Japan’s Transport Ministry Proposes Automated Logistics Link Between Tokyo and Osaka

The Yomiuri Shimbun

An expert panel of the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry has proposed the development of automated logistics links that transport goods on median strips or through underground tunnels along expressways.

The panel has been holding discussions on the new logistics system since February. According to a draft outline of an interim report unveiled on Friday, the ministry aims to complete the project, with a route between Tokyo and Osaka in mind, as early as in 2034.

The number of small parcel deliveries has doubled in the last 30 years amid the spread of online shopping. By the year 2030, it is estimated that about 30% of packages will not see delivery due to labor shortages.

The panel estimates that automated logistics highways could cover the amount of cargo carried by the equivalent of 25,000 truck drivers per day. Pallets that can carry up to a ton of small-sized cargo, such as agricultural and marine products and daily necessities, would be used.

The biggest challenge is cost. According to a survey of construction companies, the cost of building an underground tunnel ranges from ¥7 billion to ¥80 billion per 10 kilometers, so a system linking Tokyo and Osaka would cost up to ¥3.7 trillion. When the ministry in the year 2000 first planned logistics links above ground, it estimated construction costs of ¥25.4 billion per 10 kilometers.

The outline calls for discussions on the use of the private sector to fund the project, along with the creation of an organization to allow a wide range of companies to participate in the scheme.

“[The project] will not only address the logistics crisis, but also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Minister Tetsuo Saito said. “We would like to speedily proceed with the discussions on the matter.”