Amazon Goes Underground – Maybe


Ever resourceful Amazon continue to push the logistics envelope. Not satisfied with flying warehouses, driverless trucks, delivery drones, and their own fleet of aircraft, they have just released a patent to build a freight delivery system utilizing a subterranean network of tunnels.

The Underground Freight Pipeline

The patent is a fascinating document. Amazon envisages a combination of conveyor belts, rail tracks and pneumatic tubes that connect fulfillment centers, railway stations, airports, locker storage sites and customers. A control system built on machine learning algorithms will identify the source of the order, the destination, the location of the nearest fulfillment center and the optimal route for arrival at the destination in a timely fashion.

Xiaoshan Cai, Amazon’s resident inventor, states that the

“network delivery system may avoid congestion experienced by traditional transportation networks.”

Elon Musk and the Boring Company

Which is a point that Elon Musk has picked up on. In a series of tweets Elon Musk proclaims:

“Traffic is driving me nuts. I’m going to build a tunnel boring machine and just start digging…”

“It shall be called “The Boring Company.””

And then he finishes by tweeting:

“I am actually going to do this.”

No one has yet determined whether Elon Musk is serious about this yet. But as a member of Trump’s new advisory team he’s well-positioned to propose this as a part of Donald Trump’s $1 trillion infrastructure plan.

Mole Solutions is Serious

UK-based Mole Solutions is very serious about the idea of building underground freight pipelines. The company states:

“Mole Solutions is currently developing cost-effective, safe and environmentally friendly underground freight pipelines for solid cargoes. The system is designed to integrate with existing supply chains and transfer some of the high volume of products that travel by road into capsules running in pipelines laid beside or under existing and planned transport infrastructure.”

Mole Solutions offer three transport vehicles that can carry bulk loads, pallets or shipping containers.

There is no doubt that moving freight underground, as opposed to above ground offers many benefits. It reduces traffic congestion, reduces fuel consumption, reduces accident fatalities, and has less impact on the environment. It’s also less costly than laying new road.

The Size of the Task

So why is nobody working on this in the US? It’s speculation on my part but I think it comes down to the sheer magnitude of the task. Building a network of subterranean tunnels is a huge infrastructure project which only private companies of Amazon’s size could undertake. They have the motivation and based on their track record could also build an additional profit center based on leasing out the network to third parties. This provides a clear path to a return on investment, albeit a perhaps lengthy one.

Other players are federal or state. In Jeff Bezos hometown of Seattle the mammoth boring machine known as “Bertha” has been tunneling for three years at a final anticipated cost of $3 billion. The first phase of the New York Second Avenue subway broke ground in April 2007 and has just opened this January. Total cost so far $4.5 billion. I’m not so sure we should wait for the public sector to take the initiative.

Building tunnels is not easy. It’s a high risk venture that takes a lot of money and a lot of time. But Musk and Bezos might just be the guys to do it. After all they both enjoy an intense rivalry in the race to build reusable rockets capable of carrying payloads into space. Maybe now is the time to take that rivalry underground!

If you’re interested in learning how shipping by rail might better meet your freight transportation needs call New Mexico Transloading at 505 – 908 – 1911. We’d be delighted to have a conversation with you.

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