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Railroads Seek Permission For Autonomous Container Car Tests

Above photo: A prototype of the Parallel Systems autonomous container rail system tests in Southern California. Parallel Systems.

NOTE: UE Union reports:

UE General PresidentCarl Rosenwas one of three witnesses invited to testify to a Senate subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, July 26 about opportunities to clean up pollution in rail yards, reduce carbon emissions, and create jobs by instituting stricter regulations on railroad emissions.

“Rail yards are well-known as hotspots for pollution,” Rosen told the subcommittee, “and in urban areas they are often located in low-income communities of color. Neighborhoods surrounding high-traffic yards in California have a significantly elevated rate of cancer. When wind carries air from a yard into a residential area, airborne black carbon spikes to twice the normal level for an urban area. Children living near rail yards have twice the incidence of asthma of those living at least four miles away.

“Hundreds of UE members work in these unhealthy environments on a daily basis. Many of them live there as well. It is unconscionable that we let this go on when existing technology can mitigate the issue, and now commercially-viable technologies like battery locomotives can all but eliminate it.”

He said that instituting stricter standards would create jobs as well, driving additional purchases of the modern “Tier 4” locomotives and new battery-powered locomotives produced by members of UE Locals 506 and 618 in Erie, PA. Arecent study by the University of Massachusetts-Amherstfound that increased demand for these “green locomotives” could create thousands of jobs in Erie and throughout the country.

Rosen noted that “Tier 4 locomotives have been in production for almost a decade. Zero-emissions, battery-operated locomotives have been in use for years in rail yards. These are proven technologies. Their adoption is not a matter of technological feasibility, but of priorities. What is more important for our country? Clean air, addressing the climate crisis, and good jobs? Or corporate profits, executive bonuses, and payments to Wall Street?

“The Class 1 railroads, which own 90 percent of the locomotives on the rails, are enormously profitable. However, we need look no further than the disaster in East Palestine to see an example of how they prioritize profits over the public good. The bottom line is that they will not make this investment in our shared future unless our country requires them to.”

Georgia Central and Heart of Georgia railroads would serve as test beds for Parallel Systems’ battery-electric, autonomous freight cars.

So long as the project can gain Federal Railroad Administration approval.

Savannah, Ga. — Two Genesee & Wyoming short lines in Georgia today asked the Federal Railroad Administration to allow them to conduct a pilot program that would test Parallel Systems’ zero-emission autonomous container cars.

The 211-mile Georgia Central Railway and 233-mile Heart of Georgia Railroad would like to test the battery-electric cars – which can run alone or coupled together as an autonomous train – on portions of their lines beginning next year.

“GC and HOG believe the development and anticipated adoption of this technology has the potential to capture new container business moving to and from the Port of Savannah, as well as reinvigorate traffic on rural rail lines and revive inland ports in Georgia – all while removing trucks from the region’s roads and reducing carbon emissions,” G&W said.

The Port of Savannah is the fastest-growing containerport in the U.S.

If approved, the multi-phased pilot would be overseen by the FRA, G&W, and Parallel Systems, which G&W said would allow them to “demonstrate the technology in a field setting while using carefully developed protocols to ensure the pilot is operated in a safe, controlled manner.”

Parallel Systems, founded by a group of former SpaceX engineers in 2020, says its technology will allow railroads to expand their service alongside conventional operations while using existing infrastructure. The Los Angeles-based startup aims to help railroads capture freight off the highway and reduce the industry’s carbon footprint.

G&W’s waiver petition was not immediately available.

Parallel Systems’ video explains the concept behind the railcar and related intermodal system.

Georgia Central and Heart of Georgia connect in Vidalia, Ga.

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