BioNTech Billionaires Back Startup Trying to Keep Trains on Time

A Munich startup that has developed software to minimize train delays raised $80 million from investors including a pair of German billionaire brothers who own almost half of Covid-19 vaccine maker BioNTech SE.

Konux GmbH raised the money from Sanno Capital, New Enterprise Associates, Dick Kramlich and Deutsche Invest Capital Partners and will use it to triple staff to 300, the company said Thursday. Athos, the investment vehicle of Andreas and Thomas Struengmann, who sold drugmaker Hexal to Novartis AG before investing in BioNTech, joined as a new investor.

Konux is marketing software to more efficiently maintain railway switches, which the company says are responsible for a fifth of all infrastructure-related train delays in Europe. Switches can last for decades, but they’re subject to high forces from passing trains. While operators deploy personnel to inspect the parts, Konux says that process should be automated to cut downtime and costs.

“In Japan, the operator keeps reliability so high because the country’s railroad system is totally over-inspected and maintained, with staff out in the tracks every night,” Konux Chief Executive Officer Andreas Kunze said in an interview. “With our technology, we can get the same reliability in Europe, but at a much lower cost.”

Cutting Cost

Konux’s algorithm takes measurements at the switches including of vibrations and temperature, calculating how parts deform to predict when they need repairing.

The startup aims to halve train-delay times, cut rail operators’ maintenance expenses and extend the lifetime of key parts in a switch by as much as a fifth, Kunze said. Rail companies across Europe spend about 8 billion euros ($9.7 billion) a year to inspect, maintain and buy new switches, he said.

Konux hopes to benefit from rising spending on rail transport as governments seek to lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The company last month secured an order from Germany’s Deutsche Bahn AG to help monitor 1,300 switches. It serves ten rail operators in countries from France to China and is working toward an initial public offering in 2024, the CEO said.

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