Missouri start-up gets $200,000 grant to accelerate US autonomous railcar technology

TugVolt self-propelled battery-electric railcar prototype undergoing testing in Intramotev’s St. Louis headquarters. Image from Intramotev.

Intramotev, a Missouri based technology startup working on developing autonomous, zero-emission rail solutions, has been awarded a $200,000 grant from Michigan’s Office of Future Mobility and Electrification to support the deployment of three of its TugVolt self-propelled railcars at a mining site in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in late 2023.

The TugVolt self-propelled battery-electric railcar prototype is undergoing testing in Intramotev’s St. Louis headquarters in North City. Its new 20,000-square-foot facility is part of the former campus of Swiss manufacturer ABB, which in 2017 announced plans to stop production at its St. Louis facility

Intramotev has developed platforms for remote dispatched TugVolt control, as well as automated railcar components for safer operations during loading and unloading procedures, the company said in a statement.

The civic investment will catalyze the first deployment anywhere in the world of self-propelled, battery-electric railcars for commercial use in a freight rail operation, Intramotev said, adding that it will also begin to fulfill the company’s goal that initial applications of its technology will include captive routes between mines and processing facilities, as well as intra-plant and ports. 

Every moment, freight trucks navigate long, choked highways across the nation, producing an estimated 433 million tons of carbon emissions annually, while close to a million freight railcars sit idle every day in switching yards, the company noted.

Intramotev said it is developing and deploying a suite of products to address the primary element behind the lack of growth in the rail industry, shipment certainty, while further building upon rail’s strengths in safety and sustainability.

They include TugVolt, a proprietary kit that can retrofit/upfit existing railcars to become battery-electric, move independently like a truck, and decouple to service first- and last-mile legs; ReVolt, capturing waste energy in traditional trains via regenerative braking; and automated safety systems including gates and hatches.

Intramotev aims to help meet the Federal Railroad Administration’s Climate Challenge, a is commited to partner with owners and operators in the US rail network, and manufacturers of rail equipment, to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

“The U.S.’s rail lines represent one the country’s original foundations of mobility and prosperity, and now we have an opportunity to future-proof these lines, starting in Michigan,” Kathryn Snorrason, Interim Chief Mobility Officer for the State of Michigan said in the statement.

“We look forward to supporting Intramotev’s deployment of its innovative railcars, which will not only serve to further expand Michigan’s growing EV ecosystem, but will help revolutionize our supply chains and create a more sustainable mobility future.”

“Utilizing the most advanced battery-electric technology and other proprietary tools, we look to apply the packetization of the internet model to freight logistics initially on short captive routes and remove the actual distance then rapidly expanding to the full network of 140,000 miles of existing U.S. track without additional infrastructure,” said Intramotev CEO Timothy Luchini, PhD.

“We envision a future where freight can move itself without waiting for a locomotive, making the system more efficient and environmentally friendly.”