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Article from RailwayAgeFeb 7, 2008

Michigan Tech launches undergraduate rail transportation program

Interest in railroading careers among undergraduate and graduate students is gradually gaining momentum, and several U.S. colleges and universities are responding by setting up specialized programs in railway transportation. That’s good news for the railroad industry, which is faced with replacing a large number of experienced people who have been retiring and taking their institutional knowledge—acquired in most cases over a lifetime—with them.

Michigan Technological University, Houghton, Mich., offers one of the newest railroading-as-a-career curriculums. A new Rail Transportation Program has been established at the university’s transportation arm, Michigan Tech Transportation Institute (MTTI), by Research Assistant Professor Pasi Lautala.

Lautala, who earned his Ph.D. at Michigan Tech, has been named director of the new program. CSX Transportation is providing financial support, entering into an agreement with Michigan Tech that provides $33,000 in underwriting for 2008 and continuing support in following years. The university says negotiations with other railroads (among them Union Pacific) and several engineering consulting firms are under way.

Lautala came to Michigan Tech from Finland in 1996 to earn a master’s degree. The son of a locomotive engineer, he is described as “growing up in a culture that embraced rail transportation.” In 2004, Lautala established a five-week international summer exchange program in railway engineering called “Summer in Finland.” In the past four years, 62 students from six different disciplines have completed the program, a collaboration of Michigan Tech, Finland’s Tampere University of Technology, and the North American and Finnish railroad industries. In 2005, Michigan Tech students established a Railroad Engineering and Activities Club (REAC), which became the first student chapter of the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA). REAC now has more than 30 members. Past President Bill Sawin, who graduated from Michigan Tech in 2007 with a degree in civil engineering, is now a design engineer with Norfolk Southern.

Michigan Tech has made a three-year commitment to help fund the Rail Transportation Program, which offers three courses: Introduction to Railroad Engineering; Track Design and Construction; and Public Transit Planning and Engineering.

As the first Class I to support the program, CSX “recognizes the importance of rail engineering programs as the rail industry continues to flourish, providing unlimited opportunities for new engineers,” according to Manager-Professional Recruiting Lisa Weldon. Dr. Lautala says he wants to see the program grow into “a multidisciplinary certificate program in rail transportation.” He envisions a “Rail Transportation Enterprise or rail-related projects within [MTTI’s] current Enterprise Program, where a student-run company tackles real-world challenges with funding from the industry.” He also foresees “faculty research projects that cross departmental lines, internships and co-ops, and more support from the railroad industry.”

Rail Transportation Program
Michigan Technological University
1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, Michigan, 49931 - 1295, USA
Department Phone: 1-906-487-2520
Department Fax: 1-906-487-2943
Department E-mail: cee@mtu.edu

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