny Subway Will Deliver Your Groceries". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2020-08-08.
  11. 11.0 11.1 "Cargo Tunnel". www.cargotunnel.com. 2009. Retrieved 2020-08-08.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  12. https://www.isuft.org/
  13. "ISUFT-History". www.isuft.org. Retrieved 2020-08-08.
  14. "Chicago's Freight Subway Does the Work of 5000 Trucks - Modern Mechanix (Nov, 1929)". Modern Mechanix. Retrieved 2020-08-08.
  15. http://www.cargocap.com/
  16. "CargoCap - combined traffic in metropolitan areas". YouTube. June 26, 2012.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  17. http://www.molesolutions.co.uk/
  18. Newton, Jennifer (2015-04-15). "Vast underground pipes could be used for freight to end congestion". Mail Online. Retrieved 2020-08-08.
  19. Mole Solutions (August 18, 2016). "BBC TV report on Mole Solutions freight pipeline system". YouTube. Retrieved August 8, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  20. Silverthorne, Bob. "UNDERGROUND LOGISTICS SYSTEM ULS V2". YouTube. Retrieved August 8, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  21. "ABOUT MOLE SOLUTIONS". www.molesolutions.co.uk. Retrieved 2020-08-08.
  22. http://www.noelhodson.com/index_files/foodtubes-project-team.htm
  23. Lasar, Matthew (2010-12-06). "Can we transport food like Internet data? Foodtubes says yes". Ars Technica. Retrieved 2020-08-08.
  24. Hodson, Noel (February 2008). "Foodtubes - The transport internet - really fast food". Retrieved August 8, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  25. Hodson, Noel. "Foodtubes". noelhudson.com. Retrieved August 8, 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  26. Barry, Keith (2009-07-29). "Robot Design Delivers Packages Through Sewers". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2020-08-08.
  27. http://www.cargotunnel.com
  28. "Swiss group reveals plans for underground freight network". Post & Parcel. 2016-02-15. Retrieved 2020-08-08.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  29. https://www.magway.com/
  30. "Are these subterranean tunnels the future of deliveries?". Evening Standard. 2019-12-17. Retrieved 2020-08-08.
  31. Handley, Lucy (2019-11-14). "A start-up is planning an underground network of tunnels in the UK to deliver more than 600 million packages a year". CNBC. Retrieved 2020-08-08.
  32. "UK Magway developing underground parcel delivery network – CityLogistics". Retrieved 2020-08-08.
  33. "JD.com Launches New Institute for Smart Logistics in Urban Areas". JD Corporate Blog. 2018-10-18. Retrieved 2020-08-08.
  34. JD.com, Inc. (January 5, 2019). "JD.com's vision for futuristic automation technology for urban logistics in smart cities". YouTube.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  35. "JD.com looking at high-speed maglev delivery network". chinaplus.cri.cn. Retrieved 2020-08-08.

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