Japan mulls 500km Tokyo-Osaka conveyor tunnel

Tokyo at night. Japan’s shortage of truck drivers could lead to 35% of goods not being shipped in the country by 2030 (Raita Futo/CC BY 2.0)
The Japanese government is considering building a 500km-long underground conveyor system to move freight and consumer goods between Tokyo and Osaka to address a logistics crisis caused by labour shortages.

An expert panel of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry is also considering an above-ground system running along the median strips of main highways between the cities.

The panel estimates that such automated freight links could replace 25,000 truck drivers a day.

Japan is facing what it calls the “2024 problem” caused by new laws capping truck-drivers’ overtime, which came into effect this year.

With widespread labour shortages amid Japan’s rapidly shrinking population, experts warn the laws could seriously dent Japan’s economy.

Last year, the Nomura Research Institute said the shortage of truck drivers would lead to 35% of goods not being shipped in the country by 2030, as The Asahi Shimbun reported.

At the same time, experts note that online shopping has doubled the number of small parcel deliveries from 30 years ago.

As early as 2034

The corridor between Tokyo and Osaka, known as the Tokaido Corridor, has Japan’s biggest concentration of business and industry, and contains 70% of its population.

After discussing the issue since February, the ministry’s panel of experts released a draft outline of an interim report on Friday, reports The Japan News.

It said the ministry aims to complete an automated logistics link as early as 2034.

Japan’s transport and infrastructure minister Tetsuo Saito said the project “will not only address the logistics crisis, but also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions”,  Japan News reported.

“We would like to speedily proceed with the discussions on the matter,” he added.

The system would convey pallets each carrying up to a ton of cargo, including farm produce, seafood, and consumer goods.

It would be very expensive to set up, however.

Many billions

Japan News cites a survey of construction companies suggesting a tunnel would cost between $43m and $495m per 10km to build.

Such a tunnel between Tokyo and Osaka could therefore cost up to $24.75bn.

The ministry has been mulling the idea of an above-ground conveyor system since 2000.

Back then, it estimated the cost of an above-ground link to be $157m per 10km.

According to that estimate, such a link between the two cities would cost $7.85bn.

The ministry’s outline calls for discussions with the private sector to fund the project, and for creating an organisation to allow a range of companies to participate in the scheme.

  • Subscribe here to get stories about construction around the world in your inbox three times a week
Story for GCR? Get in touch via email: [email protected]

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Latest articles in News