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Federal grant helps keep UNLV railroad program on track

A $1.4 million federal grant is helping keep UNLV’s railroad program on track.

The grant, awarded by the U.S. Department of Transportation, was part of over $60 million awarded to University Transportation Centers (UTC) nationwide, the U.S. Department of Transportation announced Tuesday.

UNLV and 31 other universities were selected as part of Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act. The schools seek solutions to national, regional and local transportation issues.

“The Department continues to invest in the future of American transportation by funding these research efforts at leading institutions of higher education,” Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao said in a statement.

Chao has made it a goal to cultivate innovative practices and technologies to improve the safety and performance of the country’s transportation system.

This is the third year UNLV has received a grant of more than $1 million for its rail program, which aims to improve rail transportation infrastructure sustainability and durability as part of the Transportation Department’s program.

“We have done some great things with the money so far,” said Harry Teng, an engineering professor and lead on the rail team project. “These awards are really important and have really put UNLV at the forefront of education and research on railroads.”

UNLV is slated to receive $1.4 million for two more years as the department’s program is a five-year grant cycle. Each year UNLV also matches $750,000.

UNLV leads the Rail Transportation Engineering and Advanced Methodology (RailTEAM) program, a three-member consortium that also includes the University of Delaware and Virginia Tech.

UNLV’s team is made up of eight students — four doctoral, one master’s and three undergraduate students — three professionals, two visiting scholars and seven faculty members.

The first research project the group conducted with the help of federal funding was developing mobile 3-D printing of rail track surface for rapid repair.

Last year the team used the funding to develop a system that allows rail companies to check on the status of their rail system via drone, instead of physically sending workers out in vehicles.

“These are things people want to see, because they can improve the rail system significantly,” Teng said.

This year the group plans to research better ways to monitor the metalized carbon shoe of a pantograph — the high-speed rail part that links the train to the electrical wire above. Right now the majority are monitored via cameras, but Teng said that is not the most effective means. The group is proposing the use of microwaves to monitor the part.

UNLV’s rail team is working on four projects, including a high-speed access charge for XpressWest, the planned high-speed train that would run between Las Vegas and Southern California.

“XpressWest is going to use California high-speed rail, so we need to know how much they’re going to pay them,” Teng said. “This is something they have to consider. As a research center, we want to give them some kind of guidance.”

Aside from the work taking place at UNLV, Teng hopes to utilize some of the funding to begin an outreach program with area grade schools.

“We want to start educating the K-12 students,” he said. “So, the kids can receive the education on railroads while they’re in high school.”

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Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.

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