News Archive

December Graduates

Congratulations go out to two of RailTEC’s graduate students. Leonel (Lee) Evans and Matheus Trizotto Silva both completed the necessary requirements to obtain their Master of Civil Engineering degree from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in December 2020. While with RailTEC both students participated in innovative rail research giving them an edge when starting their career after graduation. Lee obtained his BS in Civil Engineering from UIUC in 2019 while Matheus received his BS in Civil Engineering from the Universidade do Estado de Santa Catarina, Brazil in 2018.

Passing of Dr. Ernest J. Barenberg

Dr. Ernest J. Barenberg

It is with great sadness that RailTEC received news of the passing of Dr. Ernest J. Barenberg on January 19, 2021.  Dr. Barenberg, CEE professor emeritus and alumnus, was instrumental in establishing and growing the Railroad Engineering Program, the forerunner to the current Rail Transportation and Engineering Center (RailTEC).

Starting in the early 1980’s, Dr. Barenberg continued the legacy of rail research and teaching at Illinois that had been under the leadership of the renown Dr. William W. Hay from 1947 to 1977.  Dr. Barenberg developed a program encompassing all aspects of rail engineering (civil, mechanical, and electrical). While the program funded many rail research projects across multiple departments, Dr. Barenberg’s primary interest was railroad track systems, given his deep understanding of the performance of concrete pavements and transportation facilities.

Dr. Barenberg served as director of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) Affiliated Laboratory at Illinois from its inception in 1983 until his retirement in 1998, when Professor Christopher P.L. Barkan arrived at Illinois.

For Dr. Barenberg’s detailed obituary, please click here.

Railway-themed K-12 STEM Outreach Activities

A new Guidebook for Railway-themed K-12 STEM Outreach Activities is now available. It contains descriptions of educational activities designed to introduce students to the railroad transportation mode through the lens of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) concepts. The activities in the guidebook cover a wide variety of railroad topics and the hands-on activities are intended to provide students with knowledge through experiential learning that also increases their awareness of railway transportation technology. The guidebook has chapters which provide a step‐by‐step guide to each activity, however teachers are encouraged to experiment with modifications to each activity and create their own activities on other facets of the railroad industry and STEM topics.

Guidebook activities include:

1) Railcar Puzzle and Commodity Matching Game (3.2 MB)

2) Railcar Size and Weight for Different Freight Shipment Density (1.4 MB)

3) Wheel-Rail Dynamics: How Railcars Travel Around Curves (2.2 MB)

4) Train Rolling Resistance (3.1 MB)

5) Locomotive and Train Simulators (1.2 MB)

6) Railroad Track Construction (1.8 MB)

7) Edible Railroad Track Construction (1.0 MB)

8) Single-Track Railway Operations Simulation Game (2.5 MB)

9) Classification Yards and Railcar Sorting (4.1 MB)

10) Intermodal Transportation Game (2.1 MB)

11) Railroad Safety, and Potential Collaborators, Educational Opportunities and Resources for Additional Learning (1.1 MB)

This guidebook was funded by the National University Rail (NURail) Center, a Tier-1 USDOT University Transportation Center, and the National Railroad Construction and Maintenance Association.


RailTEC Contributions to TRB

RailTEC will make a positive impact again this year at the 100th Annual Transportation Research Board (TRB) Meeting. RailTEC students, faculty, staff and alumni are referenced over 60 times in the meeting program, including 36 authors. Click here for a guide to 2021 RailTEC contributions at TRB.

 Dr. Avery Grimes

In addition, RailTEC alumni Dr. Avery Grimes, who was formerly the TRB Rail Chair, has been formally appointed as the TRB Technical Activities Council (TAC) Chair starting in April 2021.  Illinois assistant professor Eleftheria (Ria) Kontou will also be serving on the TAC representing the TRB Young Members Council. 

The 2021 TRB annual meeting is a virtual event and will be held throughout the month of January. Committee Meetings will be held January 5–8 and 11–15 while sessions and exhibits are on January 21–22 and 25–29. The spotlight theme for the meeting is Launching a New Century of Mobility and Quality of Life. It will feature dozens of sessions on how COVID-19 has impacted transportation and how transportation professionals and researchers are responding.  This meeting covers all transportation modes, addressing topics of interest to policy makers, administrators, practitioners, researchers, and representatives of government, industry, and academic institutions.

Join Us This Spring

Christopher Barkan – Professor and George Krambles Director – RailTEC
C. Tyler Dick – Lecturer and Principal Railway Research Engineer

The University of Illinois has the strongest, most highly respected rail engineering program in North America and our graduates have excellent employment opportunities.  Three rail transportation and engineering courses will be offered in the Spring 2021 semester.  All three courses are approved options for advanced technical electives for a Primary or Secondary in Transportation Engineering.  Additional information on the rail courses is provided below, including instructor contact information.

We hope to see you in one or more of these courses!


CEE 410 – Railway Signaling & Control  (Course Catalog Link)

Rail transportation of passengers and freight requires specialized technology, operating practices, and control systems to safely and efficiently move trains from origin to destination. The nature of rail vehicles and infrastructure, specifically the steel wheel on steel rail, enables highly efficient transportation, but it also imposes substantial requirements on the train control system unique to rail transport.  There are three fundamental elements of a train control system: management of train movement authorities, communications, and speed control.  The course begins with an introduction to these concepts and then covers railroad operating rules, stringline diagrams, temporal and spatial train separation, block system concepts, and radio-based train dispatching.  Then track circuit technology and its role in train position monitoring and basic automatic block signaling is presented, followed by train braking mechanisms, stopping distance calculations and their relationship to signal spacing.  The course then introduces more complex signaling and train control problems related to diverging routes, bidirectional signaling on single track, coded track circuits, cab signaling, and automatic train stop and speed control.  The last section of the course covers interlocking concepts and function, centralized traffic control, and positive train control (PTC). Field trip(s) to observe signal system infrastructure and a visit to a railway dispatching and control center will be scheduled if circumstances permit.

Spring 2021 • Online Lectures and Weekly Discussion Group Meeting
Instructor: Professor – Christopher Barkan, Ph.D.

CEE 411 – Railroad Project Design and Construction  (Course Catalog Link)

This course provides a comprehensive, integrated understanding of the planning, design and construction of a railroad engineering project from concept through to operation.  The course focuses on five elements of a railroad project: Planning, Economic Justification, Design, Surveying and Construction.  Through a series of integrated design assignments, students identify, gather and analyze the necessary information, to plan, design and manage a new railroad construction project.  The course also introduces students to MicroStation and Bentley Rail Track design software as applied to railway design projects.

Spring 2021 • Tu/Th 12:30-1:50 PM • Online or 1311 Newmark Civil Engineering Lab
Instructor: Lecturer & Principal Railway Research Engineer – Tyler Dick, Ph.D., P.E.

CEE 498 TSR- Transportation Safety and Risk  (Course Catalog Link)

This course introduces students to multi-modal transportation safety and risk analysis. Topics covered include transportation safety and risk management framework, qualitative, semi-quantitative, and quantitative risk assessment techniques, structuring decision problems, overview of hazardous materials transportation, transportation-mode-specific risk assessment methods for highways, railroads, pipelines and inland waterways, and transportation security. The course focuses primarily on freight transportation risk assessment but the methodologies taught can be adapted to passenger transportation and these applications will be presented as well. Upon successful completion of this course, students will be capable of performing mode-specific and multimodal transportation engineering risk analyses.

Spring 2021 • Tu/Th 2:00-3:20 PM • Online
Instructors: Professor – Christopher Barkan, Ph.D.
and Postdoctoral Research Associate – Chen-Yu Lin, Ph.D.

2020 Successful for Hay Seminars

Despite a global pandemic in 2020 RailTEC organized nine William W. Hay Railroad Engineering Seminars and reached an audience of over 1,300 students, faculty and industry professionals. Speaker highlights included Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Administrator Ron Batory and FRA Director of the Office of Research, Development and Technology Dr. Maryam Allahyar. At the beginning of the year seminars were held in-person and live streamed. Ultimately the seminars pivoted to being fully online.

Dr. David Thurston, Canadian Pacific Railway, was the last William W. Hay Railroad Engineering Seminar Series speaker of 2020. Links to his presentation, as well as other speakers’ during the year, can be found listed below, on our William W. Hay Railroad Engineering Seminar page, or on our RailTEC YouTube channel. A big thank you to all the presenters who shared their time and knowledge this semester.  Please join us in early February when online seminars begin again.

The Honorable Ron Batory, FRA, giving his William W. Hay Railroad Engineering Seminar presentation in person on the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign campus on 07 February 2020.
Professor and RailTEC Director, Chris Barkan, introduces FRA Director of the Office of Research, Development and Technology Dr. Maryam Allahyar at the beginning of her Hay Seminar on 06 November 2020.




2020 William W. Hay Railroad Engineering Seminar speakers

RailTEC Awarded FTA Grant

RailTEC was recently awarded a $395,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Transit Administration (FTA). RailTEC Principal Investigator J. Riley Edwards stated that “this project will address critical rail transit infrastructure safety and operational questions through the development and deployment of smart sensing technologies that will assess both rail transit track and rolling stock condition and performance.”

RailTEC will partner with four transit agencies: Chicago Transit Authority (CTA), Metra (Chicago), Washington DC Metro (WMATA), and St. Louis MetroLink, and will build on previous FTA-funded research conducted by partnering with light, heavy, and commuter rail transit providers throughout the United States.

This award was one of six projects in six states which totaled $1.37 million in research funding through the Real-Time Asset Management Program. The goal of the Real-Time Asset Management Program is to enhance asset management of infrastructure and safety by developing and deploying innovative technologies that can provide real-time condition assessment of rail transit assets. Click here to read about the other recipients and their projects.

RailTEC Presentations at 2020 INFORMS Annual Meeting

Three members from the RailTEC Systems Group participated in the 2020 Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) annual meeting, which was held on Saturday, 07 November – Friday, 13 November.  RailTEC Lecturer and Principal Railway Research Engineer, C. Tyler Dick was a session chair for the Yards and Terminals session on Monday and also presented his research on “Influence of Mainline Schedule Flexibility and Volume Variability on Railway Classification Yard Performance”.

In the same Yards and Terminals session, Jiaxi Zhao, RailTEC Ph.D. student, presented her work on “Hump Yard Performance Simulation with Anylogic”.

On Tuesday attendees listened as Geordie Roscoe, RailTEC M.S. student, spoke on the subject of “Deadlock Avoidance Dispatching Algorithm for Generalized Track and Train Configurations” in the Railway Resource and Management and Optimization session.

This was the first entirely virtual annual meeting and was a combination of live and on-demand sessions with live Q&A.  Each year the INFORMS Annual Meeting draws thousands of operations research and analytics professionals, students, industry leaders and more from across the globe for unique opportunities for face-to-face learning, networking, and collaboration.

Virtual Railroad Environmental Seminar Wrap-up

The Virtual Railroad Environmental Seminar (vRRES) on 27 – 28 October 2020 was a resounding success with over 450 registrants from 14 countries and five continents. In addition to the outstanding technical presentations, it was noted that the seminar showcased the growing number of women in the field and provided them with an outreach and networking opportunity. This year women made a significant impact by being over half of the presenters (including the keynote speaker), the chair of the Environmental Affairs Committee and half of the nominees (and the winner) for the AAR Environmental Excellence Award.

Robert Fronczak (L) with the winner of the 2020 AAR Environmental Excellence Award, Meaghan Atkinson (R) of CSX.

The AAR Environmental Excellence Award is the industry’s highest honor for environmental professionals and was awarded by Robert Fronczak, AAR, to Meaghan Atkinson of CSX. She is a manager of environmental programs at CSX and leads the railroad’s effort to implement some of the most ambitious greenhouse gas targets in the transportation sector. In addition to Atkinson, seven other railroad environmental professionals were nominated for the award. They were Laura Fotiou of Amtrak, Karla Graf of CN, Tara Hill of Kansas City Southern, Josh Raglin of Norfolk Southern Railway, Joel Strafelda of Union Pacific Railroad, Sean Strong of Watco Cos. LLC, and Nic Winslow of BNSF Railway Co.

Recordings of the seminar presentations will be made available to registered attendees on Thursday, 5 November 2020 for one month. After a one-month viewing period, recordings of authorized presentations will be posted to the RailTEC YouTube Channel and will be available to the public. See the full seminar program here.

Mark your calendars now for next year’s Railroad Environment Conference (RREC) on 2-3 November 2021.