Articles

Railway Research Center

August 14, 2019


There are only three affiliated labs to
the Transportation Technology Center in the United States. And, those three
affiliated labs do essentially 90% of the out-of-house research. We are known
as the go-to school for mechanics research. We’re continuously faced with
the challenge of lowering the cost of moving goods. How do you lower the cost
of moving goods? Well, the obvious answer is make a bigger rail car. Put more goods
on that rail car. Well, it turns out, when you make a bigger rail car, you
actually add more weight to the rails and the entire rail structure and you cause
the rail structure to degrade and fail more rapidly. So there’s a cost associated with adding tonnage to the rails and what you’re trying to do is
you’re trying to find that optimum amount of tonnage that gives you the
least cost-per-mile of moving goods when you factor in the cost of repairing the railway structures. I reach out to various people within The Texas A&M University System who are experts at their particular area of research and I
try to make them fit within the research challenges that the rail industry faces,
and then convince TTCI and the Federal Railroad Authority that their expertise
is needed to solve a particular problem that the rail industry faces today. I came out of Texas A&M in the early
1970s when computers were just sort of starting to hit the horizon as a useful
tool. And, throughout my career, I’ve been developing computational algorithms for
solving all kinds of problems associated with the mechanics of solids,
particularly solids that dissipate energy, primarily through crack growth,
but also through things like corrosion. What you can do if you can develop a
physics-based model for predicting those phenomena, then perhaps you can use that model to obviate the development of those problems. What I’m doing today may save lives, may decrease costs within the next six months to a year. So, I’m out
there doing things that I think will change the world quicker. The driver in my mind for changes in the
rail industry are driven by population density. The most advanced, highly-dense
population in the world is in Western Europe, and there they have an enormous
rail infrastructure. The United States will go that way as our population
increases, so we’ll see the kind of traditional things that are here today,
but we’ll see a diversification of rail travel. Transportation is not going to be
simply rail or auto or air. We’re going to see the kind of diversification that
includes all forms of transport in order to lower cost. So, that’s what TTI does.
They help to reduce costs by using multiple modes of transportation and The
Rail Center’s just one part of it.

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