We examine how establishing a competitive Joint Rail Conference Grand Challenges Initiatives can harness the potential of college and possibly high school students to develop solutions or new insight into technical and safety problems plaguing the rail industry, including safety.
The rail industry has tended to solve issues internally. However, solutions can often be found in other industries that are either similar or have faced similar concerns. For example, the immediate predecessor of Positive Train Control (PTC), the Advanced Railroad Electronics System (ARES), was conceived in the mid 1980’s by then Burlington Northern Railroad (BN) CEO Richard Bressler, who had read how flight safety and efficiency had been improved by air traffic control systems and avionics developed by Rockwell Collins for the Boeing 757 and 767 aircraft. The information age has further increased the potential for sparking innovation as ideas can spread literally overnight via the internet.
Some of the most talented and creative problems solvers are college and high school students, who have been greatly enabled by the “democratization” of information that has given them access to knowledge and skills as never before. Teens can learn nearly any skill watching reputable online videos or even “attend” classes offered by top universities around the world simply using a smart phone or tablet. This has prompted educators like Michigan Tech’s Dr. Pasi Lautala and other to develop extensive online rail educational resources to spark interest in the industry. However, simply passing on information has its limitation, which is why initiatives like the Grand Challenges, and Engineers without Borders have been instrumental in harnessing students to examine key global challenges in engineering, energy, and health care. Moreover, these initiatives have encouraged many students to pursue careers in those fields, even in low- and medium-income countries. For example, in 2012, a high school sophomore developed a new method to detect pancreatic cancer that is quick to administer and detects the disease much more quickly than previous methods, allowing much better chances for successful treatment. We will examine how establishing a competitive JRC Grand Challenges Initiatives can harness the potential of college and possibly high school students to develop solutions or establish new insight into technical and safety problems plaguing the rail industry, including safety. In addition, it will look at how developing a dialog among the rail industry, including the Class 1 railroads, students, and academia can encourage a more top notch, talented students to consider careers in the rail industry.