The Well-Line, London, United Kingdom
Chetwoods Architects

The Well-line addresses London’s increasingly urgent pollution and traffic congestion problems. It revolutionises freight delivery across the Capital converting the disused underground Post Office Railway into a hi-tech logistics supply line. The proposal has been costed, is attracting commercial interest and could be transferred to other cities.
 
From 1926 to 2003 the 6 mile-long, 70 feet underground twin tunnels of the Mail Rail connected Paddington to Whitechapel. They carried 4 million letters a day between 9 sorting offices located above.  In 2003 the tunnels were mothballed but in working order, with some of the shafts still accessible.  
 
The Well-line reuses these tunnels providing a self-sufficient transport route supplied by a logistics development over the tracks at Paddington.  Linking into wider national and international logistics freight networks, including Heathrow and container ports at London Gateway, Southampton and Felixstowe. 
 
Train freight goods will be transported down existing shafts at Paddington, using automated materials-handling equipment to move 16,000 parcels/hour to the stations along the route in less than 20 minutes. This is equivalent to up to 585 Light Goods Vehicles (LGV) worth of parcels.  With 80% of freight vehicles in central London LGVs, with an average load factor of 38%, the system could reduce daily LGV city traffic by 30%. 
 
The Well-line will provide underground warehousing and logistics centres in existing shafts for efficient, consolidated ‘last minute’ deliveries, serving stores, homes and industry in the areas it passes underneath.  These include some of the UK’s highest wealth generating areas: Oxford Street, the West End and City of London.  2.7million people live or work within 1 mile of the tunnels and 17% of UK GDP is generated within the line’s boroughs.  
 
Bespoke surface hubs and collection points will bring new focus and uses. There will be opportunities for retail, finance, design, secure data transfer, manufacturing and logistics services according to local contexts.  New jobs will be created and different skills brought back to Central London. In addition to reducing traffic and pollution generated by logistics deliveries, it has the potential for underground waste removal and recycling to energy, with heat generated in the tunnels providing green District Heating to homes.  
 
Transportation consultants, urban planners and automated materials-handling experts have reached a fully-costed solution and funding strategy that provides a financial return without public sector gap funding. It is viable at a cost of £372 million for logistics installation and more than 10,000m² of underground warehousing, plus professional fees, contingency etc. The total cost estimate of £500M would be paid for by the value of warehousing (£35M) and tariff/charge on delivery to key points on the route.
 
The proposal has been presented to potential stakeholders including logistics operators, commercial and residential developers, and retail trade associations along its route, with discussions on-going.  Interest in the idea is not confined to London. A number of other cities in the UK, such as Birmingham, have their own existing underground networks of disused tunnels that could work as potential Well-lines to reduce traffic congestion and pollution. 
 
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