Opinion

A Hume Highway Conveyor Belt?

a Hume Highway conveyor belt?

There has been news coming, right out of left of field, from Japan this week, which has made me contemplate questions about the concept of a Hume Highway conveyor belt?

There is a genuine plan being developed in Japan to create a giant 500km long conveyor belt from Tokyo to Osaka to shift freight between the two cities. The road between these two centres is the busiest freight route in Japan and vital to the country’s economy.

At first look, the concept seems completely off the wall and it’s hard to believe that this is anything more than a ridiculous idea. However, the fact that this is a concept being developed in Japan tells us, this is unlikely to be a trivial piece of hype which will disappear without trace.

Once you get over the craziness of the idea and start to look at the details of the plan, which the powers that be in Japan are seriously considering, it does have a point. The level of detail included in the plan does make the idea become a little less crazy, than it appears at first sight.

The stimulus to develop this has been the dire labour shortage within the trucking industry in Japan. The country is already struggling with a an ageing population and many industries are finding it difficult to get workers and Japanese trucking is not a particularly attractive industry.

We are facing similar issues here in Australia and, maybe, this idea about  a long conveyor belt is not quite as crazy as it at first seems. Looking into the detail of the project it is clear that this is a serious concept and may prove to be effective. The calculation is that such a system which would be transporting one tonne units between the two cities for 24 hours a day could move about the same amount of freight in a day as is currently carried out by 25,000 drivers,

They have clearly gone through the topic with the level of detail one would expect from Japanese engineers. The idea is that the conveyor belt would run either on the median strip of the main highway or along the side of the highway itself, and in some places it would be in a tunnel underneath the highway.

The reason that this concept has been developed is because Japan has looked at its current road transport infrastructure and has calculated that there will be a 14 per cent delivery capacity shortfall in the future and the conveyor belt concept is one of the potential solutions to this issue for the country to overcome this problem.

Would this concept work in Australia? Would it be conceivable to see a Hume highway conveyor belt? The answer to this question is we don’t know, but we need to know, if there is a capacity crunch coming for the trucking industry in Australia.

The predictions for the growth in the road freight task over the next 20 or 30 years are staggering. We need to develop an industry which will be able to cope with this growth. Otherwise we risk scuttling any hopes of genuine economic growth. 

How we are going to achieve this is difficult to tell, especially with the complication of having to change the current operation away from technology which pumps carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and towards a zero carbon future. Perhaps we should genuinely be thinking about a Hume highway conveyor belt? 

 

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