by Jennifer Donovan, public relations director
When IBM set its sights on becoming an international rail transportation leader, one of the first university partners they turned to was Michigan Tech. Michigan Tech’s Rail Transportation Program is an emerging player educating future leaders for the rail industry.
Today, as IBM unveils plans for its Global Rail Innovation Center in Beijing, Pasi Lautala, director of the Rail Transportation Program, and graduate student Shane Ferrell will represent Michigan Tech.
“Countries worldwide are recognizing the importance of rail transportation and are accelerating their efforts to develop 21st-century rail systems,” said Lautala. “With its Global Rail Innovation Center, IBM is modeling a new way of thinking, one that is not bound by national borders. Michigan Tech is honored that IBM has recognized our leadership in rail-related research and education and has invited us to participate in such a groundbreaking effort.”
Michigan Tech’s Rail Transportation Program, established in fall 2007 as part of the Michigan Tech Transportation Institute, has attracted strong support from the railroad industry. Its corporate sponsors include CSX, Union Pacific and CN. CN gave Michigan Tech $250,000 this spring to establish the Rail Transportation Education Center, a physical home for the Rail Transportation Program.
The program’s innovative Summer in Finland has already integrated an international component as part of an interdisciplinary approach to rail education, and an initiative to establish a multidisciplinary certificate in rail transportation and engineering is currently in progress.
Michigan Tech joins Massachusetts Institute of Technology Professor Joseph M. Sussman; Judge Quentin L. Kopp, chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority; the German railroad Deutsche Bahn; Motorola; Railinc Corporation (a subsidiary of the American Association of Railroads) and Sabre (a travel network) as initial members of the new center’s advisory board.
Based at IBM’s China Business Innovation Center, the Global Rail Innovation Center will focus on developing technologies that can increase railroad capacity, efficiency, speed and safety while improving customer service.
“The global demand for rail is outpacing capacity, and today’s aging infrastructure and technology won’t support the transportation needs of the future,” said Keith Dierkx, director of the new center. “Through the Global Rail Innovation Center, IBM is committed to working with our partners to develop and implement smarter rail systems around the world. Railroads are energy efficient and can help cities manage traffic congestion, improve environmental conditions and increase economic competitiveness.”
The rise of high-speed passenger rail and smarter freight rail systems presents an enormous challenge and an opportunity for the information technology and rail industries. IBM already has researchers and consultants working on high-speed rail projects around the world, including Australia, China, France, the Netherlands, Russia, Taiwan and the United Kingdom.
IBM chose Beijing as its rail innovation hub because of China’s rapid advances in rail. In China, investment in railway transportation has tripled over the last year and is expected to reach 600 billion yuan (approximately $88 billion) by 2012.