A shipping container terminal has been added to a Sharjah test centre that aims to take mass transportation to the skies using an innovative system of pods carried by cables. The Ucont system, which is being developed at Sharjah Research, Technology, and Innovation Park by uSky Transport, is expected to be operational as a test site by December.
Passenger pods are already in use as a proof-of-concept at the site’s $14 million SkyWay Innovation Centre. Visitors will be able to see how shipping containers can be moved at high speeds on electric cables, as a greener alternative to the thousands of heavy goods vehicles that are currently used to transport goods, once the facility is operational.
‘Now that the container terminals are finished, we’re tightening the string rails, which is a big job,’ said uSky Transport CEO Oleg Zaretskiy. ‘ We anticipate moving the first container in December or early January’. The 2.4-kilometre track will be equipped with passenger pods as well as container pods that can be moved.
‘The container network uses a slightly different track technology, with a semi-rigid structure, with a fully fledged container travelling at around 120 kilometres per hour with a minor consumption of electricity. The direct costs of running the container track, including electricity and overhead, will be around $20 per 100km’. While running costs will be low, construction of the track is expected to cost up to $15 million per kilometre.
According to the company, these costs will decrease as capacity and demand increase. In addition to a container terminal, Sharjah is constructing a container depot for freight transport parking and repair. Because there is no server or dispatch room, all systems will be managed from the service station on the first passenger line, which is already operational.
High-tech transportation strategy
USky Transport employs technology developed in Belarus by engineer and Unitsky String Technologies founder Dr Anatoli Unitsky. Steel casing encloses the railhead, body frame, steel string, and filler and is significantly less expensive than existing transportation infrastructure. The structural anchors are spaced every 50 metres, and the pods travel at a height of 15 metres above the ground.
The Belarus-based company is competing for the development of a commercial passenger line in the UAE, with designs submitted by companies in China and France as well. Usky Transport test centres are already operational in Belarus, and a two-track cargo route connecting Tincan Island Port in Nigeria to Lagos is expected to be built. The estimated cost of developing a 20km cargo line is $280 million and would drastically cut pollution by taking heavy goods vehicles off the roads.
A similar cargo route could run 18.5 kilometres between Jebel Ali Port and Al Maktoum International Airport, delivering containers in 15 minutes. This is an ideal solution for connecting existing ports with cities where goods are required once they arrive at import,’ Mr Zaretskiy explained. ‘We understand that the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority is dedicated to developing a suspended transport network in central Dubai, and we want to be a part of that’.