Supply Lines: Cargo tunnel vision

Supply Lines

A group of private investors in Switzerland wants to build a system of tunnels with self-driving vehicles to transport goods between Zurich and Geneva. They'll have to fork out 33 billion francs ($36.3 billion) to realize their dream by 2045.

Cargo sous terrain, or underground cargo as the futuristic project is known in Switzerland, is popular and the government is working on a draft law to get it off the drawing board. Proponents envision tunnels connecting production sites and logistics hubs to cities, taking pressure off existing roads and other infrastructure.

In addition to environmental regulations, officials in Bern say there will be other stipulations: zero public funds and a requirement that the majority of investors be Swiss.

That criterion will get met. Energy company BKW, lenders Credit Suisse Group and Zuercher Kantonalbank, the postal service, rail operator SBB and the country's two biggest retailers are among the main shareholders, according to the organization.

Source: Cargo sous terrain 

To build the first leg of the subterranean system, 3 billion francs will be needed for a section from Haerkingen-Niederbipp to Zurich.

According to spokesman Patrik Aellig, 100 million have already been secured. That money will be paid out if parliament approves the bill, which is expected by 2022. "We've got quite a bit of work to do," he said, adding that the financing model was currently under development with shareholders.

As far as infrastructure investments go, it would be a massive one — projected to cost more than the London Crossrail project that's estimated to run the equivalent of 21 billion francs.

Given that the Swiss place a high premium on frugality, technical innovation and seamless logistics, there's likely to be plenty of sparring in parliament. And even if lawmakers give the project a green light, opponents who fear the project may turn into a loss-making pie in the sky with little benefit to the economy can still resort to a uniquely Swiss tool to torpedo it: a referendum.

Catherine Bosley in Zurich

Charted Territory

Global trade surged in June as governments started to reopen their economies from strict lockdowns earlier in the year. There was growth in almost all countries, according to CPB World Trade Monitor, after huge declines in the previous three months. Even after the 7.6% jump in June, trade was down 12.5% in the second quarter, with the headline index at the lowest since 2014.

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