Japanese Automated Freight Transport System

At the Public Works Research Institute, Advanced Transportation Division of the Ministry of Construction in Japan, work was done on the development of a new freight transport system. This information has been derived from a (probably 1992) paper that describes this work, but the date of the paper and its source are unknown. This new freight system has been proposed to resolve such issues as congestion, pollution and other negative impacts caused by trucks. In the proposed new freight system, dual mode trucks (DMT's) would be used that would work the same as a conventional truck on existing roads but can also be automatically operated (driverless) on special dedicated guideways (see overview sketch of the system).

This dual mode truck would operate as an electric vehicle on ordinary roads. Both innercity and intercity dedicated guideways would be built. It would be operated at about 45 km/hr on dedicated guideways in urban areas and at about 100 km/hr on the intercity guideway. A synchronous control system was tested for merging and demerging the DMT's. An advanced vehicle control system was developed at the Public Works Research Institute so that the DMT's could be operated at headways as low as 1-3 seconds.

On-board batteries would be recharged on the dedicated guideways and at terminals, located about 2 km apart in urban areas. The dedicated guideways would be underground in urban areas for the most part, many built under existing roadways. The DMT's would be guided by a side arm when operated under automatic control. Light weight vehicles were designed to meet a target weight of approximately 5,000 kg. (see photo of dual-mode trucks on test track)

The Public Works Research Institute built a 760 meter dedicated track for testing the DMT's. The track was used for experiments to test, among other factors, computer-controlled operation, the communication system, automatic traffic divergence, automatic vehicle spacing and merge actions. The design speed for this test track was 40 km/hr and it included grades of +6% and -6% and curves with a radius of 65 meters. The DMT's used for testing were steered mechanically using a guide rail and guide apparatus (consisting of guide wheels and a stabilizer). This mechanism helped the vehicle run straight when the truck was moving along straight stretches of track and allowed it to hug the outer guide rail around curves. At forks, a guide wheel pushes against a guide rail on one side to permit the truck to accomplish switching. On ordinary roads, the guide wheels were retracted within the body width and the stabilizer was disengaged from the steering mechanism.

Imaginary moving points were generated in the computer and vehicles were controlled to follow this moving point. These moving points were called targets. In diverging and merging, there are two moving targets moving synchronously on the branch line and on the through line. The MT method permits merging with short headways. Other control methods were also  investigated such as a laser-radar that could sense the position of the truck ahead (see diagram for more detail).

Demand studies were conducted that indicated that about 293,000 DMT's would use the innercity system in Tokyo each day, making about 400,000 trips. Estimates were that 7.5 % of all truck trips in the Tokyo Metropolitan Area would switch to the DMT system. Projections for the intercity system (Tokyo-Kobe corridor only) were that 52,000 trucks would use the system each day and that about 60% of the trucks that run between Tokyo and Kobe would switch to the dual-mode system.

Financial feasibility studies have shown that subsidies would be necessary to cover the construction cost of the system. However, it was also show that the new system would have great positive effects on traffic flow and the environment by mitigating severe traffic congestion and reducing the air pollution caused by trucks.

The current status of this project is unknown and it is not even known if it is still active  or has been terminated. This information comes from a paper that is believed to have been published in 1992 or 1993.

Last modified: April 19, 2007