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Intermodal startup envisions autonomous double-stack trains and terminals

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.