St. Louis-based autonomous rail car developer Intramotev has received a $200,000 grant to deploy three self-propelled rail cars at a mining site in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

Intramotev expects to deploy its TugVolt rail cars in late 2023. The company has been testing its battery-electric rail car prototype at its St. Louis headquarters.

“We are excited to partner with Michigan’s Office of Future Mobility and Electrification to usher in a new era of industrial revitalization,” Intramotev CEO Timothy Luchini said in a Thursday release. “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. We envision a future where freight can move itself without waiting for a locomotive, making the system more efficient and environmentally friendly.”

Intramotev’s TugVolt rail cars consist of several components. One is an advanced platform that can control the TugVolt car remotely, and the other consists of automated rail car components that aid in safe loading and unloading. The technology itself seeks to retrofit existing rail cars so that they can move independently like a truck and decouple to service first- and last-mile legs.

The company hopes the rail cars can be used someday for commercial purposes in freight rail operations, with initial application potentially occurring on captive routes between mines, processing facilities and ports. 

Intramotev was one of four companies selected to receive a grant via the Michigan Mobility Funding Platform, which is affiliated with the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

“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,” said Kathryn Snorrason, interim chief mobility officer for the state of Michigan. “We look forward to supporting Intramotev’s deployment of its innovative railcars, which will not only serve to further expand Michigan’s growing [electric vehicle] ecosystem, but will help revolutionize our supply chains and create a more sustainable mobility future.”

Besides the TugVolt rail cars, Intramotev is developing its ReVolt technology, which the company says seeks to capture waste energy in traditional trains via regenerative braking. Intramotev is also developing automated safety systems for components such as gates and hatches.

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