News Archive

Former RailTEC Student Selected for Young Alumnus Achievement Award

Dr. Xiang Liu

RailTEC is pleased to announce that Dr. Xiang Liu, a RailTEC alumnus, has been selected to receive the 2020 Civil and Environmental Engineering Alumni Association Young Alumnus Achievement Award. The purpose of this award is to recognize professional accomplishments or unique contributions to society of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Civil and Environmental Engineering graduates. Dr. Liu will be recognized on Thursday, 12 March 2020 at the CEE Chicago Alumni Dinner at the Union League Club in Chicago. He received his PhD from Illinois in December 2013 and is currently an Assistant Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Rutgers University.

Successful PhD Defense

From Left to Right: Dr. Ray Benekohal (Illinois/CEE), Dr. Christopher Barkan (Illinois/CEE), Brandon Wang, Dr. Rapik Saat (American Association of Railroads) with Dr. Feng Liang (Illinois/Statistics) on the laptop.


Brandon Wang, a RailTEC graduate student, successfully defended his PhD dissertation on Friday, 8 November. It was titled “Quantitative Analyses of Freight Train Derailments”. Brandon was advised by Professor and George Krambles Faculty Fellow Dr. Christopher Barkan. Also on his committee were Dr. Ray Benekohal (Illinois/CEE), Dr. Rapik Saat (American Association of Railroads) and Dr. Feng Liang (Illinois/Statistics). Congratulations, Brandon!

21st Railroad Environmental Conference

Thursday, October 31, 2019

The 21st Railroad Environmental Conference (RREC) was held on October 22-23, 2019 on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus. Over 500 registered attendees had the opportunity to hear 65 thought-provoking presentations by railroaders, consulting engineers, academics and others involved in all aspects of railroad environmental topics. There were also 25 poster presentations and 56 exhibitors. The Association of American Railroads (AAR) awarded the 2019 North American Environmental Employee Excellence Award to Brian Zacker, an environmental field services senior manager at CSX. AAR’s award recognizes leading contributions to environmental responsibility and excellence in the industry, and is considered the highest honor for rail industry environmental professionals. Mark your calendars now for the 22nd annual RREC conference, which will be held on October 27-28, 2020.

Railway Interchange 2019

RailTEC faculty, staff and students attended the Railway Interchange (RI) conference on September 22 – 25, 2019 in Minneapolis, MN. Between the faculty, student and alumni presentations at the event, RailTEC had representation in every AREMA session on Monday and Tuesday of the conference. Graduate student Tom Roadcap gave a presentation on “Field Experience and Academic Inquiry to Understand Broken Spike Failures in Railroad Fastening Systems” while research engineer Arthur Lima talked about “Fatigue Performance Characterization of Direct Fixation Systems Under Heavy Rail Transit Loading Conditions”.  RailTEC students competed in the student quiz bowl where Illinois teams took two out of the top four spots. Students also attended the poster competition as well as networked with people and companies involved in the rail industry. RI is the largest railway exhibition and technical conference in North America and is attended by nearly 9,000 rail industry professionals from around the globe.

Adrian Diaz de Rivera (center) puzzles over the answer to a question in the Student Quiz Bowl. Teammates Tom Roadcap (left) and Daniel Holmes (right) look on.
Arthur Lima giving his presentation on Tuesday, September 24.
Camila Pereira talking with an industry representative at AREMA’s Meet the Next Generation Event at the Railway Interchange conference.

5th Railway Engineering Short Course

The largest class ever just completed the 5th RailTEC Railway Engineering Short Course on Friday, August 9. This week-long course, held on the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign campus, graduated 21 students. They engaged in interactive lectures, relevant case studies, small group discussions and a site visit and lab tour to learn about the practical aspects and science behind railway engineering and transportation concepts. The course focuses on three general topic areas (track structure design, track geometry/project design and train resistance/motive power/rolling stock) and all participants receive Professional Development Hours (PDH) and a Certificate of Completion. Please mark your calendars now for next year’s course on July 27-31, 2020.

Conrad Ruppert, right, interacting with a RailTEC Short Course participant.
Tyler Dick, left, explains one of the problems to the Short Course attendees.
A Short Course student intently studying research equipment on the RAIL tour.
Riley Edwards, left, discussing how the research equipment works with a class attendee.

Barkan Receives Silver Tank Car Award

Chris Barkan, Professor and George Krambles Director – RailTEC, received the Silver Tank Car Award from the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Freight Rail Committee AR-040 for his many years of dedicated service to TRB and his ongoing research on rail tank car design and safety benefiting all railroads and shippers worldwide. The award was presented at the combined NURail Annual Meeting/TRB Summerail ’19 which was held July 24 – 26, 2019 in St. Louis, MO. This three day event featured two days of presentations and one day of technical tours. Four NURail partners gave technical presentations on their research during the meeting, including RailTEC Senior Research Engineer and Director of Education, Tyler Dick. Tyler discussed his research on “Influence of Mainline Schedule Flexibility and Volume Variability on Railway Classification Yard Performance”.

Tyler Dick giving his research on “Influence of Mainline Schedule Flexibility and Volume Variability on Railway Classificaiton Yard Performance”.
Dave Clarke, University of Tennessee – Knoxville, (left) and Forrest Van Schwartz, Managing Director Global Transportation Consultancy, (right), flank Chris Barkan who holds his Silver Tank Car Award.

Illinois Participation at p-REES

The third biennial Passenger Railway Engineering Education Symposium (p-REES) was held July 22-24, 2019 at the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) Headquarters in downtown Chicago, IL.  Attendees at this three day event learned about current research and development in railroad engineering education programs and this year seven instructors, students and alumni from the University of Illinois system participated. Students were provided practical, hands-on engineering information and materials, with the goal of encouraging engineering faculty interest in adding rail and transit engineering content to their current courses and curricula. The symposium also included a field visit to CTA’s Control Center and an introduction to CTA’s Red and Purple Modernization Program. p-REES is sponsored by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) in cooperation with the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA).

Riley Edwards giving his portion of the Vehicles Track unit.
Chris Barkan (left) and Mark Walbrun (U of I alumnus) taught the Railroad Operations / Modal Characteristics module.
Jon Roma teaching a section on Basic Signals.

RailTEC & NS Field Test at Horseshoe Curve

On July 15-16, 2019, the RailTEC Infrastructure Group and Norfolk Southern (NS) Research & Tests worked together at Horseshoe Curve in Blair County, Pennsylvania to install track measurement sites. Horseshoe Curve is a three-track railroad curve on NS’s Pittsburgh Line and was selected because of sharp curvature (9°), steep grade (1.8%) and a history of broken spikes.  The sites will provide rail force and tie plate displacement data for RailTEC’s FRA funded broken spike research project. Instrumentation was installed on track 1, to capture trains descending the grade with air brakes applied, and on track 3, to capture trains ascending with locomotives at maximum tractive effort. Data will be collected on track 3 until August 5th, when the instrumentation will be removed in advance of a programmed gaging job. Data will be collected on track 1 through the Fall of 2019.

RailTEC & NS Instrumentation Team
Installing the equipment
Buried conduit from the track 3 site
Displacement Transducers

RailTEC Research Featured in RT&S

Railway Track and Structures (RT&S) magazine published an article in its July 2019 issue detailing research done by RailTEC researchers Marcus Dersch, Tom Roadcap and Riley Edwards. This article discusses the completed first phase of an investigation into timber crosstie spike fastener failures on North American railroads. The research included a review of derailment reports and literature, an industry survey and an extensive program of field visits. A validated finite element model was developed to better understand the spike failure modes and underlying causes. This research was sponsored funded by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and supported by multiple Class 1 railroads and several industry partners. To read the article click here.

Summer Conferences

June was a busy month for conferences and meetings for RailTEC faculty, staff and students. Representatives attended the International Heavy Haul Association (IHHA) meeting in Narvik, Norway from 10-14 June and the International Association of Railway Operations Research (IAROR) conference in Norrkoping, Sweden from 17-20 June. RailTEC faculty also took advantage of the opportunity to meet with previous and potential industry partners and sponsors as well as discuss educational collaborations with representatives from Tampere University in Finland, KTH University in Stockholm, and University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom.

While at IHHA RailTEC representatives presented their research to the international freight railway community in the Modeling & Simulation, Sleeper & Fastener, Safety & Monitoring, and poster sessions. IHHA is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in heavy haul railway operations, engineering, maintenance, and technology. Over 430 delegates from 30 different countries attended the conference which offered over 150 presentations and papers.

At IAROR, the 8th International Conference on Railway Operations Modelling and Analysis, RailTEC faculty, students and alumni gave nine presentations and chaired two sessions in the Freight Traffic Planning, Traffic Management, Moving Block, Delay Analysis & Prediction, Capacity Analysis, and Rolling Stock Scheduling & Maintenance sessions. This conference was designed to promote interdisciplinary discussions in the railway planning and operations research area by combining the expertise of academics and professionals. The conference had more than 250 participants from 20 countries.

See below for a few photos from each conference.

RailTEC Group at 2019 IHHA


Tom Roadcap talking to a 2019 IHHA attendee about his poster presentation.


Josue Bastos giving his presentation at the 2019 IHHA conference.


Chen-Yu Lin presenting his paper at IHHA 2019 in Narvik.


RailTEC faculty, students and alumni at IAROR 2019.


Stan Chang giving his presentation.


Adrian Diaz de Rivera presenting at the 2019 IAROR conference.


Tyler Dick presenting his paper in at the 2019 IAROR conference in Sweden.