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Parallel Systems, an autonomous battery-electric rail freight startup, has raised almost $50 million.

The funds will be used to build and test a fleet of rail vehicles and the company’s tech, as well as to grow the headcount.

Parallel’s system aims to take the efficiency of traditional railways and combine it with the flexibility usually associated with road freight transportation. 

Shipping containers are loaded onto autonomous battery-electric movers, which then drive themselves to their destination. These rollers can join together to form “platoons” and travel to the same destination or split off to multiple destinations whilst en route.

The company claims that its platoons do not need to haul large amounts of freight to be economical, nor do they require the large switching yards and depots usually associated with trains. This also means that the containers can finish their journeys closer to cities.

This, apparently, could save hours or even days of transit time and will lead to a “continuous flow of containers through terminals” and will result in “greater asset utilization, faster delivery times, and higher quality of service.”

How It Works from Parallel Systems on Vimeo.

The rollers can carry up to 128,000 lbs of freight and travel up to 500 miles on a single charge, using 25% of the energy of a semi-truck. Charging time is claimed to be less than an hour.

The autonomous driving system uses “a camera-based perception system” and can apparently stop ten times quicker than a regular human-based perception train. 

“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, Parallel Systems.

“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. 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, along with fellow co-founders John Howard and Ben Stabler, spent a combined 26 years at SpaceX. 

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