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Putting Railway Lines to a New Use

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, medium- and heavy-duty trucks account for 24 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions belched by the US transportation industry. The potential good news is that a team of former SpaceX engineers has designed an electric rail alternative that gives the lowest operational cost of any surface freight transportation mode and uses a quarter of the energy.

Graphic of a steel container being lowered on to wheels

Called Parallel Systems, the company’s objective is to reimagine the American freight industry by building autonomous battery-electric freight vehicles that take the emissions of a diesel locomotive out of the equation.

“We founded Parallel to allow railroads to open new markets, increase infrastructure utilization, and improve service to accelerate freight decarbonization,” said Matt Soule, co-founder and CEO of Parallel Systems. “Our business model is to give railroads the tools to convert some of the $700 billion US trucking industry to rail.”

Parallel System’s invention is made up of autonomous railcars that transport standard-sized cargo containers. Each motorized platform is individually powered, meaning that they can either come together to form a single unit or split off towards different destinations while on the go. The system has a payload of 58 tons, and its electric battery has a range of 800km and a charging time of less than one hour.

According to the company, its system of battery-electric rail vehicles is four times more energy-efficient compared to semi-trucks driving on a highway. “Parallel vehicles use just 25 percent of the energy compared to a semi-truck and offer the lowest operational cost of any surface freight transportation mode. Less energy means smaller batteries, less strain on the grid, and lower charging infrastructure costs.”

The team is currently testing its Parallel system on a closed track in Los Angeles.


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