Lorenzo was having lunch with his colleague in a nice bar close to the office. In Italy people like to have an hour lunch, sitting together, having conversation and sometimes drinking a good glass of wine. His smart-wrist-watch flashed and a message informed him that the parcel he was awaiting for, was available for collection at the nearest subway station. He finished his pasta and headed to the Duomo station close to the town cathedral. The Freight Metro Service had been launched one year ago by a joint venture between the Local Department of Transports and the Italian Mail System. Somebody noticed that although the trains were driverless, so perfectly synchronized and managed by a software, in the 2 minutes between one train and the next, the rails were completely empty and unused. A real waste of infrastructure that a semi-public-private joint venture decided to fill with small train capsules able to host mails, parcells and in theory one full euro-pallet. Capsules could work 24 hours a day, never slowed down the subway trains, were aerodynamic and powered by electricity.
Lorenzo scanned his wrsit-watch screen at the entrance and got access to an enormous stone vault room where a conveyor belt had previoulsy deposited his parcel tagged to get exactly there, in that metallic box n°21. He scanned again the bar-code appearing on his watch and the door on the shelf unlocked, letting him take his parcel.
After 5 minutes he was back in the sun.
This idea could be realized soon. The cost of adapting current infrastructures is much less than creating brand new ones. In addition to the underground, several towns like London, Prague, Berlin and New York already experimented pneumatic postal systems since mid 1800’s and Paris kept operative such a tool until 1984; some pipelines and tunnels became abandoned, others have been converted into telecommunication, others to national heritage and museums. If you want to have a fascinating picture of the history and the current development of freight pipelines visit the pipenet website at this link (.pdf). For more “visual” people, renderings and demo movies can be found on the website of CargoCap, a german company devoted to freight transportation in congested areas, because of course pipeline freight is about congestion, environment, technology and safety. But if you want to have a look at the most futuristic report I’ve found on the web about travel and transportation, please have a look at “Future of Rails 2050” (.pdf), it will make you dream.
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