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CarTube: Transport of the future or sci-fi fantasy?

Major transport infrastructure projects take a lot of time and, invariably, cost a lot of money.

The term ‘Crossrail’ was first used in the 1970s, with the project taking various guises until its current form began construction in 2009.

High Speed 2, likewise, is an idea that’s been around for many years now – but it has taken considerable time to put proposals together and gather everything necessary to start work.

PLP Architecture has put forward a radically different plan for boosting transport links within cities, which it has dubbed CarTube.

As the name suggests, the idea combines autonomous electric cars and underground tunnels. In theory, this is a lovely idea.

An underground motorway network that allows self-driving cars to travel within very short distances of each other, whizzing about directly from point to point to make journeys more efficient and cut down on pollution and gridlock on the surface.

What’s not to like?

PLP says it could work something like this:

  • A network of tunnels 1 km apart are placed underground and linked to existing vehicle infrastructure.
  • Control technology is used to create ‘virtual trains’ of cars, all running in close proximity to each other.
  • Any vehicle entering the system must have a destination – and a second level of control works out the fastest route for it.
  • A third level of control mediates between all the destinations to work out the most efficient routes. Dynamic pricing and real-time bidding for faster trips could come into play here.
  • Traffic runs at a constant, steady speed – all stations are on spurs.
  • Cars could travel at 80 kph, 2 m apart.

PLP’s director research Lars Hesselgren said in the announcement: “Moving high-speed car traffic below ground will revolutionise our concept of the city, allowing our urban spaces to be designed not for cars, but for people.

“CarTube has the potential to be the next best thing to teleportation and will revolutionise exiting cities and allow for unprecedented urban forms.”

The next best thing to teleportation – it’s nothing if not ambitious.

But how realistic is it? Well, probably not very.

CREDIT Wire Collective London_PLP Architecture_Cartube 2

CREDIT Wire Collective London_PLP Architecture_Cartube 2

Source: Wire Collective London

PLP says CarTube could be here in “less than a decade”, compared to the 30 years that it took Crossrail to arrive.

And on the question of space in London, PLP says “there is still plenty of room” – CarTube would run in tunnels at a depth of 30 m below the surface. But despite what they say, room underneath central London in particular is at a premium – especially if you factor in other planned infrastructure schemes like Crossrail 2.

It’s great to see ideas like this thrown out – and who knows, something very similar may indeed one day come to pass, providing lots of work for all that tunnelling expertise created by Crossrail and Tideway.

But it seems more likely that we’ll continue with the tried and trusted transport methods that we know work well, improving them incrementally.

Ideas like CarTube and Hyperloop can capture the imagination and inspire creativity – but they probably belong in the realm of science-fiction.

More on technology

We’ve got two pieces looking at the implications of different technologies for construction – one on driverless cars and another on smart buildings.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Belong in the realm of science fiction? Views like that are what hold back progression

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