A shipping container terminal is the latest addition to a Sharjah test centre that aims to take mass transport to the skies with an innovative system of pods carried by cables.
The Ucont system, under development by uSky Transport at the Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park, is expected to be up and running as a test site by December.
Passenger pods are already in operation at the site’s $14 million uSkyTest and Certification Centre as a proof-of-concept of how the technology works.
Once operational, visitors will be able to see how shipping containers can be moved at high speed on electric cables, as a greener alternative to the thousands of heavy goods vehicles currently used to transport goods.
“Now the container terminals are complete we are tightening the string rails, which is quite a big job,” said Oleg Zaretskiy, chief executive of uSky Transport.
“We hope the first container will move in December or early January. This line will have passenger pods, and also container pods that can be moved along the 2.4-kilometre track.
"The container network uses a slightly different track technology, with a semi-rigid structure, with a fully fledged container will travel at around 120 kilometres per hour with a minor consumption of electricity.
“Direct costs to run the container track, for electricity and overheads, will be around $20 per 100km.”
While running costs will be low, building the track is expensive and is estimated to cost up to $15m for every kilometre.
Those costs will drop as capacity and demand increases, the company said.
As well as a container terminal, a container depot is also being built in Sharjah for the parking and repair of freight transport.
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 transport strategy
USky Transport uses the technology designed 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 considerably cheaper than existing transport infrastructure.
Structural anchors are spaced out every 50 metres, with pods travelling at 15 metres above the ground.
The Belarus-based company is bidding to develop a commercial passenger line in the UAE, with other companies in China and France also submitting designs.
Usky Transport test centres are already operating in Belarus, while a two-track cargo route is expected to be built in the Tincan Island Port of Nigeria, connecting to Lagos.
The projected costs of developing a 20km cargo line is estimated to be about $280m and would drastically cut pollution by taking heavy goods vehicles off the roads.
A similar cargo route could connect Jebel Ali Port with Al Maktoum International Airport along a 18.5km line, delivering containers within 15 minutes
“This is an ideal solution to connect existing ports with cities, where good are needed once they arrive at import,” Mr Zaretskiy said.
“We know the Dubai Roads and Transport Authority is committed to developing a suspended transport network in central Dubai, and we want to be a part of that.”