Transformative Rail Architecture to Decarbonize Freight

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OPEN 2021
Los Angeles, California
Project Term:
11/03/2022 - 05/02/2025

Critical Need:

Intermodal trains, which transport shipping containers and truck trailers by rail, are challenged to provide competitive short-haul services compared with trucking due to the difficulties legacy rail systems have. Trucking freight accounts for 7% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, consumes 45B gallons of diesel annually, and grows in volume (ton-miles) by 4% each year. Rail is widely recognized as an energy-efficient means of surface freight movement. Most freight train architecture and terminals are organized around long-haul trips, however. This makes short-haul (<500-mile range) freight corridors, which comprise ? of our nation’s freight (ton-miles), economically unfeasible. Less than 2% of short-haul intermodal freight is delivered by rail.

Project Innovation + Advantages:

Parallel Systems is developing a highly scalable system of rechargeable electric rail vehicles to enable existing railroads to economically serve the short-haul market. This system will include all associated software including vehicle control, dispatch software, fleet management, and terminal operations. These independent rail cars would simplify terminal operations, enabling significantly more competitive services at congested ports, and unlock the construction of smaller inland terminals leading to more resilient freight infrastructure. The Parallel Systems team will focus on three key innovations: (1) contact-based platooning (linking of two or more vehicles in a convoy using wireless communications and sensor technology); (2) vehicle stability on track; and (3) autonomous hazard avoidance.

Potential Impact:

Parallel Systems aims to increase the railway’s market share far beyond its present 25B miles of intermodal to reduce freight’s greenhouse gas emissions, offset diesel imports, and improve public safety.


This technology will leverage the existing rail infrastructure to create a more resilient decentralized rail freight service. This has the potential to distribute equity to communities long forgotten in a mega-terminal-based transportation model.


Parallel Systems’ technology will offset 33 billion gallons of diesel imports annually and 4.5% of all U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.


This technology will strengthen U.S. trade infrastructure with modal shift from truck to rail via transformative market economics.


ARPA-E Program Director:
Dr. Robert Ledoux
Project Contact:
John Howard
Press and General Inquiries Email:
Project Contact Email:


National Renewable Energy Laboratory

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