Research and Innovation Lab (RAIL)

In 2013, the Rail Transportation and Engineering Center (RailTEC) within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign embarked on a mission to design and construct a laboratory with the primary objective of improving the performance and design of railway infrastructure and its components. To achieve this objective, the 3,500 square foot Research and Innovation Laboratory (RAIL) was conceived and located in the Harry Schnabel, Jr. building on the CERL campus. RAIL is unique in North American academia in that it is a dedicated rail-focused research facility that has been used to support projects aimed at making rail freight and transit lines safer, more resilient, and cost-effective.


RAIL boasts of five separate multi-purpose frames that are used to investigate full track systems, sub-systems, and individual components.  At the heart of the laboratory is the full-scale track loading system (TLS) which can accommodate testing an eleven-crosstie panel with full-depth substructure (i.e., ballast, sub-ballast, and subgrade). In addition to full-depth track substructures, it provides researchers the ability to perform static and dynamic experientation on railway superstructure and rolling stock mechanical components. The data gathered from TLS experimentation also provides researchers the ability to develop new and validate previous railway infrastructure analytical models.

Some of the key research outcomes over the years to come from work at RAIL and also impacted the AREMA recommended practices have included the:

  • development of instrumented concrete crossties for the quantification of field bending demands,
  • quantification of the lateral load path,
  • manufacture of a novel joint-bar for a major transit agency, and the
  • identification of failure modes and potential solutions for broken spikes in elastic fasteners

Additional information about visiting the laboratory and current laboratory capabilities are provided within this site.

RAIL has been supported by both the public and private sector through research projects and gifts as well as the donations of materials for the construction of frames and execution of experiments. These supporters include: National University Rail (NURail) Center, Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign as well as tremendous industry support from Class I railroads, crosstie and fastening system suppliers, and engineering consultants.

For a virtual tour of the laboratory, please click on the image below.