Future Freight

by Henry Liu, (M.ASCE), Professor; Civil Engineering, Univ. of Missouri at Columbia,

Serial Information: Civil Engineering—ASCE, 1990, Vol. 60, Issue 10, Pg. 78-79

Document Type: Feature article


In 21st-century America, most long-distance cargo will be transported via pipelines linking major cities. The most versatile freight pipeline is the capsule variety, which carries cargo in cylindrical containers or vehicles of a diameter slightly smaller than that of the pipes. Any cargo smaller than a given capsule can be transported by this means. Hydraulic capsule pipelines (HCPs) suspend containers in a liquid, normally water. Pneumatic capsule pipelines (PCPs) use air pressure to move wheeled capsules. Well into the 21st century, most long-distance cargo will move through HCPs. These pipelines will have diameters of approximately 10 ft, with capsules moving at speeds of 15-20 ft/sec and dual pipes to allow cargo to move in both directions. Such a pipeline could carry 2 million tons per day, far more than any highway or railroad. The cost of construction would be about the same as for an interstate highway of the same length; however, the maintenance cost for the pipeline would be much lower, and highway maintenance would be reduced by the lessened truck traffic. The moon is another frontier for freight pipelines; passenger transport is another possibility, as pipelines offer a safe mode of transport in the dangerous lunar environment. However, partly due to lobbying efforts by the trucking and rail industries, research in freight pipelines is lacking in the U.S. The only known American capsule pipeline research being done is at the University of Columbia.

Subject Headings: Pipe sizes | Infrastructure construction | Highways and roads | Rail transportation | Construction costs | Professional societies | Maintenance | Trucks

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