University of Illinois to Lead U.S. DOT Research Center


The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has awarded a grant of $3.5 million to a multi-university consortium led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign to establish a rail transportation and engineering research center. Headquartered within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Illinois, the National University Rail (NURail) Center will focus on rail education and research to improve railroad safety, efficiency and reliability. Particular focus will be on challenges associated with rail corridors in which higher-speed passenger trains share infrastructure with freight trains.

The NURail Center will be the first UTC focused solely on rail, and the proposal received broad support from a large number of public, private sector, and international rail organizations. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign leads a consortium of research universities including the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Michigan Technical University, Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology, the University of Kentucky, and the University of Tennessee. Within the theme of shared rail corridors, research projects will focus on track and structures; train control; rolling stock; human factors, and other topics identified based on Federal Railroad Administration and Association of American Railroads priorities. The center will be under the direction of Professor Christopher P.L. Barkan, the Krambles Faculty Fellow and director of the Illinois Rail Transportation and Engineering Center (RailTEC).

In addition to being part of the NURail Center, the Urban Transportation Center at UIC will join a collaboration led by the University of South Florida’s National Center for Transit Research, one of only two centers designated to work on transit research nationally. Work at UIC may include projects related to the issues of safety, maintenance, competitiveness, livability, and environmental stability in the Chicago region, Illinois, and nationally. UIC has been guaranteed $700,000 of the $3.5 million federal grant to the University of South Florida, with a $700,000 matching grant from the Illinois Department of Transportation. UIC is also a participant in a third UTC consortium led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

University of Illinois President Michael Hogan said, “The University of Illinois is very thankful for the support of Governor Pat Quinn and our state Congressional leadership, in helping us win these grants.  Illinois has the nation’s best programs in rail engineering and transit system development and operation, and these UTC’s will help the nation and region prepare for future freight and passenger rail needs.”

These research grants are part of $77 DOT million in grants to 22 UTCs—involving a total of 121 different universities across the country—to advance research and education programs that address critical transportation challenges facing the nation. The UTCs conduct research that directly supports the priorities of the DOT on transportation-related issues such as shared rail corridors, innovations in multimodal freight and infrastructure, bridge inspection methods, and reducing roadway fatalities and injuries.