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Japan rolls out plan for 500km conveyor belt to solve looming cargo logistics crisis

The proposed network of massive conveyor belts, dubbed the Autoflow-Road, would use tunnels beneath major highways that link Japan’s two largest cities, as well as above-ground tracks in the middle of the roads. it is the brainchild of a panel at the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism.

In places, additional tracks could also be constructed alongside the hard shoulder of motorways, the ministry’s proposal states.

“Automated logistics roads are designed to get the most out of road space by utilising hard shoulders, median strips [central reservations] and tunnels beneath the roadway,” said Shuya Muramatsu, a senior official in the ministry’s road economics research office.

“Our study is examining the impact on road traffic, including on surrounding roads, and costs.”

The Autoflow-Road proposal comes as Japan and its rapidly ageing population faces a delivery driver shortage, with new rules capping their weekly overtime at just 18 hours.

A study released earlier this month by Nomura Research Institute estimated that 1.4 billion tonnes of freight will be transported by road in 2030, down marginally from 1.43 billion tonnes in 2020.

But Japan’s delivery driver shortage is set to worsen, with the workforce projected to plummet from 660,000 in 2020 to just 480,000 by 2030 – a 36 per cent deficit that could leave the transport industry unable to meet freight demands within six years.

The impact will be most severe in rural regions, with northeastern Tohoku and southern Shikoku facing a 41 per cent driver shortfall, according to the study.

Adding to the challenges, rising fuel costs and wages to attract new drivers to the industry will inevitably drive up delivery prices across the country.

Unveiling the Autoflow-Road