If you thought working in the rail industry was all about driving trains and building tracks, think again.
We caught up with Xiang Liu for an interview. Liu is an assistant professor in transportation engineering and the resident rail expert at Rutgers University. We asked him to tell us about what the rail industry has to offer for today’s generation of students.
Growing up in China, Liu witnessed the development of China’s high-speed passenger rail system beginning in the 1990s, which got him excited about rail transportation in general. He decided to pursue a doctorate in the United States, with a focus on railway engineering. He later helped Rutgers University develop its first railway engineering course, which he still teaches today.
Liu explained to Fast Forward that while many people think of railroads as old-fashioned, most railroads today are actually on the cutting edge of technology. They use the latest technology and operate at the top of the business world. Railroads are multi-billion-dollar investments and trains are a large part of the American economy, Liu pointed out. Railroad companies invest a lot of time and money maintaining those investments. They provide their employees with some of the best resources and training available anywhere. It’s no wonder that railroad workers earn higher average salaries than employees from many other industries.
Another advantage offered by the rail industry is a wealth of career diversity, Liu said. From finance experts, to economists, to electrical engineers, to marketing experts, it takes a lot of talent to manage and operate a rail system. Whatever you’re interested in, there’s a good chance you could apply it in a career in the rail industry. You'll also be provided with a path to success in an industry with tremendous staying power. Many railroad companies offer on-the-job training for people who want to learn new skills.
For tech-savvy students, Liu explained that the rail industry is the place to be. Today’s trains, tracks, signals, and equipment are outfitted with some of the latest technology available. This is done in the pursuit of safety and efficiency. In fact, railroads have been pioneering new technologies since the invention of the steam engine. For example, ultrasonic sensors, which can peer inside metal structures to look for tiny defects that the human eye can’t see, were adopted for use by railroads in the 1930s.
Liu is a rail safety expert. When he’s not teaching, he analyzes data to help railroads understand why accidents happen and how to prevent them. He told Fast Forward that the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration has pinpointed over 389 different causes that could lead to a train accident, ranging from human error to track defects. By understanding and preventing these causes, railroads have reduced annual accident rate by over 80% since the 1980s.
Liu mentioned two major resources where students can learn more about the rail industry. The Association of American Railroads and the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA) are well respected organizations that are on the forefront of the latest trends, news, issues, people, careers, and ideas relating to today’s rail industry. AREMA also has student chapters all over the nation if you want to get involved.
Check out Liu’s video to learn more. Make sure to keep following Fast Forward for more news and information on opportunities in the transportation industry!