Rail System Capacity and Efficiency


One of the major railway research thrusts within the Rail Transportation and Engineering Center (RailTEC) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) is systems research related to improving the capacity and efficiency of the rail network. Demand for freight transportation will continue to increase in the future. At the same time, there continues to be strong support for expanded commuter and intercity passenger rail services operating at higher speeds on more frequent schedules. The need to handle growing levels of both heavy-axle-load freight trains and higher-speed passenger trains on the same infrastructure can strain the capacity of the rail network, resulting in delay, unreliable services and losses in efficiency. Maintaining a high level of service under anticipated freight and passenger traffic volumes will require changes in operating strategies and infrastructure investment. Making these changes and investments in an optimal manner requires a thorough understanding of the fundamental relationships between track infrastructure, traffic levels, train characteristics, level of service and operating efficiency. The research of the RailTEC Systems, Capacity and Efficiency team seeks to increase knowledge of these fundamental rail system relationships.

The RailTEC System Capacity and Efficiency team makes extensive use of rail network simulation using Rail Traffic Controller (RTC) software from Berkeley Simulation. The de facto North American standard rail simulation standard, RTC is used by multiple Class 1 Freight Railroads, passenger operators and consulting firms to model railway operating plans and investigate capital expansion projects. RTC emulates real dispatcher decisions in moving trains across a rail network while generating performance and efficiency statistics. RailTEC researchers supplement RTC data with statistical analysis software and other train performance calculation tools to develop analytical and statistical models of rail system behavior to better support industry decisions.

Current Research Projects (Funding Source)

    • Capacity Models for Mixed-Use Freight and Passenger Rail Corridors (NURail/AAR)
    • Optimal Infrastructure Expansion Strategies for Increased Rail Capacity (NURail/AAR)
    • Capacity of Single-Track with Short Sidings to Support Operation of Long Trains (NURail/AAR)
    • Network Effects and Interaction of Terminal and Mainline Delay (NURail)
    • Network Effects of Track Maintenance and Emergency Repair Activities (NURail)
    • Passenger Rail Energy Consumption and Emissions Relative to Competing Modes (NCRRP)
    • Economic and Operating Impacts of Implementing Low-Emissions Locomotive Technologies (CARB)
    • Optimization of Investments to Improve Passenger Rail Corridor Performance (AAR)
    • International Survey of Railroad Capacity Modeling Tools (FRA)
    • Capacity of Hump Classification Yards (CSX)

Current Research Sponsors

RailTEC would like to thank the following organizations for their financial support of both basic and applied research projects addressing research questions related to the capacity and efficiency of the rail network.