During his visit to Texas, Britain’s Conor Burns made a stop in Bryan on Thursday to tour the Freight Shuttle System test and evaluation center.
In addition to seeing the facility and the vehicle, Burns — who is a member of Parliament and minister of state at the Department for International Trade — and other visitors got to see the monorail prototype in action as it rolled along a short test track.
The concept for the Freight Shuttle System stemmed from research done at Texas A&M Transportation Institute over the past 15 years, Freight Shuttle CEO and TTI senior research scientist Steve Roop said. Drawing upon expertise throughout TTI, the vehicle will move shipping containers on designated elevated rails that would operate in the established rights-of-way along highways, taking some freight traffic off roads.
“I think it could be absolutely transformative,” Burns said. “As we move forward, roads are becoming more and more congested, and anything we can do to take freight off roads and onto rail and onto other means of transportation is good for the environment; it’s good for congestion; it’s good for business. … This is an intentional means of transport between two destinations that is clean, green, efficient and reduces cost on business and takes pressure off the congested roads. That’s got to be a good thing.”
Burns was in Texas, he said, to explore trade agreements in markets the country had not focused on as much in the past. When the United Kingdom officially left the European Union on Jan. 31, he was eager to quickly go abroad.
“I thought I ought to come to the States as a declaration of the importance we attach to a free-trade agreement between the UK and the States,” he said. Rather than the usual spots of Washington, D.C., New York or California, he wanted to visit the business side of the United States. Burns cited an American Enterprise Institute statistic that if Texas were its own country again, it would be the 10th largest economy in the world.
“The opportunities in this state are enormous, and we think there’s a lot of things in terms of technology, aerospace, space and energy that we can do together in partnership between U.S. and British companies,” he said.
Freight Shuttle represents an established collaboration between Texas and British companies; the linear motor is being manufactured in the Midlands in England.
“This is a wonderful example of a partnership between an innovative, cutting-edge, transformative U.S.-developed technology and a British manufacturing company specialist in motors,” Burns said. “So it made logical sense when I was here in Texas and on my way to Dallas to call in here and see for myself.”
TTI Agency Director Greg Winfree said, “It is a significant signal of interest and vote of approval for the technology that’s been developed here at Texas A&M for him not only to take time from his schedule, but frankly to make a detour on their way up to Dallas to visit us here in Aggieland to see what we’re doing.”
Winfree said he was excused from the quarterly Texas A&M Board of Regents meeting that was held in Laredo on Thursday to help greet Burns.
“Having been a former senior government official, it was important to treat this like a state visit and to have minister-to-minister interaction,” the former assistant secretary in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology said.
For the next two or three months, Roop said, the company will be in a fundraising mode and then will be working at several commercial locations. Citing the confidentiality of the information, he could not say how much it would cost to implement the Freight Shuttle, but it is being privately funded.
That ability to be privately funded, along with its ability to work with established road networks is what makes it a “very, very attractive” project, Burns said.
“The reality is we can’t, here in the U.S. or in Great Britain, we can’t build enough roadways to relieve the congestion that we have now,” Winfree said. “Here in Texas, we have 1,100 people coming to the state a day, and it’s only going to get worse.”