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UT Arlington center to build underground freight system with TxDOT funding

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Media Contact: Herb Booth, Office: 817-272-7075, Cell: 214-546-1082, hbooth@uta.edu

News Topics: energy, engineering, environment, faculty, innovation, research, sustainability, transportation

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The University of Texas at Arlington has received a $1.2 million competitive research grant from the Texas Department of Transportation to investigate building underground freight transportation in certain urban environments with heavy truck traffic.

Mo Najafi

Mo Najafi, UT Arlington civil engineering professor

Underground freight transportation is a class of unmanned transportation systems in which close-fitting capsules or trains of capsules carry freight through tubes between freight terminals, such as the port of Houston and the Dallas Fort Worth metro area.

Mo Najafi, a UT Arlington civil engineering professor, will lead the project. Najafi also is director of the UT Arlington Center for Underground Infrastructure Research and Education. Sia Ardekani, civil engineering professor, and Mohsen Shahandashti, civil engineering senior lecturer, are co-principal investigators on the project.

“This is a quiet, safe and secure mode of transportation that causes no damage to the environment,” Najafi said. “In fact, it reduces traffic on the road and thereby reduces fuel consumptions and accidents.”

The underground freight system could use electric and pneumatic methods for a power source, researchers said. It could be as big as a subway with tracks or it could be as small as a tube dependent on what is being transported. The new trenchless technologies with minimum surface disturbance will be utilized for the tube construction.

“Dr. Najafi is a nationally known expert on underground infrastructure construction and maintenance, critical to urban living and sustainability,” said Khosrow Behbehani, dean of the College of Engineering. “The proposed project is an innovative application of his expertise and techniques that he has developed to address a real need of transporting goods in urban settings efficiently and in an environmentally sound way.”

The United States hasn’t completely embraced the underground freight technology and system, Najafi said. He cited examples in Europe and China, where such systems are being researched.

Najafi said this project would be done in three phases over three years. Researchers will conduct an initial feasibility study first. In the second phase, researchers will build a garage-sized, small-scale test model at the CURIE facility in the Civil Engineering Lab Building. The final phase may include a two- to three-mile stretch of underground freight tunnel in downtown Houston or the border area in Laredo due to heavy traffic freight in these areas.

The TxDOT project is titled “Integrating Underground Freight Transportation into Existing Intermodal Systems,” which suggests that existing right-of-way would be used along Texas interstate highways and roads, Najafi said.

About UT Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 49,000 students around the world and the second largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UT Arlington as the seventh fastest-growing public research university in 2013. U.S. News & World Report ranks UT Arlington fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. Visit www.uta.edu to learn more, and find UT Arlington rankings and recognition at www.uta.edu/uta/about/rankings.php.

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The University of Texas at Arlington is an Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action employer.