A group of seven universities, led by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, is celebrating its first year of a federally-funded center focusing on rail. The University Transportation Center program, says National University Rail Center director Christopher Barkan, “has been sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation for over 25 years. But until last year, all of those centers had focused almost entirely on highway-related research.”
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Barkan says he can understand Midwesterners' criticism that high-speed rail here seems to cost a lot of money to build and has a relatively small payoff in terms of making, for example, the Chicago-St Louis trip a quicker one. He says such “incremental” work was how European nations built their high-speed rail decades ago. North America, Barkan says, has a complication other continents do not: “Other parts of the world have developed their passenger rail systems with dedicated tracks that are only used by the passenger train.” Here, the passenger and freight trains share the tracks.
The seven universities making up the NURail Center are: the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the University of Illinois at Chicago, MIT, Michigan Technological University, the University of Kentucky, the University of Tennessee, and Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology.