Parallel Testing Autonomous Battery-Electric Freight Cars

Written by Railway Age Staff
Pictured: Parallel’s prototype railcar loaded with a shipping container. (Photo courtesy of Parallel Systems)

Pictured: Parallel’s prototype railcar loaded with a shipping container. (Photo courtesy of Parallel Systems)

Culver City, Calif.-based Parallel Systems is testing autonomous battery-electric railcars for short-haul freight operations, and has raised $49.55 million in Series A funds to help build a fleet, continue testing and grow the company, it reported on Jan. 19.

Parallel, founded by three former SpaceX engineers, said the funding round is led by Anthos Capital, and includes investments from Congruent Ventures, Riot Ventures, Embark Ventures and others; the company has raised $53.15 million to date, including $3.6 million in seed funds.

Railcar testing is currently under way on a closed track in the Los Angeles area, and software is under development to enable the vehicles “to safely integrate with existing rail operations,” according to Parallel, which has a team of about 25 engineers.

(Courtesy of Parallel Systems)

Parallel’s patent-pending vehicle (see specs above) would “transport standard shipping containers as a single or double-stacked load,” the company said. Joined together, the individually powered railcars could form “platoons” (see rendering below) or split off to multiple destinations while en route. The platoons “do not need to accumulate large quantities of freight to make service economical, which enables more responsive service and a wider range of routes,” Parallel said. “This dramatically reduces the waiting times associated with loading trains that are miles long.”

Parallel’s individually powered railcars can be joined together to form “platoons” or split off to multiple destinations while en route, according to the company. (Railcar Architecture Rendering Courtesy of Parallel Systems.)

The Parallel railcar leverages a “camera-based perception system and redundant braking,” the company said, to “stop safely and autonomously up to 10 times quicker than a train. This means the vehicles can perform an emergency stop within the line of sight that the sensors perceive an object. In addition, the platoons automatically maintain safe speeds based on the track conditions.”

According to Parallel, its railcars would allow for the development of:
Micro terminals: “Low capital expenditure, zero-emissions terminals built closer to shippers and customers that require less than 5% of the land compared to a traditional terminal.”
• Direct to seaport service: “Enables loading and unloading containers directly from port crane onto rail; addresses supply chain issues by reducing congestion in seaports by eliminating the need for storage within the port complex; reduces yard truck usage; creates a shuttle system to inland ports and terminals.”
Direct to warehouse service: “Connects rail to adjacent factories and warehouses [and] brings containers directly to the facility, eliminating transportation mode changes and short-distance truck delivery costs. …”

“We founded Parallel to allow railroads to open new markets, increase infrastructure utilization, and improve service to accelerate freight decarbonization,” Parallel Systems Co-founder and CEO Matt Soule said. “Our business model is to give railroads the tools to convert some of the $700 billion U.S. trucking industry to rail. The Parallel system can also help alleviate the supply chain crisis by enabling low-cost and regular movement of freight in and out of ports.”

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