Railway Engineering Education Symposium: Evolving to rebuild a growing rail academic community

Lautala, P. and C.T. Dick. 2017. Railway Engineering Education Symposium: Evolving to rebuild a growing rail academic community. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board. 2608: 96-104. doi:10.3141/2608-11.


Although freight traffic declined in 2016, North American railways have experienced a decades-long period of growth in freight ton-miles and in the number of commuter and intercity passenger rail trips. This growth, combined with the aging railway workforce, has triggered renewed demand for university graduates to enter railway careers. However, after decades of neglect, only a few North American academic programs are engaged in rail-related research and education. The railway academic community must be rebuilt to meet the industry workforce needs of the future. Since 2008, the Railway Engineering Education Symposium (REES) has been staged as a biannual collaboration between academia and industry to expose professors to railway engineering education topics. REES has prompted faculty at numerous universities to expand railway content in introductory transportation courses and to establish new courses on railway engineering topics. According to feedback from surveys of attendees, REES has evolved to support the growing railway academic community better. Expanding its original focus on new professors, REES now serves as a user conference for returning professors already engaged in railway education activities and is accompanied by online delivery of previous materials. This paper briefly reviews the decline of the relationship between railways and academia, then concentrates on the role of REES in its reemergence. Evidence of REES successes from participant surveys is documented, and challenges on the path forward are discussed.