The National Academies

TCRP E-07 [Completed]

Establishing a National Transit Industry Rail Vehicle Technician Qualification Program: Building for Success

  Project Data
Funds: $400,000 (FY'08)
$400,000 (FY'09)
$400,000 (FY '10)
$200,000 (FY '11)
$500,000 (FY '12)
Research Agency: Transportation Learning Center
Principal Investigator: Brian Turner
Effective Date: 7/18/2008
Completion Date: 3/1/2014

The development and implementation of new rail vehicle technologies in transit systems around the country have had profound effects. While these technologies have greatly benefited customers and agencies alike, they also have led to difficulties.  The internal training capacity of the transit industry has had trouble keeping up with the pace of innovation, and it has become increasingly difficult to hire new external applicants with the specialized skills needed for the new equipment.  Upgrading the skills of the workforce that maintains this new technology and developing a system that does this on an ongoing basis is of the utmost importance to the industry.   

A number of TCRP and TRB reports have analyzed the transit skills crisis.  A common thread in their recommendations for resolving this skills crisis is that management and labor should work together in creating a joint system for developing the skills needed in this industry.  TCRP Report 29, Closing the Knowledge Gap for Transit Vehicle Maintenance Employees: A Systems Approach, demonstrated that “the onus is on the transit agencies themselves to find ways of closing the skills gap” and TCRP Report 96, Determining Training for New Technologies: A Decision Game and Facilitation Guide, indicates that “[a] successful program must involve partnering with the employees being trained and with labor unions whose members are affected.”  The best approach is for all the major players in the transit industry, labor and management, to work in partnership to develop new approaches to training and certification.  The Transportation Learning Center’s 2007 research summary, People Make the Hardware Work: Transit Experts Call for Labor-Management Training Partnerships, contains excerpts from seven reports from TCRP, TRB and APTA on this subject.

This joint approach is what has proven so successful in the development of national standards for transit maintenance training.  With funding support from TCRP, FTA and the US Department of Labor, a national partnership linking APTA, transit organized labor, and the Transportation Learning Center has implemented a data-driven partnership process to develop national training standards for transit bus mechanics.  The same partner organizations have worked together to develop national standards for training in four transit rail occupations:  rail signal maintainers, elevator-escalator, wayside power, and rail vehicle mechanics.  National standards for training and certification jointly developed and maintained by transit management and transit labor offer the best approach for meeting the skill needs of the transit industry for rail car mechanics and other maintenance occupations.  

The objective of this research was to establish a system of qualification for rail vehicle technicians that integrates national training standards, progressive classroom curricula and introductory courseware, on-the-job learning modules, an apprenticeship framework that combines well designed sequences of learning, mentoring to support learners, and coordination of classroom and on-the-job learning. All these components provide the foundation for written and hands-on assessments to confirm that technicians have the practical knowledge and skills required to perform their jobs at the highest level of expertise. The research developed all content and infrastructure necessary to deliver the system of qualification to transit rail systems through the Transportation Learning Center.  The system covers both training and certification aspects of the qualification system.

 Status:  The project has been completed.  The revised final report documenting the project has been published as TCRP Report 170. The Transportation Learning Center is working with rail transit systems to discuss possible implementation of the qualification system.