News Archive

Apply Now for 2024 High School Summer Program in Rail

Planning for the third iteration of the popular high school summer camp, Tracks to the Future, is well under way. Supported again this year by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) the camp has enough funding for 200 slots spread over ten different universities. Twenty full scholarships are available at each site and program registrations are rapidly filling. This camp is open to high school students who will be enrolled in grades 9-12 in Fall 2024. FRA covers the program costs, but transportation to the host sites is not covered. Need based travel support may be available.


The 2024 registration deadline is March 15, or until filled. Register for the program here or contact for more questions.

This is a hybrid program where Monday and Tuesday will consist of virtual live classroom instruction and hands-on activities. Each student will conduct these from their homes or another location with computer and internet access. Wednesday will be a travel day to the host university and instruction will continue on Thursday and Friday at one of the university host locations. There are ten different alternatives for students to choose from and staff will do their best to assign students to their preferred location.


Tracks to the Future 2024 Session I  |  June 10–14, 2024


    • Penn State-Altoona
    • University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE

Tracks to the Future 2024 Session II  |  June 24–28, 2024


    • Michigan Tech, Houghton
    • University of District of Columbia
    • University of Illinois-Champaign
    • University of South Carolina, Columbia
    • California State University, Fresno
    • University of New Mexico, Albuquerque
    • Oregon State University, Corvallis
    • North Dakota State University, Fargo

Summer 2024 Virtual Short Course on Railway Engineering

Continuing its online success, RailTEC’s virtual short courses will once again be offered this summer in two one-week sessions via Zoom. Each course will run virtually on Monday – Thursday from noon – 4:00pm (Central) and participants earn 14 professional development hours. Past attendees include rail professionals, engineers, planners, consultants and more from employees throughout the rail industry. Participants enrolled in both weeks will receive a $100 discount. Registration closes on Friday, 19 July 2024. For more information and to enroll, click here.

Track Engineering Fundamentals | 5-8 August 2024

Course Topics: Rail; Crossties & Fasteners; Ballast & Subgrade; Drainage; Slab Track; Turnouts & Special Trackwork; Track Structural Analysis; Track Structural Design; Track Standards & Inspections; Track Maintenance Technologies; Asset Management & Life Cycle Costs
Location: Virtual | Time: Noon-4pm CDT | Instructor: Conrad Ruppert
14 Professional Development Hours

Railroad Project Design | 12-15 August 2024

Course Topics: Horizontal Track Geometry; Vertical Track Geometry; Cross Sections & Earthwork; Railroad Location; Location Referencing & Track Charts; Project Phasing; Project Cost Estimation
Location: Virtual | Time: Noon-4pm CDT | Instructor: Conrad Ruppert
14 Professional Development Hours

Since the course focuses on three general topic areas (track structure design, track geometry/project design and train resistance/motive power/rolling stock), attendees who have a stronger background in one area can still learn about other aspects of railway engineering and the interrelationships between them. In gaining a greater appreciation for the holistic view of rail transport as a system, attendees can make better engineering decisions in the future. The short course is an excellent networking opportunity to meet others engaged in various facets of the rail industry.

Strong Showing at 103rd TRB

The 103rd Annual Transportation Research Board (TRB) meeting in Washington, D.C. on 7-11 January 2024 had a strong showing in the rail section from RailTEC faculty, staff, students, and alumni.  In total there were over 75 separate references, including 49 authors, 20 Committee Members, 4 session chairs, and 3 committee meeting chairs. Click here for a guide to 2024 RailTEC contributions at TRB.

One highlight of the conference was the presentation of the William W. Millar Award to RailTEC’s Dan Mueller, Arthur Lima, Riley Edwards and Marcus Dersch. Their paper entitled, “Development of a Real Time Wheel Load Quantification System for the Transit Environment” was selected through peer-review under the Technical Activities Council as one of the best six papers at the conference. In addition, other members from Illinois’ CEE Transportation Engineering group received the K.B. Woods Award for outstanding paper published in the field of design and construction of transportation facilities. Angeli Jayme, Imad Al-Qadi and Egemen Okte were chosen for their paper entitled, “Environmental and Economic Efficiency of Stone-Matrix Asphalt with Surface Micro-Milling”.

TRB is the principal annual gathering of the North American transportation research community that typically attracts thousands of transportation professionals from around the world and the meeting program covers all transportation modes. There were more than 600 workshops, lectern sessions, committee sessions, and poster sessions addressing topics of interest to policy makers, administrators, practitioners, researchers, and representatives of government, industry, and academic institutions.

The 104th TRB annual Meeting will be held in Washington, DC at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on January 5–9, 2025.

25th Annual Railroad Environmental Conference

(L-R) Mike Rush, Chris Barkan, Bob Fronczak, Devin Sprinkle

The Railroad Environmental Conference (RREC) celebrated its 25th anniversary at the annual two-day conference on 14-15 November 2023 at the iHotel in Champaign, IL. Conference Director Professor Christopher P.L. Barkan, George Krambles Director of RailTEC, was honored for growing the conference from the first event in 1999 that had 150 attendees and 9 exhibitors to this year’s 425 participants and 43 exhibitors. Participants attended over 35 presentations by railroaders, consulting engineers, academics and others involved in all aspects of railroad environmental topics. Forty four exhibitors filled out the exhibit hall.

Also at the conference the Association of American Railroads (AAR) recognized the work of two railroaders for advancing environmental responsibility with Career Environmental Achievement Awards. The two honorees were Norfolk Southern’s (NS) Mark Dudle and Canadian National’s (CN) Rick Verkler.

(L-R) Rick Verkler, Devin Sprinkle, Mark Dudle

As NS occupational safety director, Dudle is charged with protecting the health and safety of the railroad’s 21,000 employees, contractors, as well as the communities NS serves. He manages the railroad’s safety and health programs which focus on proper information and protective equipment. Dudle stands among the industry’s top emergency response experts who has led air monitoring, toxicology support and site safety efforts for NS following significant incidents, including the ongoing response to the NS train derailment in East Palestine, Ohio, AAR officials said.

Verkler served as environmental counsel for CN’s U.S. operations. He managed and oversaw all aspects of state and federal environmental law, including air and water pollution, hazardous waste treatment, storage and disposal, site cleanup and wetlands protection. Until his retirement, Verkler also was active on AAR’s Pre-emption Committee and Environmental Matters Working Group.

Other nominees for the award this year were: Aaron Stadnyk – CN Railway, Chad Prior – BNSF Railway, Adam Motsinger – Norfolk Southern, Kiley Gibson – CPKC, Daniel S. Dyer – CSX, and Chip Heard, Jr. – Union Pacific Railroad.

The 25th-annual conference was presented by the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign Rail Transportation and Engineering Center (RailTEC), with partners AAR; American Railway Engineering and Maintenance of Way Association; American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association; American Railway Development Association; and Railway Association of Canada.


Celebrating Illinois Railroad Engineering

On 28-29 September 2023 the Rail Transportation and Engineering Center (RailTEC) celebrated the 25th anniversary of the resurgence of the University of Illinois Railroad Engineering Program with current students, faculty, alumni and friends. The event started with an informal welcome dinner reception the night of the 28th followed by a day of student and alumni mini-symposiums, a William W. Hay Railroad Engineering Seminar, and a tour of the Research and Innovation Lab (RAIL).  The event ended with a formal banquet where Professor Christopher P.L. Barkan, George Krambles Director of RailTEC, was recognized for his dedication and profound impact on the resurgence of the rail program at Illinois.

For more information on the history of rail at Illinois, as well as details on the past 25 years, please see the RailTEC 25th Anniversary booklet.

$5M FRA grant establishes NURail CoE

RailTEC is excited to share that the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has awarded the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) as the selected institution for the Fiscal Year 2022-2023 Rail Research and Development Center of Excellence program. U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), U.S. Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and U.S. Representative Nikki Budzinski (D-IL-13) made the announcement. This $5 million grant establishes the National University Rail Center of Excellence (NURail CoE), a pioneering initiative dedicated to developing the future workforce while advancing research and expansion that enhances the safety, efficiency, and reliability of both passenger and freight rail transportation.

Led by UIUC, the NURail CoE comprises a consortium of nine partner institutions including:

  • University of Illinois Chicago
  • University of Delaware
  • Kansas State University
  • Michigan Technological University
  • Morgan State University
  • Rutgers University
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • Tuskegee University

Under the NURail CoE program, the FRA will provide up to 50% of the cost of establishing and operating the center of excellence and supporting research activities. Each of the nine universities within the consortium will contribute a portion of the total non-federal match.

One of the main efforts across all consortium members will be the development of structured programs that introduce minority and women scholars to the different facets of rail transportation and provide pathways for them to begin rail facility careers.

RailTEC offers the most extensive curriculum in railway engineering and transportation in North America. Led by Professor Christopher P.L. Barkan, the George Krambles Director, RailTEC is a global leader in practical and theoretical research advancing the field in a broad range of rail transit engineering and transportation topics.

To read the FRA announcement click here.

To read the Durbin, Duckworth Budzinski announcement click here.

To read the News-Gazette article click here.

To read the Illinois College of Civil and Environmental Engineering article click here.


RailTEC in the News

On 06 September 2023 Dr. Christopher P.L. Barkan, Professor and George Krambles Director of RailTEC, was a guest speaker on MarketScale discussing how new technology aims to utilize more rail infrastructure as an alternative to trucks. MarketScale is a platform for B2B community engagement and creates and publishes industry-leading content. Click here to listen to the interview or here to read a PDF of the conversation.Brightline takes critical step forward on path for service to Orlando - Railway Track and StructuresOn a similar note, Chris was quoted in a New York Post article on 12 August 2023  discussing the Brightline high-speed rail system that will connect Miami with Orlando in approximately 3.5 hours.  Brightline’s highly anticipated first day of service is Friday, 22 September. Many RailTEC alumni as well as several consultant alumni are working on this project. Click here to read the New York Post article.

40 Post Mt2022 Horizontal Copy

In the July/August cover feature of Mass Transit magazine, RailTEC alumni Manuel Martin Ramos, Senior Rail Engineer at Arup, was recently named to the 2023 list of 40 Under 40 Awards. This annual opportunity recognizes outstanding young individuals making a name in the public transit industry. The awards acknowledge individuals who have shown a capacity for innovation, demonstrated leadership and a commitment to making an impact in transit. Click here to read Manu’s award bio.

RailTEC Receives Four Best Paper Awards

RailTEC faculty, students and alumni were well represented at the 12th International Heavy Haul Association (IHHA) conference where they won four out of twelve Best Paper Awards. These papers will be transferred to the Journal for Rail and Rapid Transit (JRRT) for re-review and consideration for publication. IHHA 2023 was held in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil on 27 – 31 August at the Windsor Convention & Expo Centre. The theme of this year’s IHHA conference was Application of Heavy Haul Innovations for a Sustainable World. A total of 508 abstracts were submitted by authors from 120 organizations and over 30 countries, under all 50 of the themes & sub-themes of the conference.

RailTEC student, staff and faculty presenters and their presentation titles included:

  • Quantitative Analysis of Conventional and Distributed Power Train Accident Characteristics by Xinhao Liu
  • Under Sleeper Pads: Field and Laboratory Evaluation for Heavy Haul by Jaeik Lee
  • Leveraging 3D Laser Scanning Data for Track Condition Change Detection by J. Riley Edwards
  • Track Modulus Assessment of Engineered Interspersed Concrete Sleepers in Ballasted Track by Arthur Lima
  • Effect of Fixed Structures on Longitudinal Rail Stresses and Buckled Track Accidents by Arthur Lima
  • Drone Imagens Applied To Turnouts Inspection by Vítor Alves
  • Big data in railroads: the use of unmanned inspection vehicles by Arthur Bilheri
  • Sensitivity of potential battery electric locomotive energy benefits to heavy haul freight rail operating characteristics by Michael Copley

This biennial conference is the premier event in the international heavy haul railway community and is dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in heavy haul railway operations, engineering, maintenance, and technology. The event was hosted in partnership with MRS Logistics and Vale and consisted of a two-day pre-conference technical workshop, three days of the main conference plenary and parallel sessions, and a one-day technical tour.

IHHA 2025 will be combined with the World Congress on Railway Research (WCRR) in Colorado Springs, CO and hosted by MxV Rail.

Visit with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg

RailTEC students with Illinois faculty and staff pose beside distinguished guests including U.S. Secretary of Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Representative Nikki Budzinski, and U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.

Over 150 people attended the fireside chat on Monday 31 July 2023 with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill, and U.S. Rep. Nikki Budzinski, D-Springfield, at the Newmark Civil Engineering Building on the University of Illinois campus in Urbana. The government officials also spoke in Savoy, where they officially announced $22.6 million in federal funds for a project to eliminate the railroad crossing at Curtis Road and U.S. 45, and in East St. Louis on the same day.

Despite the fact the officials were on a tightly orchestrated schedule, they spent a few minutes looking at research posters and talking to PI’s from CEE’s transportation centers.

To read the News-Gazette article click here.

To read the Grainger College of Engineering article click here.



Tracks to the Future Summer Camp

Nearly 100 high school students across the U.S. had an exciting opportunity to learn about rail in a Summer 2023 program titled “Tracks to the Future: Railroad Transportation and Engineering”. The program, which began in 2012 with Michigan Technological University’s (MTU) Rail Transportation Program, has since grown to include sessions at the following universities: University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, Penn State Altoona, University of South Carolina, California State University-Fresno and the University of Mexico.

Thanks to funds from the Federal Railroad Administration, which included all program materials plus lodging and meals for the on-site portion, RailTEC hosted 21 students originating from Illinois, Missouri, New York, Tennessee, and Washington. Through virtual sessions, hands-on activities, and field visits to railroad facilities, students learned what forms modern railroad track, explored railway equipment from around the globe, and analyzed the latest operations, communication and control systems. They also learned how rail compares with other modes and leads the charge in reducing transportation greenhouse gas emissions.

This hybrid program featured a two-day at-home virtual portion with a two-day visit at one of the six partnering campuses. The 2023 program included two sessions. The first took place 19-23 June at MTU, University of South Carolina and California State University-Fresno; the second session took place 17-21 July at the University of New Mexico, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and Penn State-Altoona.