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Underground mass transit system for autonomous cars planned

Architecture practice PLP has unveiled its concept design for a new transport solution for cities that use autonomous vehicles in underground tunnels.

The CarTube concept combines two existing modes of transport – automated electric cars and mass public transit – into a single, seamless road system below ground.

PLP said the CarTube concept is in response to current transportation networks in major cities that cannot accommodate for the increasingly rapid rate of urbanisation.

The company said that the proposed network would run at a nominal depth of 30m below London’s densely populated subterranean zone.

The design integrates existing motorways with a network of small bore tunnels. Automated cars, circulating above and below ground, would be controlled via a dynamic platoon system allowing cars to move within milliseconds of one another. The underground network would allow the autonomous vehicles to move in a continuous flow at a steady speed, increasing transport capacity, relieving congestion and freeing up public space above ground.

According to PLP’s research, CarTube would typically double transport capacity for the same investment as conventional mass transport and reduce travel time by 75%.

PLP said that its simulations show that CarTube takes approximately one quarter of the time of any other forms of transport, including traditional cars or public transport. This is because the primary network, controlled by the system, would flow at a steady speed of 50mph. A journey from Heathrow from the City would take 14 minutes, it said.

Users would be able to book a CarTube trip in their own cars or shared public cars through a smartphone app. The CarTube app would calculate a fare and an estimated arrival time based on an optimal route through the network. The whole journey would be point-to-point, without any transfers or stops.

“CarTube is a direct response to mass transit and traffic congestion in the world’s largest cities. 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,” said PLP director of research Lars Hesselgren.

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

PLP insisted that because the system is modular and requires relatively small capital investment, there are no barriers to a speedy implementation. The company added that CarTube could be a reality in less than a decade.

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