The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has awarded the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) up to $5 million to establish the National University Rail Center of Excellence, an initiative “to develop the future workforce while advancing research and expansion that enhances the safety, efficiency and reliability of both passenger and freight rail transportation,” the agency reported Sept. 29.
UIUC is the selected institution for the FY 2022-23 Rail Research and Development Center of Excellence program, FRA said, and will lead the center, which comprises a consortium of nine partner institutions, including the University of Illinois Chicago, University of Delaware, Kansas State University, Michigan Technological University, Morgan State University, Rutgers University, University of Texas at Austin, and Tuskegee University.
FRA is providing up to 50% of the cost of establishing and operating the center and supporting research activities. Each of the nine universities in the consortium will contribute a portion of the total non-federal match.
According to FRA, research may include technology development to advance rolling stock, Positive Train Control systems, human factors, rail infrastructure enhancements, shared corridor solutions, grade crossing safety innovations, trespasser prevention strategies, inspection technology advancements, remote sensing applications, rail systems maintenance approaches, network resiliency solutions, operational reliability enhancements, energy efficiency measures, and other subjects. The center, it added, is set to operate for three years.
The launch is a “testament to the dedication and expertise of these institutions,” said Amit Bose, Administrator of the FRA, which on May 1 announced that funding was available to establish and maintain the center. “This initiative exemplifies our ongoing commitment to building a safer, more efficient and sustainable rail network for the benefit of all Americans.”
UIUC’s Rail Transportation and Engineering Center (RailTEC), within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, offers a 3,500-square-foot Research and Innovation Laboratory, whose aim is to improve the performance and design of railway infrastructure and its components.
In a related development, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) this summer released ALTRIOS (Advanced Locomotive Technology and Rail Infrastructure Optimization System) “to help freight rail operators transition to clean locomotive technologies and build out associated clean-energy infrastructure in the most cost-effective manner possible.” NREL scientists developed ALTRIOS jointly with UIUC, BNSF, Southwest Research Institute and the University of Texas at Austin. The U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency – Energy funded the project.