The Louis-based tech start-up aims to make railroads competitive for the next 200 years with self-driving cars


FreightWeekSTL 2022 kicks off with a session highlighting Intramotev’s self-propelled railcar

FreightWeekSTL 2022 kicked off on May 23 with Innovation Day, showcasing emerging technologies that have the potential to dramatically change the future movement of freight. The opening session highlighted the progress made by Saint-Louis start-up Intramotev Autonomous Rail.

Attendees discovered a zero-emissions self-driving car that could operate without the use of a locomotive. This new technology could enable better use of the U.S. freight rail network and help alleviate the type of supply chain challenges that occur around the world, while reducing pollution in the rail industry.

Timothy Luchini, Ph.D., CEO and Co-Founder of Intramotev, commented on trends in freight transportation by rail and truck, with year-over-year increases in trucking volumes and flat volumes or slightly down in the rail. He said these are trends his company hopes to reverse with its new autonomous vehicles as they develop the technology they believe will help make railways competitive for the next 200 years.

Intramotev is building this “something” that could be a game-changer for the rail industry – the TugVolt. It is a battery-electric self-propelled railcar that allows goods to move with the flexibility of a truck, without breaking the existing model of railroad operation.

The concept allows the vehicle to be in first and last mile service and creates a form factor that can be as fast and flexible as a truck. In mid-stream operations – where Class I railroads are efficient today with very long trains – it still has all the safety systems required to serve as a car during those stages of the journey. In short, it provides a solution that complements the current model of rail transport by enabling the bundling of freight and vehicles, while offering speed and reliability.

Luchini said a vehicle like this can also help solve queuing issues — the time it takes for vehicles to delay while waiting to be moved. Congestion at major US ports is another challenge TugVolt is working to address. This type of wagon solution makes better use of existing vehicles by shortening the size of the train, the number of wagons in the mix – reducing congestion in a way that allows materials to move again.

From a technology perspective, Luchini said the TugVolt contains three containerized modules, including a sensory and tracking stack that identifies a vehicle’s location, speed, and what’s happening around it; an energy storage module, and a regenerative braking powertrain.

The TugVolt has batteries that are smaller and more in the order and scale of an electric car due to the rolling resistances of the rails and the benefits of aerodynamic drag. It is possible to reduce these pack sizes and stack efficiencies on top of each other to provide vehicles with a range of 100-600 miles with 100 ton payloads without sacrificing payloads as the rail capacity can handle a lot more load.

It provides the ability to tailor energy storage to the mission and utilize energy storage and battery technologies available off the shelf today, while some other mobility solutions and areas still require improvement of energy storage multiplied by two or four to close the business cases.

The rail also allows for vehicle bunching, inherently allowing vehicles to be built to handle and share loads between vehicles in the composition, providing the ability to share power and more efficient use of those batteries spread across multiple vehicles. and several systems along the length of the train.

As for when and where the TugVolt will make its official debut, Luchini said Intramotev has the first pilots in private and captive use cases scheduled for late 2022. Examples of such cases Private captive use could be a river port or transshipment. facility hooked up to a processing facility that could be a few miles inland, and the TugVolt would be tested during a variety of operations.

He also cited inter-plant railways in operations such as steel mills where rail travels around facilities, and even point-to-point linking within the same plant, as scenarios where this could be a really technology useful and viable.

A deployment like this will provide the opportunity to collect all the data that shows it is working safely and reliably, and this will allow Intramotev to then test in the largest rail networks. Getting to this stage will also require working within the regulatory environment and this process will take time.

FreightWeekSTL 2022 continues online until May 27 and will feature panel discussions with experts and leaders from the freight, logistics and transportation industry. The week-long event is organized by St. Louis Regional Freightway and Bi-State Development in conjunction with The Waterways Journal. To learn more and register for remaining sessions or view past FreightWeekSTL 2022 sessions, visit www.freightweekstl.com.

About St. Louis Regional Freightway

The St. Louis Regional Freightway is a bi-state development enterprise formed to create a regional freight district and comprehensive authority for freight operations and opportunity in eight counties in Illinois and Missouri, which include the metropolitan area of St. Louis. Public and private sector companies are working with the St. Louis Regional Freightway to make the bi-state region one of the leading multimodal freight and distribution centers in the United States through marketing, public outreach and freight and infrastructure development. For more information, visit lefreightway.com.

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