The Swiss do it again: legal approval for underground rail freight project

The Swiss Federal Council has approved the law on underground goods transport, which will come into force on 1 August. The law provides the legal ground for implementing a futuristic yet realistic project: the Cargo Sous Terrain (CST).

What is the CST? CST is a privately funded initiative aiming to create an underground freight-dedicated rail corridor connecting some of Switzerland’s most important production and logistics hubs. The company itself describes its vision as “building a complete logistics system for the flexible transport of small-component goods with tunnels connecting production and logistics sites with urban centres”.

Underground freight network

The first section of the CST network will run in Northern Switzerland between Härkingen-Niederbipp and Zurich. It will be around 70 kilometres long. The specific section will connect ten different hubs, while plans foresee their progressive connection with other key logistics and distribution centres within Switzerland.

3D simulation of how the underground rail freight network will look. Source: Cargo Sous Terrain.

CST says that the first section will open in 2031, while until 2045, “a network of 500 kilometres will operate between Lake Constance and Lake Geneva, with branches to Basel, Lucerne and Thun”. “The costs of building the first section, including software, hubs as well as underground and overground vehicles (for distribution in the cities) are estimated at 3 billion Swiss Francs”.

Structure and expansion plans

The project is now going full-steam after the Swiss Federal Council approved the needed law for its implementation. By the end of 2022, CST will commence “the structure plan processes required for the project in the cantons of Aargau, Solothurn and Zurich, and investigate suitable hub locations along the first line from Härkingen to Zurich Airport”.

The Zurich Airport will become a critical point in CST since it will connect to the underground network and build a logistics terminal to facilitate quick and easy transit for cargo arriving or departing from there.

Moreover, the project is already looking towards an eastwards expansion with CST and the cantons of St Gallen and Thurgau, having already analysed the feasibility of subterranean freight transport between Zurich and eastern Switzerland. The analysis showed that “extending the network as far as St Gallen is technically and economically promising. Based on these results, in-depth investigations will now be undertaken at possible hub locations. The cantons of St Gallen and Thurgau are keen to have a connection to this forward-looking system as soon as possible,” concluded CST.

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Author: Nikos Papatolios

Nikos Papatolios is editor of RailFreight.com, the online magazine for rail freight professionals.

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