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Q&A: Leveraging autonomy, batteries to shift freight from road to rail
Autonomous battery-electric rail vehicles company Parallel Systems has raised $49.55 million in series A funding.
The Culver City, California-based company was founded by three former SpaceX engineers who worked together to “reimagine the railroad system,” the Wednesday release said.
The funding round was led by Anthos Capital. Congruent Ventures, Riot Ventures, Embark Ventures and others also invested.
Parallel’s autonomous battery-electric rail vehicles can haul a single or double layer of standard containers. The railcars can form “platoons” by joining together and have the option to split off to different destinations en route since each railcar can operate independently.
“We founded Parallel to allow railroads to open new markets, increase infrastructure utilization and improve service to accelerate freight decarbonization,” Matt Soule, co-founder and CEO at Parallel Systems, said in the release. “Our business model is to give railroads the tools to convert some of the $700 billion U.S. trucking industry to rail.”
After an hour of charging time, the battery-electric rail vehicles can move up to 128,000 pounds up to 500 miles, transporting 2.8 times more freight in weight and using 25% of the energy of a semi-truck, the release said.
(Photo: Parallel Systems)
Because the rail vehicles are more aerodynamic, lighter and require less energy to move freight, they have smaller battery and charging needs than a battery-electric locomotive.
The company is currently testing its autonomous rail system on a closed track in the Los Angeles area.
Addressing one of rail’s biggest drawbacks: Speed
Unlike conventional rail operations, Parallel Systems doesn’t require extremely long trains to be economical. The flexibility to form shorter trains, or platoons, and split off to multiple destinations could save hours or days of transit time, the company said.
“The Parallel system can help alleviate the supply chain crisis by enabling low-cost and regular movement of freight in and out of ports. Parallel’s competitive edge is our autonomous battery-electric rail vehicles, which are designed to move freight cleaner, faster, safer and more cost effectively than traditional trains or trucks,” Soule said.
A major consideration when deciding whether to transport goods via truck, intermodal or rail is speed. Using railroads often takes longer, at least partly because of the time spent sorting and re-sorting freight at terminals and between trains.
Freight won’t have to be manually sorted and reassembled on secondary trains at switching yards using Parallel’s system. The company says the more continuous flow of containers through terminals could result in:
Safety, environmental, road benefits
Parallel’s autonomous battery-electric rail vehicles come with a camera-based perception system and redundant braking, which can stop autonomously up to 10 times faster than a train. It can detect hazards such as vehicles on train tracks as well.
(Video: Parallel Systems)
The platoons, which are shorter than typical freight trains, will result in shorter waiting times for motorists at railroad crossings. The company said the platoons will separate to allow emergency vehicles or traffic to get through.
Parallel said that moving a portion of road freight to autonomous, battery-electric rail would:
The company is developing software to integrate seamlessly and safely with existing rail operations.
This article first appeared on www.freightwaves.com
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