Aggies rethinking truck freight with electric train

Texas A&M research group is prototyping an automated electric train designed to accommodate standard shipping containers and trailers.

Artist's rendering of the Universal Freight System loading a standard shipping container on to a train. Texas Transportation Institute

A group of Texas researchers would like to resurrect the train as chief freight mover in the U.S.

The Universal Freight Shuttle is the brainchild of Stephen Roop, assistant director Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), a branch of Texas A&M University's system chain.

The automated train, which is designed to accommodate standard shipping containers and trailers, would move forward along a track by linear induction motors powered with electricity .

Roop and others at TTI have been working on the concept and design for eight years, keeping in mind not just the technology, but how such an infrastructure would impact federal and state transportation departments, freight companies, shippers, and border security.

In addition to providing a cleaner option for shipping freight, the UFS includes a conveyor-like system to screen standard shipping containers at ports and borders while they're in motion, and automatically divert suspect containers to an area for further human inspection.

"It's moving into a commercial phase with prototyping and proposals for application in both Texas and California. This system is designed to offer an alternative to over-the-road trucking for heavily congested corridors. It is of course an electric, zero-emission solution," Roop said in an e-mail.

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In a software-driven world, it's easy to forget about the nuts and bolts. Whether it's cars, robots, personal gadgetry or industrial machines, Candace Lombardi examines the moving parts that keep our world rotating. A journalist who divides her time between the United States and the United Kingdom, Lombardi has written about technology for the sites of The New York Times, CNET, USA Today, MSN, ZDNet,, and GameSpot. She is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not a current employee of CNET.


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