O__________O 2 months ago

Anyone able to comment on why 30km hour was targeted for the high capacity lanes? Given system is automated, would think higher speeds would be targeted, especially given the system is within tunnels. Simple math without knowing more would suggest 60km would be 2x more, 120km 4x more.


Edit: Here are prior HN comments 57-days ago on a different article:



Edit-2: Here’s a map to that provides a idea of how the population is spread out in the country:


  • sandworm101 2 months ago

    Its all about energy. Accelerating the cars up to speed is one thing, but slowing them down and negotiating corners is another. Whether you use batteries or diesel, speed always takes more energy. As for throughput, we need to know the safe distance between these things at various speeds. Just like on roadways, they need to be able to stop if the car/train ahead of them stops. So slower cars, closer together, probably result in more cars passing per second than at higher speeds with greater stopping distances between cars. Exactly the same as with roads.

    Anyone who thinks that because these things are automated that they can safely travel bumper-to-bumper at high speeds hasn't worked with vehicles underground before. Any pileup in a tunnel is a nightmare. Something burning, especially something high-energy like butter or flour, turns the tunnel into a blast furnace. Safety distances will always be required.


    >>On the morning of 24 March 1999, 39 people died when a Belgian transport truck carrying flour and margarine, which had entered the French-side portal, caught fire in the tunnel.

    • jakear 2 months ago

      > So slower cars, closer together, probably result in more cars passing per second than at higher speeds with greater stopping distances between cars. Exactly the same as with roads.

      I hear this from time to time but it doesn’t pass the sniff test. If we assume the vehicles are points, their flow is precisely determined by stopping distance (as measured in seconds). If on the other hand we assume the vehicles are very long, their flow is determined by speed. Thus flow at minimum does not change with respect to speed, but in practice increases with respect to speed, assuming time-constant stopping distances (i.e. you pass X point Y seconds after the vehicle in front of you does)

      • dustimpact 2 months ago

        You can dissipate some amount of energy per second when breaking. The energy is proportional to the velocity squared, so the breaking distance is proportional to the velocity squared. The density is inversely proportional to the spacing (here the breaking distance). The flow is density times velocity, which is ~ 1/V^2 * V ~ 1/V. Therefore, the density decreases linearly with speed.

        That means that the slower you go, the more parcels per seconds you will get, because the breaking distance increases more quickly than the velocity!

        Of course this is a simplification, Because this assumes the trucks are points. The best case of this model would be an infinite density of non-moving trucks! In reality trucks have some length, which means that they can not be infinitely close, so 30kmph is probably close to the optimum.

      • Retric 2 months ago

        First friction limited stopping distance is a function of Velocity squared. Trains running on rails are longer, but the reason they use rails is rails have lower friction.

        Which is why real world freight trains have stopping distances at 65MPh of over a mile. This is also one of the reasons they can’t climb seemingly mild inclines.

        Limiting the underground freight trains to say 1/10th a mile and maximum throughput is probably close to 30mph.

      • crygin 2 months ago

        > I hear this from time to time but it doesn’t pass the sniff test. If we assume the vehicles are points...

        Ah yes, the "sniff test", in which things which are untrue are assumed, which make the interlocutor sufficiently confident to pontificate. "Sniff test", as a concept, doesn't pass itself, rhetorically (-- or maybe it's a "code smell").

    • cm2187 2 months ago

      In fact throughput is sometimes the main constraint on speed. Apparently the high speed train service on some of the busy french lines (like Paris-Lyon) is lower than what these trains would normally operate at so the safety distance can be reduced and the number of trains increased.

      • sandworm101 2 months ago

        Which makes it ironic that planes can get a higher throughput than trains. Despite thier higher speeds, planes can be landed as close as one minute appart. High-speed trains must often stay several minutes appart. Thats the advantage of having access to two/three dimensions of movement over a train's one.

        • imtringued 2 months ago

          You completely ignored the cargo capacity or number of passengers.

          • sandworm101 2 months ago

            Run the math. 400+ people/minute for a runway is actually much higher than any rail line.

            • _Tev 2 months ago

              Subway is kind of a rail line and Prague line C subway has sub 2min intervals in peak, with each train having capacity of 1000 passengers. So 500+people/min. EDIT: official number is 448 passengers / minute - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Line_C_(Prague_Metro)

              That's an extreme case of rail line, but "much higher than any rail line" is kind of extreme phrasing too :)

  • colmmacc 2 months ago

    I know nothing about this project and probably shouldn't comment but from previous logistics projects I've worked on I've learned that maintenance costs from wear and tear all seem to increase non-linearly with mechanical speed. An everyday example is that some buildings choose to run their elevators at slower speeds for this reason, but the speeds of industrial and logistical conveyor belts are carefully chosen with this in mind too. Of course air resistance also goes up non-linearly with speed, and that might be a factor here.

  • adhesive_wombat 2 months ago

    The total throughout (in cars/hour) is given by speed divided by effective length.

    Effective length is the length of a carriage plus its share of the distance between trains, which is something like quadratic in speed (since kinetic energy also is)

    So the total result is something (caution, probably there are other factors here, such as non-carrying cars like locomotives) like:

     TP = ----------
           L + ----
    Where TP is throughput, v is speed, L is car length, N is cars per train and K is some constant that determines the head between trains.

    To maximise throughput, you can't just crank up speed as you start to dominate the line with space between trains (as kV^2 grows). There will be a sweet spot when it is optimum. This applies as long as the braking distance of a train is super-linear, actually, so even if the distance is not quadratic in speed, say it was Kv^1.5, it still holds.

    You can make trains longer (increase N) to reduce the number of spaces between trains. But this has its own practical issues.

    You can also decrease K with better brakes or sensors that allow to brake earlier. But I imagine there's either a practical limit like forces on the tracks or trains, cost too much, or trains have what they have and can't be upgraded.

    You can also make cars hold more per unit length, but that's also difficult in a fixed guage in tunnels.

    Finally, if you're running trains as close as you can, there's no point running faster then the slowest train in the system. If a train at any point has to slow to 30kph, say for a corner or climb, that's the speed of the whole line.

  • genocidicbunny 2 months ago

    Just a guess, but maybe it's just a good starting point. 30kmh is pretty quick for moving goods (if you factor in all the downtime that goods spend in warehouses) and is also not terribly hard to deal with in terms of designing the system and the traction engines. When you combine this with the fact that the density can be higher than with human drivers, 30kmh doesn't seem so bad.

    Plus I would think they could gradually increase the speed as the system proves itself more. There are so many other challenges with getting this done, that maybe making the system go as fast as possible took a backburner.

    • config_yml 2 months ago

      Maybe also packing efficiency. Cargo has to be less rigid and secured, more diverse load types etc.

    • caseyf7 2 months ago

      There will also be significant elevation changes

      • genocidicbunny 2 months ago

        There will be, but seeing as this is a tunnel system, those elevation changes can be spread out a lot more than they would be if this was overland. I'm sure it's _a_ factor, but not likely to be the biggest factor in the max speed.

      • _nalply 2 months ago

        Bern is at 550 m (1800 feet) and Basel at 260 m (850 feet). I don't think that elevation changes matter a lot.

  • cperciva 2 months ago

    They're probably optimizing for consistent throughout rather than latency. Faster vehicles would reduce latency but increases the risk that a breakdown would knock out some of the capacity. (And with an underground network it's not so easy to pull off onto a side street!)

  • ahi 2 months ago

    From some googling, average freight speed in the US is under 40km hour. And that includes huge stretches of track without a curve or a mole hill. The capacity limitations end up at the depots anyway so going faster just means hurry up and wait.

    • O__________O 2 months ago

      Systems are not comparable. US systems are to my knowledge: all above ground; long trains, which require longer stopping distances; require manual loading; coupling of trains is manual; driven by humans; distances traveled are completely different; one-way, single direction, per use; breakdown cannot be routed around; etc.

  • devoutsalsa 2 months ago

    Is there any benefit to going faster? 30km/hour gets you anywhere in Switzerland in less than 24 hours.

    • jjallen 2 months ago

      More throughput would be a benefit. Not saying they should; just responding directly to this question.

      • prmoustache 2 months ago

        More throughput means more storage space needed at destination or faster loading / offloading speed and more local delivery rotation which won't be possible in final destination.

      • bobthepanda 2 months ago

        Yes and no.

        Safe deceleration must be accounted for in these projects. It‘s a lot faster to safely decelerate at 30kph than say 80kph.

  • _nalply 2 months ago

    Imagine you ordered something from Amazon. It will take about 24 hours till it is at your doorstep. If all that time was spent travelling at 30 km/h, it could have come from 720 km or 450 miles.

    In Switzerland, the distance from Geneva to St. Gall is around 360 km.

    Container ships travel typically at 16 to 25 knots (between 30 and 36 km/h), and they do this traveling very long distances.

    In other words, low speed does not really matter for many goods, especially in small countries.

    • aenis 2 months ago

      Also, its the average speed that counts. I doubt the avg speed of a freight truck running between two relatively close swiss cities exceeds 50km/h. Avg speeds drop sharply with any stops or slowdowns.

  • komposit 2 months ago

    Given this is goods and not people the more relevant metric is not the average speed of the carts but the volumetric flow rate at each of the nodes in this system.

  • tonfa 2 months ago

    It seems to be last mile distribution from logistical centers, so targeting rather short distances given the size of the country and distribution of large cities.

    First segment is between on of the biggest logistical hub and Zurich (largest city), which are 70km apart.

  • ur-whale 2 months ago

    > Anyone able to comment on why 30km hour was targeted for the high capacity lanes?

    Maybe because it's a good start?

    And what matters for a project like this is throughput, of which speed is but a single component, uninterrupted flow and volume being others.

  • jjallen 2 months ago

    I was also suprised they couldn't go faster. Maybe energy efficiency? That is the only reason you would go slower. Maybe they are trying to make this thing hyper-efficient energy wise.

    But this project is awesome for two reasons: one, I've always wondered why this sort of thing isn't automated. We could even have humans moving small packages intra-city underground on conveyor belts.

    And two, I live in Zurich, so being close to what I believe is the first project of this type ever, is super cool.

  • vegai_ 2 months ago

    Based on my extensive experience on factory building games I would suggest that perhaps also in real world wreight transfer, latency doesn't matter, only throughput.

  • imtringued 2 months ago

    That is not simple math, that is lying by omission. Trucks only drive 80km/h so talking about 120km/h either makes you sound like an elementary schooler or an Elon Musk fanboy.

jokteur 2 months ago

People here are asking why Switzerland isn't investing in a much more obvious surface railway cargo system.

The answer is that the current railway is already very dense, and both passager and cargo share the same tracks. There are already plans to extend the current railway system, but because of the shared mode, it is very complicated. And also because the terrain is very expensive (there are villages everywhere) and challenging (nothing is flat here, even the middle land), this project kind of make sense.

Instead of boring big tunnels (that would be necessary to extend the current railway system) with all the safety measures, lets bore tiny tunnels where everything is automated.

  • bobthepanda 2 months ago

    Also, they're also expanding the rail tunnels as well: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NRLA

    • _nalply 2 months ago

      These projects are almost finished, some tunnels are even in operation for years.

      But don't worry, the Swiss have even more projects in the pipeline, planned and in construction.

    • dmix 2 months ago

      Wow costs only increased by ~30% from projections in 1998 -> 2015.

      That would be a huge success story here in Canada (and I’m sure the US) that it didn’t go 100%+.

eitland 2 months ago

The most interesting part of the article after already having read the comments here was this:

> Switzerland’s parliament approved the project in December 2021 and no referendum was launched against it.

Sounds like an interesting way to do it. Anyone from Switzerland want to chime in and say a bit more? I've already heard from elsewhere that a lot in Switzerland is consensus based, but I'm interested in details or if I am wrong.

  • jokteur 2 months ago

    If the parliament passes something that you don't want, you can collect 50'000 signatures and challenges the decision. If you managed to collect these signatures, then the law will voted by the whole population in the next votation (we have like 3-4 votations per year).

    On the other hand, if you want to propose a law, you can collect 100'000 signatures and create an "initiative". After evaluation of the feasibility of this law, it will be the subject of a nation-wide votation.

    • panick21_ 2 months ago

      Its the other way around, 100k for an initiative, 50k for a referendum.

      • jokteur 2 months ago

        My bad, I confused the numbers. I corrected

    • lordwarnut 2 months ago

      How does the evaluation of the feasibility of the proposed law work?

      • panick21_ 2 months ago

        Well, generally if you propose a law like that there is a large discussion around it and those that propose it usually write a whole bunch of 'this is why its a good idea' stuff.

        The Bundesrat (i.e. the State Council) sometimes proposes an alternative. So they might say 'Initiative X proposes Y, but the State Council recommends a compromise where we do Z instead'. And then when you vote on it you have 3 options, rather then just 'yes' or 'no'.

        There is also a check of the highest court, where they basically say 'this isn't really according to international law'. However that is just a recommendation and people can ignore it when voting.

        Also, even if something goes threw, the actual implementation usually slightly adjust to reality on the ground somewhat.

  • baltbalt 2 months ago

    That's how Swiss politics work. If you can get 100000 voters to sign a petition it triggers a referendum. And that's basically how any opposition to such a project is expected to proceed.

    • panick21_ 2 months ago

      50k. 100k is for if you want to introduce a new law.

  • ur-whale 2 months ago

    Not sure exactly what you're asking, and also not from Switzerland, but what I can comment on is the fact that IIRC correctly, it is fairly easy to launch a "referendum" in Switzerland, i.e. something (a new law, or the overturning of one, or a project like this being canned) to be submitted to a direct vote from the entire population.

  • abc03 2 months ago

    correction: It's a referendum (oppose a law enacted by the parliament), so you need to collect 50 000 signatures. For a petition (changing the consitituion) you need 100 000. However, the vote in the parliament was quite clear. For example, in the Ständerat 43:0, so it would have been a surprise if a referendum were launched. Swiss politics is not consensus-based. However, you don't have just two parties that oppose each other. As most parties somehow play part in the government (some more, some less), destructive behavior is frowned upon unlike in other countries. That's why maybe some think it's consensus-based. Furthermore, due to the strong federal system and general culture, minorities need to be considered. Moreover, Switzerland is a small country, which makes some behavior difficult (see also destructive behavior above).

cybrox 2 months ago

This looks inferior to an underground railway in every aspect.

  • bobthepanda 2 months ago

    The Swiss are building those too: https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/trans-alpine-rail-tunnels...

    Being sandwiched between Germany, Austria, France and Italy, Switzerland gets a lot of transit traffic. At this point, nothing is really off the table to deal with it.

    • _nalply 2 months ago

      Built is the right word for the trans-alpine rail tunnels.

      But why stop here? The Swiss continue to build even more tunnels, one of them is the Eppenberg railroad tunnel.

      • bobthepanda 2 months ago

        Either way, with Switzerland sandwiched between the three largest EU economies, there are really no options off the table.

        The solution described in the article is just one of many.

  • nkassis 2 months ago

    I was thinking the same. Why not just a railway?

    • krasin 2 months ago

      One possible explanation is that they might not have enough space for terminals on both ends. Electrical trucks could merge into a normal road and go directly to a distribution center.

      • Waterluvian 2 months ago

        They’re autonomous so it’s unlikely they’ll ever merge with normal roads.

        • krasin 2 months ago

          Good point. I've looked deeper: https://www.cst.ch/en/why-cst/

          Apparently, they don't actually have electric trucks. Instead, they have "pods" for individual pallets:

          "Innovation is also a significant feature of Cargo sous terrain because it will for the first time be economically viable to transport small volumes on individual pallets or containers on an ongoing basis. The continuous flow of small-component goods obviates the need for waiting times at transfer stations. In addition, the space requirement can be massively reduced because temporary goods storage is no longer necessary"

moogly 2 months ago

This seems pretty neat. Economical? Doubtful, but I really like not criss-crossing the above-ground with railroad tracks and roads, and that cost is hard to calculate. Definitely interested in seeing how it turns out.

Also, I cannot wait to play the Deus Ex: Whatever level set in this tunnel system.

s-xyz 2 months ago

Clever idea honestly. At one point you might even wonder why having roads at all, as everything could be potentially done underground. Then all highways etc could be transformed to bicycle lanes, or even just given back to nature. What an amazing transformation would that be.

  • O__________O 2 months ago

    All changes impact nature, only questions of how much, what’s impact, etc — and my guess in the impact of tunnels is poorly understood. While not tunnels, hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") to known to increase earthquakes. Another likely impact would be any vibrations that reach any organisms able to sense them, which might in turn change the behavior on organisms above the ground.

ur-whale 2 months ago

Switzerland never ceases to amaze.

What I specifically like is they always seem to take the long view of time.

Here's a culture that plans, invests and builds not for the next election cycle, for two generations down the road.

And it pays off BIG time:


It's also a country that, in spite of its tiny size and population is not afraid of betting on large infrastructure projects, something many other western countries seem no to be capable of anymore.

jdlshore 2 months ago

The cost is 30-35 billion CHF, which comes out to 31-36.5 billion USD. Privately funded, interestingly enough.

  • 14 2 months ago

    Those numbers surprise me. I know it is a lot of money but honestly I would have expected underground infrastructure like that to cost a lot more. Maybe it is a regional thing.

    • jdlshore 2 months ago

      Small tunnels and no stations, plus I would presume good ground for tunneling. All together, a smart way to take advantage of tunnels’ strengths while minimizing their weaknesses.

    • herbst 2 months ago

      Probably because we know how. After the Gotthard I am sure there are still machines and very skilled people working for their next big gig.

      • 4ggr0 2 months ago

        Maybe we can ask the italians if they can send us some workers again, after all they've already built a couple of tunnels for us.

jollybean 2 months ago

Love the concept except for the 'underground' bit?

Underground is really, really expensive, for urban areas, I get it, but I wonder why it couldn't 'mostly' be above ground, like rail infrastructure?

Underground passes for bypassing major roads, but otherwise, above ground where possible?

Apparently, 'near surface underground' which can be achieved via scraping is much less costly than tunnel digging?

  • tgcordell 2 months ago

    Its Switzerland, so I'd assume the mountains and snow play a big part in increasing the cost of surface road building and snow clearing, making tunnels more attractive.

    • jjallen 2 months ago

      Most of the area of the map does not get intense snow.

      It is in the northern part of Switzerland, the very lowlands of the alps. In my two winters here there would be a few weeks of mild snow, at the very most in this area (and the first winter here had a 1 in 10 year blizzard).

      And there are some topographical changes, but nothing very steep. There are 100 KPH highways all throughout this area, and more convincingly, fairly high-speed rail too.

    • piquadrat 2 months ago

      The problem is more that the Swiss Plateau (where most of these tunnels would be built) is very densely populated. There's just not enough room for a whole new road network to be built on the surface.

      • notimetorelax 2 months ago

        Yeah, I think this might have been one of the reasons why no one created an initiative to stop this. If instead they proposed a surface railway a few communities might have objected.

  • postingawayonhn 2 months ago

    Utility tunnels are pretty cheap. When you don't need stations or safety systems for human passengers tunnels get pretty cheap.

  • genocidicbunny 2 months ago

    Since this is in Switzerland, an overland route will require a lot of ups/downs over all their mountainous terrain. A tunnel can be made to slope much more gradually, which will increase the efficiency of the system. In addition, Switzerland has a lot of experience with building tunnels, so it's probably not quite as costly as it could be.

  • saiya-jin 2 months ago

    Private land ownership - since we don't talk about China but very strong democracy, state can't really just come and take piece of land (often cut through fields), and have terminals cut through already densely populated cities.

    1 farmer not agreeing in some crucial placement would cancel whole part of network. And buying up so much land could easily be more costly here rather than just digging up rather simple narrow long tube.

  • stevage 2 months ago

    There isn't that much free land for new tracks, plus mountains everywhere. If any country anywhere called for an underground network, it would be Switzerland.

  • tgsovlerkhgsel 2 months ago

    Switzerland is dense enough that if you go underground "only where needed"... you end up underground.

SergeAx 2 months ago

Are those vehicles fully battery-driven? If so, I would be disappointed. It is so easy to add overhead wire and save massively on batteries, making the project even more sustainable. A small battery to enter-exit is okay.

Nimitz14 2 months ago

It's amazing how good Switzerland is at having their shit together.

i5heu 2 months ago

Are these rubber Tieres? No train tracks?

Seams like a very very inefficient idea. And also no standard ship container size?

Ericson2314 2 months ago

> to take the strain off road and railway networks

WTH! Get freight off roads, but if railways are getting more full build more!

Rail is efficient so induced demand endless traffic is not inevitable.

Doing some stupid one-off experiment vs an integrated approach is far inferior.

  • Ericson2314 2 months ago

    If it's supposed to be some sort of last-mile "packet switching" thing akin the per-factory spurs I suppose that is fine and interesting, but I'm very unsure from the website whether there is that sort of intent.

    Swiss in general have their shit very together on system integration so fingers cross they are doing it, and not importing American shiny-new-thing fetishization and dysfunction.

    • tonfa 2 months ago

      It's pretty clear from the website that this is the intent.

      It's the delivery from the logistical centers (where the train freight terminates) to the city centers.

      They mentions repacking so that things get bundled by final destination rather than supplier.

  • herbst 2 months ago

    You likely haven't travelled our rail system a lot. Only major train stations have the capacity to handle large volume goods, the far majority of train stations is to small and has no way to grow (because of property, mountains, geography, ..)

    Also, I don't know exact numbers, but it's likely to assume that more goods need transport in future as well as more people are going to use trains. The capacity is limited, especially in a system that works so well because it has so little delays as well as a whole fallback network.

    Pretty sure if they start doubling the freight capacity we will start to see more delays for normal train travel, which is literally the last thing they want to see happen

    • Ericson2314 2 months ago

      I think the only solution is to have separate freight and passenger rail past a certain scale. (Though Switzerland without high speed passenger rail (because the Takt doesn't need it, I'm told) perhaps can delay this a bit longer.)

      A last mile thing like this to help feed the separate freight network, but should thought of a solution in lieu of it.

      The important thing to realize is that Europe is actually worse than the US regarding freight rail, despite being so much better at passenger rail.

jsnell 2 months ago

Recent discussion on the same project: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=31204168

This post is saying 30-35 billion for the whole system, so the first segment will probably be about 7 billion. That's for a transport system between Zurich and some 5k inhabitant village I'd never heard of outside of this project, and that doesn't appear to be a significant pre-existing logistics hub. And on top of that they're not actually doing anything to solve the local distribution problem, e.g. all of Zurich will be handled by 2 or 3 hubs. So the last 10 kilometers will still be solved by trucks driving in urban congestion.

What a bizarre fucking project. Everything about it is screaming that it's totally uneconomical, but they've somehow convinced a lot of very reputable Swiss companies to invest. Is this just all based on the assumption that Swiss interest rates will be negative forever?

  • dashdot 2 months ago

    Every single person in Switzerland that listens to traffic reports recognises the name of that 5k inhabitant village. The A1 highway section there is one of Switzerlands most congested roads. Also, it is the location of Swiss Posts largest distribution centers, which alone makes it a significant logistics hub already. But adding to that it is also home to the flagship distribution center of Migros and hubs of several other large Swiss logistics firms like Planzer and Emil Egger.

    So, I think creating a connection from there to Zurich will be just fine. They chose that first route for a reason.

  • pacarvalho 2 months ago

    I have had the pleasure of living/working in Switzerland and transportation there is fairly impressive. They are also a very rich country which gives them the option to seek the development of long-term projects that may one day benefit them as opposed to immediate fixes to issues they are having at the moment.

    If this works, it would be quite beneficial. Cities with less visible vehicles and streets would be healthier for the population.

  • psuter 2 months ago

    Härkingen is well-known for being at the crossroads of important highways, FWIW. It is definitely a very relevant location for logistics.

  • sb057 2 months ago

    >some 5k inhabitant village I'd never heard of

    Chicago and Los Angeles were ~5k pop backwaters before becoming railway hubs.