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Rose-Hulman Helping Keep Railway Engineering on Track

December 20, 2013

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Blazing New Trails: Members of Rose-Hulman’s American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association student chapter visited the Indiana Rail Road Company’s Hiawatha Yard in Jasonville, Indiana earlier this year. (Photos courtesy AREMA)

As part of a multi-university rail transportation initiative, Rose-Hulman is offering a variety of courses and training opportunities to pass the torch to the next generation of railroad engineers.

“The railroad industry really needs employees with strong backgrounds in civil engineering, along with electrical and mechanical systems, to keep on the forefront of technology innovation in this expanding career field,” says James McKinney, PhD, emeriti professor of civil engineering.

Rose-Hulman is one of 17 colleges and universities with a student chapter of the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA), a railroad engineering course was taught for the first time last spring and graduating seniors are earning post-graduation positions with railroad companies.

These are among the benefits of Rose-Hulman’s association with the National University Rail (NURail) Center, led by the University of Illinois and supported through a $1.4 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration.

Rose-Hulman AREMA members have visited railroad operations and historical sites throughout Indiana and Illinois, and earned national scholarships to support their educational goals in the railroad career field.

“The future of the railroad engineering field is a strong one and I want to be a part of it,” states Samuel Beck, a senior mechanical engineering student and AREMA vice president, whose interest in railroad engineering started as a child. His father spent a majority of his career in the railroad industry. “I was definitely hooked from the beginning. I was fascinated by the sheer size and power of the equipment,” he says.

That youthful exuberance also brought Greg Frech, AREMA President and a senior civil engineering student, to the railroad engineering field.

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Railroad engineering students and faculty toured the Canadian National Railway Company’s innovative Kirk Yard locomotive repair shop near Chicago.

“I always found it to be a unique field to study,” he remarks. “I wanted to learn more about the railroads from a technical perspective.”

Frech’s interest grew after completing a summer research project that examined rail tie abrasion at the University of Illinois. He made a presentation on the subject a NURail education conference this fall.

Beck and Frech have accepted employment opportunities with BNSF Railway—Beck as a mechanical management trainee in Kansas City and Frech as an engineering management trainee in Galesburg, Ill.

“One of the biggest things I’m excited for working in the rail industry is that it’s an in-the-field job. It involves working odd hours, in all weather conditions, with your hands, while thinking critically in dynamic situations,” Frech said. “I like that on-the-spot mentality far more than a 9-to-5 grind, sitting at a desk designing one small component of a much larger system.”

Beck spent three summers in internship and mechanical co-op experiences with Norfolk Southern Railway, applying many mechanical concepts learned at Rose-Hulman toward a variety of projects.

“One day I was underneath a freight car torching out a draft gear and the next day I was spending 14 hours at a derailment site,” he says. “The railroad industry isn’t for everyone. It is a 24/7 operation in all weather conditions, and the equipment we work around is dangerous. Even as an intern, I worked days, nights, and weekends. Also, relocation is prevalent as the railroads’ systems encompass more than 20,000 miles of track. Finally, companies are looking for individuals who are yearning for a career, not just a job.”

Joining Rose-Hulman as NURail partners are Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Tennessee, University of Kentucky, University of Illinois at Chicago, and Michigan Technological University.