Engineering Open House 2024

EOH 2024 theme: “Aspire to Inspire”

Hundreds of visitors on the first day of the 2024 Engineering Open House (EOH) stopped by the Newmark Civil Engineering Laboratory on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus where they could experience driving a train and learn about railroad signaling systems. Illinois students representing RailTEC, the UIUC student chapter of the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA), and the Illini Rail Club shared their passion for rail engineering design and railroad operations at the 102nd EOH on 5-6 April. Some of the other interactive rail exhibits included demonstrations of railway control and signaling, a train simulator, train puzzle, intermodal game and a model train layout.

During his shift working at the Illini Rail Club’s model train layout during EOH Cameron Taylor, a freshman Civil and Environmental Engineering student, encouraged youngsters to operate one of the trains. “We let people drive the trains and see how it operates,” he explained. “It’s a great learning experience to get them interested in railroading early.” Just last year Taylor was one of the visitors to the open house when he was still in high school. “When I came to the Engineering Open House last year, my mind was blown,” he said of the railroad-related exhibits. “When I was here, I learned about the RailTEC program and rail studies and thought, ‘I definitely want to come here to school.’” Although Taylor is interested in rail infrastructure and design and rail safety, he is not ruling out becoming a railroad engineer someday. “That’s on my bucket list,” he said. Taylor said he has loved trains as far back as he can remember. “It started with ‘Polar Express’ and grew from there,” he said. “I was one of those kids that waved at the engineer when the train went by.”

Daniel Kuchta, a food chemist and train enthusiast, participated at this year’s open house by demonstrating a circa 1980s railroad crossing system that he salvaged several years ago. “They tore out the train signal unit in my hometown, so I pieced it together and thought it was good opportunity to display it here,” Kuchta said. “This is my sixth year setting up here.” he said. Kuchta explained to a group of high school students that railroad crossing systems, which detect when a train approaches and activates the crossing gates, were developed for convenience as well as safety.  “The more accurate the system is when the gates go down, the less people will try to walk or drive around them,” he said. “The system makes sure everything is working properly before the gates go up.”

Canadian National (CN) Railroad’s signal department employees Jason Berner, Elliott Kaye and Jason Oldham showed visitors a live view of CN’s rail traffic between Champaign and Neoga as well as the corresponding signal system for that territory. “We are demonstrating how the two systems interact with each other,” Berner said. “Dispatchers have four to six screens of contiguous areas that they monitor to make sure the trains are going where they need to go, and the signals are working. “We dispatch trains 24/7, 364.5 days a year,” he said. “The only time off is Christmas morning.”

First-year RailTEC graduate student David Wasilewski demonstrated a system with a series of signals. “There is a current going through the track that activates the signal,” he explained. “The track is divided into sections with signals, so it protects the train in the next section from being rear-ended.” Wasilewski said being a part of the RailTEC program has been a perfect fit for him. He discovered the RailTEC program his freshman year at UIUC when he joined the Illini Rail Club. “I’ve been around trains my whole life, and I like designing and civil engineering,” he said. “RailTEC is probably the biggest rail research program with a lab.”

Check back for the dates of EOH 2025.