Self-Driving Rail Cars Could Ease Trucker Shortage

Self-Driving Rail Cars Could Ease Trucker Shortage

  • Ex-SpaceX engineer Matt Soule believes his autonomous rail cars could help ease the trucker shortage.
  • Parallel Systems’ rail freight cars could take over long-haul cargo routes from truckers, he said.
  • Truckers would deliver over the “first and last mile”, meaning they stay closer to home, Soule said.

A former SpaceX engineer who’s now developing self-driving electric freight train cars says the technology could help alleviate the nationwide trucker shortage.

Matt Soule, cofounder and CEO of Parallel Systems, said in an interview with Insider that his company wants to take over some medium- and long-haul trucking routes.

Parallel Systems, a Los Angeles-based startup that raised $50 million in a Series A funding round, is building self-driving rail cars that would travel at 80 mph – much faster than traditional freight trains – and take considerably less time to unload. Parallel Systems’ train cars work in pairs: one four-wheel car holds the front of the shipping container, and another supports the rear.

The US has a shortage of about 80,000 truck drivers, which has caused chaos across the supply chain. Drivers who spoke with Insider said truckers were leaving the industry because of a lack of benefits, low wages, and losing quality time with their families.

Parallel Systems' autonomous rail car

Parallel Systems’ autonomous rail car.

Parallel Systems


Soule, who worked at Elon Musk’s SpaceX for 13 years until 2019, said Parallel Systems’ rail cars could take over longer truck routes, but would continue to rely on truckers for the “first and last mile” of delivery.

Turnover is high in trucking jobs that require drivers to spend long periods of time away from home. Using rail cars for longer treks means truckers could stay closer to their families and communities – something that could improve retention in the trucking industry, Soule suggested.

He said: “Our philosophy is that if we can get more truck volume from the medium- and long-haul segments moved to rail, and then trucking’s activity focuses on last and first mile, we think it helps improve retention in the trucking industry.”

Autonomous vehicles have, however, led to fears of widespread job losses. A 2017 report predicted that more than 4 million jobs could be lost amid the rapid adoption of autonomous vehicles.

Soule said it’s important to keep the quality of transport high and the costs for the economy low. He said “many people” would be needed to maintain Parallel Systems’ rail cars and work on scheduling and planning.

Parallel Systems, founded by three former SpaceX engineers, currently employs around 25 people. The startup is working on a second-generation version of its rail cars, which it hopes to have on the tracks by the end of March, Soule said.