News & Reviews News Wire Intermodal startup envisions autonomous double-stack trains and terminals

Intermodal startup envisions autonomous double-stack trains and terminals

By Bill Stephens | June 15, 2023

Autonomous Intermodal LLC proposes integral train sets that would be an improvement over current well cars

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Autonomous Intermodal LLC aims to build integral double-stack trains that can operate autonomously. AIM

HOUSTON — The race to develop autonomous freight railroad systems has another entrant: Autonomous Intermodal LLC on Wednesday announced that it’s working on a new intermodal system that would automate trains and terminals.

The backbone of AIM’s system is an integral 4,000-foot double-stack train and 9,000-horsepower locomotive. Each 4,000-foot double-stack platform can be combined into trains of up to 16,000 feet, with the locomotives distributed every 4,000 feet through the train.

AIM’s well-car design closes the gap between cars, allowing each train to carry up to 23% more containers than standard equipment, with improved aerodynamics helping to reduce fuel consumption. The cars also will be 25% lighter than conventional well cars.

The autonomous locomotive would use dual 4,500-horsepower engines to power 12 AC traction motors. The locomotives would meet federal emissions standards as well as the more strict rules in California. AIM envisions one ATP handling up to a 4,000-foot double-stack platform.

The company’s proposed drayage system includes an autonomous yard/dray tractor and an adjustable length chassis to handle containers of any size. It’s envisioned for use in ports and terminals, as well as over-the-road operations.

AIM also will develop an “intelligent rail intermodal system” that would manage the customer shipment process, provide location tracking, and tie together autonomous operations.

AIM’s management team includes CEO Jim Wilson, who rose from brakeman to assistant vice president of operations for the Santa Fe during a 46-year railroad career. Its engineering technical advisor is Mike Diluigi, who has four decades of experience in the engineering, design, and construction of rolling stock with Thrall Railcar, Trinity Industries, and Brandt.

“There’s got to be a next iteration” of intermodal equipment that can speed up trains and increase terminal throughput, Wilson says.

AIM is just getting started pursuing financial backing from potential investors, Wilson says, and also will seek grants from the Department of Transportation and the Energy Department.

Other companies seeking to develop new autonomous trains include Parallel Systems and Intramotev. Both are focusing on self-propelled autonomous railcars.

10 thoughts on “Intermodal startup envisions autonomous double-stack trains and terminals

  1. Looks like what would happen if Talgo built a freight train.

    They are running autonomous trucks now. If they can successfully do this, I would think automating a train would be a lot easier. Hell, my car drives itself!

    In know we don’t want RR people to lose their jobs, but I keep reading how railroads are seriously hampered by the lack of crews. CSX expansion into New England is one such case. Robot trains could be the answer especially in remote sparsely-populated regions.

    1. Self-driving cars here are wrecking as well so, maybe more research is needed.

  2. I think the self-propelled autonomous railcars make more sense. With no labor cost, there is not much advantage to running longer trains. Take each load directly from origin to destination. The savings on yard cost is probably greater than the savings on labor cost.

    Still, I would hate to see all of those jobs lost. Then again if the trucking industry automates, most RR jobs will be lost whether the RRs automate or not. Perhaps the proposed laws that require 2 person crews on trains should also require one person in each truck.

  3. I think well cars have 110-ton trucks. I don’t think one wheel set could handle it. Plus, you have an engine and 4000 feet of permanently coupled cars. Where are you going to set it out when you have an equipment failure. one small problem and the whole thing is out of service. They had a lot of problems with the first double stack cars, derailments etc. Almost gave up.

    1. And what railroad is going to allow them to run their autonomous train on their tracks? Maybe they will build their own tracks straight across the US? I’ll bet they didn’t think they would need to do that. Well, then, be prepared to pay through the nostrils for the right to run on any class 1…

      And if they haven’t heard, their 10,000 hp dual engine locomotive will have to be zero emissions if California has its way. SO there is one state you won’t be able to operate in…sucks to be you!

      While this might solve the lack of crew issues, there are two problems they can’t solve without extreme, and I mean EXTREME expense: They don’t own any rails to run on and the technology they need to run at very low to zero emissions does not exist yet, despite what the environmental zealots would have you believe. And as L. Keiser said here, a little more research on more than your business plan is probably required!

  4. A hermit like me welcomes AI.

    Autonomous trains will allow railways to be more competitive to other transportation modes with less human errors. Railways are the first transportation mode to eliminate manual steering through the use of flange wheels on parallel rails.

    1. I could be wrong, but I don’t think anything had a steering wheel when railways were begun.

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