NURail center receives $1.4 million grant

A $1.4 million grant is pushing the National University Rail Center, a seven-university rail transportation and engineering research center, to the forefront of railroad engineering.

The award was granted to NURail in September by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration.

Award money will be used by researchers to help advance railroad technology.

The center is currently developing technology that would substantially increase railroad safety.

The University’s Rail Transportation and Engineering Center is one of the seven NURail centers located across the country. Scott Schmidt, senior in the RailTEC program, said RailTEC boasts one of the best railway education programs in the country.

With the help of the grant, RailTEC, along with other engineering centers, is furthering its research on Positive Train Control, a technology that could reduce train accidents by applying a train’s brakes if its engineer doesn’t, said Schmidt.

He said if a train failed to stop or if its brakes weren’t applied at the correct time, the electronic system would notice and apply the brakes to prevent an accident.

Schmidt said car travel and highway building are becoming more expensive, so people are looking toward the railroad industry for cheaper transportation.

With railroad transportation’s increasing popularity, Congress mandated that all trains operate on this safer, more effective electronic system by 2015.

Schmidt said Congress doesn’t realize how difficult it may be to follow through with a plan like that.

“It’s going to be tough … It costs a lot of money,” he said.

Despite the costs, Christopher Barkan, executive director of RailTEC said rail safety has become a priority for the country in the last 30 years.

According to the Association of American Railroads, train accident rates have fallen 80 percent since 1980.

“I feel that improved technology has played a significant role in reducing accidents,” said Matthew Greve, a graduate student at RailTEC.

“Traffic is up and accidents are down thanks to continued advances in both physical and logistical technologies,” he said.

This grant will help fund the projects RailTEC and NURail undertake to continue their efforts toward railroad safety. Schmidt said RailTEC boasts one of the best railway education programs in the country. A goal of NURail is to prepare the next generation of railroad engineers.

Zila can be reached at [email protected]