Union Pacific says autonomous trains are the answer to driverless trucks

ow can railroads compete with autonomous or electric trucks that would dramatically reduce the cost of trucking?

“Ultimately, our answer to autonomous trucks is autonomous trains,” Union Pacific CEO Lance Fritz says. A first step toward automation is reducing crew size where feasible, Fritz said during the railroad’s investor day Tuesday.

UP invested in autonomous truck company TuSimple in December to keep tabs on the technology, and so it can test driverless rigs for intermodal drayage service, Fritz says. TuSimple, which runs autonomous trucks in the Southwest with a driver aboard who can step in if necessary, plans to make its first driverless revenue move this fall.

Analysts say that autonomous rigs could threaten nearly a third of the traffic that currently moves by rail. Electric trucks are significantly cheaper to operate than diesel rigs and are likely to arrive sooner, and in greater numbers, than driverless rigs, according to consulting firm Oliver Wyman. Either would erode rail’s cost advantage over trucks.