THOUSANDS OF tonnes of freight on lorries clogging up London's streets could be routed underground in a new scheme.
A meeting of business leaders and engineers heard last week that 'guided driverless vehicles' could move freight east to west along existing mail tunnels to London's busiest shopping area, reducing heavy vehicle deliveries in Oxford Street alone by over 200 per day.
The plan, being developed by the MetroFreight consortium, uses 2.5m diameter post office tunnels built in the 1920s and still used by Consignia (Royal Mail). Extending their use to retail goods would not be a problem, said MetroFreight chairman Derek Wright.
'Using these existing tunnels, around 14,000 pallets of goods daily can reach Oxford Street stores without any nuisance from noise or fumes, ' he said.
Wright's vision is to replace the rails with a smooth pavement, avoiding points and crossovers. A computer-controlled fleet of 50 rubber-tyred, self-propelled vehicles would operate, with goods loaded and unloaded at a series of interchanges.
Phase one of the £130M scheme plans to link Willesden in north west London to Whitechapel in east London via Paddington and Oxford Street.
Two proposed secondary phases would head towards the M1 and Heathrow to connect with arterial routes.
MetroFreight consortium members are Consignia, Kier Construction, J Murphy & Sons, John Lewis Partnership and HSBC.
However, MetroFreight is looking for more members and investors. The consortium claims capital investment could be recovered within 10 years.
The project has government backing and enabling legislation is already being prepared.