Japan wants to build a 500 km long conveyor belt to transport goods

An automated conveyor belt connecting Tokyo and Osaka will replace tractor-trailers amid a growing shortage of truck drivers.

A committee of Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism (MLIT) has proposed developing automated logistics bridges for transporting goods located in median strips or underground tunnels along expressways.

The committee has been holding discussions on the new logistics system since February. According to the draft, MLIT aims to complete the project, which will include a link between Tokyo and Osaka, by 2034 at the earliest.

Automatic conveyor belts along highways can be located underground, or above ground, in the median strip. Photo: MLIT

The number of small parcels delivered has doubled in the past 30 years due to the rise of online shopping. By 2030, an estimated 30% of parcels will not be delivered due to a lack of workers.

The commission also estimates that the automated logistics highway could serve the freight transport equivalent of 25,000 truck drivers per day. The conveyor belts could carry up to a ton of small goods, such as agricultural and aquatic products as well as necessities.

The project’s biggest challenge is cost. According to construction companies, the cost of building an underground tunnel is about $43-494 million per 10 km, so the Tokyo-Osaka connection could cost nearly $23 billion. When MLIT first planned the project in 2000, the above-ground connection estimated the cost at $157 million per 10 km.

The draft also calls for discussions to use the private sector to fund the project, in addition to setting up an organization to allow a variety of companies to participate in the plan.

"The project is not only aimed at solving the logistics crisis, but also helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We want to speed up the process with discussions on this topic," said a representative of MLIT.

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