NURail Center among USDOT grant winners

Written by Mischa Wanek-Libman, editor
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Shared use corridors have been a focus of NURail since its establishment in 2012.
David Clarke

The U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) awarded approximately $63 million in grants to 33 University Transportation Centers (UTCs) to advance research and education programs that address critical transportation challenges facing our nation.


The National University Rail (NURail) Center, a multi-university rail transportation and engineering research center led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) was a recipient of a $1.4 million grant. NURail Center was established in 2012 with funding from the USDOT as the nation’s first rail-specific UTC. The consortium led by the University of Illinois includes the following partner schools: the University of Illinois at Chicago; Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Michigan Technological University; Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology; the University of Kentucky; and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

Headquartered within the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at UIUC, the NURail Center’s objective is improving and expanding rail research, education, workforce development and technology transfer. Since its inception, research by the consortium’s seven university partners has focused on challenges associated with rail corridors in which higher-speed passenger trains share infrastructure with freight trains.

This new grant emphasizes work toward the USDOT’s strategic goal of economic competitiveness and will address rail issues related to infrastructure and vehicle engineering, capacity planning and optimization, operational safety and risk mitigation, systems integration and finance and policy.

“Both freight and passenger rail have been experiencing a renaissance over the past several decades with major private and public sector investments in new infrastructure, rolling stock and advanced technologies,” said NURail Director Christopher P.L. Barkan, professor of civil and environmental engineering. “But while rail transport has been on the ascendancy, the academic programs needed to engage faculty and educate students in the principles of railway transport, engineering and planning have nearly disappeared. The importance of transportation education and research is well recognized and is supported by the USDOT. Their funding of the NURail Center reflects their commitment to a multimodal program that recognizes the importance of a transportation systems approach.

“We’ve worked very hard over the past year first planning and then launching a variety of NURail Center initiatives, including implementation of several new courses and educational programs, engaging new faculty and students on rail research projects, organizing several workshops and conferences and reaching out to hundreds of students and faculty to get them involved with rail research and education,” said Barkan.

“University transportation centers are key to helping us address today’s transportation needs, from environmental sustainability to safety,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “The participating universities are a critical part of our national transportation strategy and to developing a professional workforce with the expertise and knowledge to tackle the challenges of the future.”

The UTCs conduct research that directly supports the priorities of the USDOT to promote the safe, efficient and environmentally sound movement of good and people. Authorized by Congress under the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), the UTC Program provides approximately $72.5 million for each of fiscal years 2013 and 2014 for up to 35 competitive grants. UTCs may be a single institution or a consortium of two or more non-profit institutions of higher education led by one lead institution.