Get to Know the NU Rail Center


Collage image of students graduating college, with a shot of a trainyard between them.

Considering a career in the railroad industry? There are two words you need to know: NU Rail.

The National University Rail Center (NU Rail) is a partnership of seven American colleges and universities that promote and support railroad research, education, and innovation. They are also on a mission to recruit and train the next generation of railroad professionals.

We wanted to learn more. So we caught up with NU Rail Director Chris Barkan, Ph.D. at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne (UIUC). UIUC is one of NU Rail’s partner schools.


Screenshot Image of Chris Barkan, taken from our interview.

Click a button to watch our interview with Chris Barkan:




Barkan has been in the railroad industry for nearly 30 years. He said students who attend one of NU Rail’s partner schools receive some of the best education and support the nation has to offer.

“I would urge anybody who was interested in the field of rail transportation to consider any one of these schools as a really great opportunity to pursue your education,” he said.

At UIUC, students are offered the largest selection of railroad engineering and transportation courses of any university in North America. They’ll also work among expert faculty who want nothing more than to help their students succeed.

“It’s a team,” Barkan said. “The faculty support the students, and the students support the faculty. They support one another.”

Samantha Chadwick and Chen-Yu Lin are two engineering doctoral students at UIUC. Their rail research projects are already having an impact on the nation. Working with her adviser Rapik Saad, Ph.D., Samantha is studying ways to prevent accidents and fatalities at highway-rail grade crossings. In doing so, she hopes to find ways to prevent such accidents and save lives.

“It’s pretty cool to be able to do that at such a young age,” Chadwick said. “I’m still in my twenties, and this is the impact I can have on my field.”

Also working with Professor Saad, Chen-Yu is researching safety issues that can occur when passenger trains and freight trains have to share track space—what’s called a “shared corridor.” Like Samantha, Chen-Yu says he is passionate about his research because it has the potential to save lives.

“We are making a difference,” he said, “My favorite part of what I’m doing is that I’m doing what I’m really passionate about.”

Barkan also noted that since NU Rail universities are plugged in to a network of national organizations—like the Association of American Railroads—they can connect students with industry professionals and help them achieve scholarships and internships.

“The opportunities [for young people] are tremendous right now, and I think will be for the foreseeable future, because of the importance that rail transportation has to this nation,” Barkan said. “There’s a lot of interest in the rail industry in attracting students to this field.”

Barkan said that students who want to learn more about the NU Rail Center, including information on its partner colleges and universities, can visit the NU Rail website. They can also check out the University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne website to learn more about one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious university rail programs.

And as always, be sure to keep following Fast Forward for more information on the exciting opportunities awaiting the next generation in transportation careers!



Aaron Mack
Fast Forward: Volume 2 Issue 6 - Rail