Insight / Blog

Can underground pipelines deliver parcels?

Posted on 28th November 2019

The concept is as simple as it is startling. By using underground pipes with magnetic rails, Magway wants to send thousands of kilos of products at high density through an unobtrusive, sustainable delivery network. In their video, they point to the fact that a delivery lorry, even when packed to the brim, is still having to pull a its own weight, which puts a hard cap on how efficient it can be.

Their carts obviously have the same issue, but thanks to their lightweight and volume-maximising design, they are many times more energy efficient. Of course, they also have the benefit of running underground, reducing road congestion, and they’re electrically powered, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions, air and noise pollution. Equally importantly, they don’t actually exist yet….

There is a structural mountain to climb for a business like this. Firstly, the infrastructure requirement is huge and will likely take a lot more public funding and co-operation than the £650,000 they’ve thus far received from Innovate UK, the national tech innovation agency. 

Secondly, even allowing for the concept working perfectly and multiple pipelines being constructed through a major urban centre like London, there are myriad operational questions and challenges to overcome. For example, how do hundreds of final mile delivery carriers access the central London end of the Magway hub, when access in London is a nightmare, and driving speeds average 8mph? And what sort of parcel sorting technology is required for mixed size / weight parcels from & for multiple carriers, with multiple labelling protocols? 

Whether or not the appetite exists to get Magway to the kind of national infrastructure scale they are aiming for, they have attracted a good deal of attention and some early funding. In total the startup has raised approximately £1.5 million, including the aforementioned £650,000 from Innovate UK. 

Now they’re looking to crowdfunding to propel the next stage of their growth, which includes planned Magway lines to reduce the load on heavily trafficked freight routes such as those near major airports. Using Crowdcube, Magway are looking for £750,000 to fund this commercial rollout.

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