Railroad traffic — both freight and passenger — has increased to record levels in the United States during the past few years, and the railroad industry is in need of new technologies to help ensure the future of railway infrastructure and operations.

The Association of American Railroads (AAR) has chosen Virginia Tech's College of Engineering to host an affiliated laboratory for research in critical technical areas. The AAR, whose members include Amtrak and the major freight railroads in the U.S., Canada and Mexico, is the world's leading railroad policy, research and technology organization focusing on the safety and productivity of rail carriers.

The AAR agreement with Virginia Tech includes an annual grant of $200,000 that the engineering college will use to establish the Railway Technologies Laboratory.

"This relationship will forge closer ties and research collaborations between the university and the railroad industry, opening up new funding opportunities from private and government sources," said Mehdi Ahmadian, professor of mechanical engineering professor who will serve as director of the new laboratory.

The association also supports affiliated labs at Texas A&M and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. To secure the third lab, Ahmadian said, Virginia Tech competed against a group of schools that included Pennsylvania State University and the University of California-Berkeley.

Virginia Tech engineering faculty conduct research in a broad spectrum of technological areas important to the railroad industry, including wireless communications, sensor technology, railroad vehicle dynamics simulation and modeling, smart materials, and technologies for improving railroad operational efficiency, safety and security.

"Our selection as the host for the Railway Technologies Laboratory is the result of AAR representatives being impressed by the research capabilities at Virginia Tech," said Ahmadian.

Research conducted as part of the agreement with AAR will be selected and monitored by the Transportation Technology Center, Inc. (TTCI), located in Pueblo, Colo. The TTCI is the research and development arm for the industry members of AAR, said Ed Henneke, associate dean for research and graduate studies in Virginia Tech's College of Engineering. Henneke did much of the work in securing the lab for Virginia Tech.

The TTCI committee that reviews and scores research proposals will soon begin the process of selecting the first set of proposals from Virginia Tech.

Ahmadian, who also is director of Virginia Tech's Center for Vehicles Systems and Safety, said one project he hopes to work on is the development of improved technologies for real-time monitoring of railway health, such as new methods for locating damages to railroad tracks and train cars.

The College of Engineering at Virginia Tech is internationally recognized for its excellence in 14 engineering disciplines and computer science. The college's 5,600 undergraduates benefit from an innovative curriculum that provides a "hands-on, minds-on" approach to engineering education, complementing classroom instruction with two unique design-and-build facilities and a strong Cooperative Education Program. With more than 50 research centers and numerous laboratories, the college offers its 2,000 graduate students opportunities in advanced fields of study such as biomedical engineering, state-of-the-art microelectronics, and nanotechnology.