Student Research Opportunities

“The research projects provided valuable experience in railroad engineering, data analytics, statistics, and risk management. There are learning resources from the faculties and research partners. My personal experience at RailTEC has been phenomenal because it is like a big family outside of school and we have many events and activities.” – PhD candidate

RailTEC provides opportunities for both undergraduate and graduate students to expand their knowledge of railway engineering concepts through involvement in RailTEC research activities. Active student participation in research facilitates experiential learning and the development of skills directly applicable to successful future careers in the rail industry. There are a variety of RailTEC research opportunities available for undergraduate and graduate students at Illinois in the laboratory, field and office environment.

Laboratory and Field Research

In the laboratory, students in the Infrastructure Group work with a variety of loading equipment and instrumentation to conduct tests on new track components under controlled conditions. Students also actively participate in field research at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colorado or various “super sites” on key North American railway mainlines where instrumentation is installed to collect data on track performance under actual service conditions. Once field and lab data is collected, teams of students process the data and use statistical software to analyze and interpret the results. Other students use these results to construct, calibrate and validate finite element analysis models of the track structure system and develop new mechanistic approaches to track design.

Simulation and Data Analysis

RailTEC students are also investigating broader system and network-level engineering challenges that can only be addressed through simulation and data analysis. Students in the Systems Group use train operations and simulation software to investigate the ability of the rail network to support increased freight rail demand and more frequent higher-speed passenger trains by implementing new operating and infrastructure expansion strategies, and leveraging advances in train control technology and automation. Other students in the Safety Group conduct statistical analysis, modeling activities and advanced data analytics on railroad traffic and train accident data to support railway safety and risk research that ensures the safe and efficient movement of goods and people by rail.

Undergraduate Research

RailTEC actively supports undergraduate student participation in rail research activities. Since most rail courses require junior or senior standing, undergraduate research is an excellent way for students who are interested in rail transportation to become involved with RailTEC earlier in their college careers. It also affords an opportunity for students to learn more about the rail industry before being faced with important decisions on technical electives and future career paths.

Many undergraduate students working with RailTEC are supported by the CEE Department “Research Experience for Undergraduates” program. Through the REU program, undergraduate students are paired with RailTEC faculty who together develop a one-semester research scope that requires 10 hours of research work per week. For their research effort, the undergraduate student receives $1,500 for the semester. To read about the experience of a recent RailTEC REU, click here.

Graduate Research Assistantships

Much RailTEC research is executed by full-time MS and PhD students under direction of their RailTEC faculty advisor. Each semester, RailTEC has opportunities available for new Graduate Research Assistants to support various railway research activities. Graduate RAs can be awarded to students who are newly admitted to grad school at Illinois or to students who are currently enrolled but not supported by other faculty. In addition to paid research, a Graduate RA has the additional benefit of providing the student with a tuition waiver. Many RailTEC RAs turn their supported research work into their thesis or dissertation work. Graduate RAs also develop important skills in time, project and resource management that will serve them well in future careers.

Students interested in pursuing an advanced degree with an interest in rail transportation who are self-motivated, detail-oriented and enjoy working in a team environment in the lab, field or office should contact the RailTEC faculty to discuss potential opportunities. When applying to the CEE graduate program, be sure to indicate your specific interest in rail transportation.