Better transport in the pipeline with innovation from underground


Potential revolutions in transport appear to be everywhere nowadays – flying drones in the skies, driverless cars on the ground, and now a Cambridgeshire based company plans to take things underground.

Mole Solutions is working in Northampton on trialling ways of moving goods around the town via a subterranean network of pipes that propel freight in capsules – a system which the company say might be put into practice after about five years.

A feasibility study is under way and is due to conclude by the end of the financial year, with the local authority providing the Mole Solutions team with data to help its financial, social and environmental analysis of how viable the system is in Northampton.

The system uses motors powered by electricity to produce magnetic fields that would propel the capsules along tracks, as it produces waves of movement that have a somewhat lurching affect, it is suitable for freight but might be too uncomfortable for human passengers, Transport Network was told.

Roger Miles, managing director of Mole Solutions, said: ‘We are not digging tunnels yet. It’s a feasibility study to establish the economic viability of such a project in Northampton – the centre of UK logistics industry.

‘We need to understand what the current supply chains are in detail to establish both direct cost and more importantly the social and environmental costs and benefits. There are a lot of barriers, it will be five years plus I would say before anything could be done in practice. It’s all a question of justifying the investment against the volume that can be moved.’

Mole Solutions has a demonstration and test facility at Alconbury Weald Enterprise Park. Mr Miles said that since it was commissioned last year ‘we have had significant interest from the public sector, with other cities and conurbations in talks about further possible trials’.

Tony Ciaburro, corporate director of environment, growth and commissioning at Northamptonshire CC said: ‘We are constantly looking at new ways to deliver goods and freight in more sustainable ways; we don’t just look above ground. The difference with this idea is there is a test track up and running. So it’s got off the desktop, all we need is to see if it is viable through this feasibility study.’

The system could use pipelines laid beside or under existing or new transport infrastructure to simplify integration with current supply chains and distribution centres. Mole Solutions suggests freight pipelines have operating costs are just 12 to 20% of that of road and capital costs are just 25% of that of road at £2m per lane kilometre.

The company has carried out studies sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and managed by the Department for Transport to explore the feasibility and proof of concept in the mining industry.

Mole has also attracted interest from Laing O’Rourke and received sponsorship from the Transport Systems Catapult (TSC), a government-funded centre in Milton Keynes set up to support innovation in transport.

The TSC is aiming to support more innovative ideas by launching a specialist investment fund to raise between £50m and £100m to support starts ups in the transport sector.

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