The National Academies

NCRRP 12-02 [Completed]

NCRRP Strategic Plan/Research Agenda

  Project Data
Funds: $100,000
Research Agency: Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, Northwestern University
Principal Investigator: Professor Joseph L. Schofer, Associate Dean fro Faculty Affairs
Effective Date: 12/1/2012
Completion Date: 2/13/2014


The National Cooperative Rail Research Program (NCRRP) was authorized as part of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PL 100-432, Division B, § 306), to conduct applied research on a broad array of problems important to freight, intercity and commuter rail practitioners.  The primary goal is to implement a research program that improves industry response to common operating problems, while enhancing the rail industry’s ability to identify and appropriate innovations and new technologies from other industries.  As part of this effort, there is a need for an effective Strategic Plan that identifies key problems shared by freight, intercity, and commuter rail operating agencies in the area of shared, compatible, and complementary rail service: intercity passenger rail, both regional and high speed; commuter rail; and freight.  The Plan will be used both as an informational tool to describe the issues, and as a resource document to determine which research topics not currently being addressed adequately by existing federal research programs should be conducted through NCRRP. 

Subject areas include technical activities in design, construction, maintenance, operations, safety, security, policy, planning, human resources, and administration, which should be consistent with advancing U.S. Department of Transportation goals contained in its Strategic Plan.

Research Agenda

The underlying research agenda prescribed for NCRRP encompasses a broad range of issues: 

1.         Planning for rail development

a. Assisting Local, State, Regional & Federal Government in sound planning

b. Strengthening Regional cooperation/coordination

                                i.            Interconnection of commuter and intercity service

                              ii.            Interconnection of intercity and commuter rail with transit service

c. Ensuring value maximization from use of existing infrastructure as well as from outcomes of future decisions

                                   i.         Good route selections/appropriate markets

                                 ii.         Accurate ridership and system capacity analysis

                               iii.         Targeting service types/levels to market needs, including frequencies, speeds, and service overlays

                                iv.         Station site selection/multimodal connectivity/ADA

                                  v.         Optimizing investment in rail infrastructure to maximize capacity and other metrics of freight and passenger service quality

d. Understanding economic development strategies associated with rail goods movement


2.         Minimizing conflict/enhancing growth of both freight & passenger rail

a. Enhanced modeling of operations

b. Sound use practices for shared track and/or corridors

c. Strategies for improving mixed-use corridor performance

d. Dedicated track and/or corridors:

                                      i.      When to use

                                    ii.      Recommended design practices

e. Identifying and incorporating new and emerging technologies

f. Private liability associated with passenger rail development

g. Issues associated with public funding processes for capital and operating expense

h. Avoidance of freight franchise economic value deterioration resulting from passenger operations


3.         Funding/Financing rail development

a. Value capture of linked station area and regional economic growth and development

b. Balance between public and private opportunities and constraints


4.         Safety and efficiency of systems (Engineering, Signaling, Equipment, Human Factors)

a. Better design, construction, maintenance and operation to improve train safety

b. Improved inspection techniques and technology, data collection and information analysis

c. Better skill application and execution by humans

d. Liability issues, risk management and risk reduction of transportation of hazardous materials


5.         Technical skills/workforce Capacity Building

a. Industry workforce education, development and recruitment

b. Technical skills for Federal, Regional, State & Local governments


The objective of this quick response study is twofold:

1.         To develop a strategic plan that identifies particular areas of NCRRP Oversight Committee (ROC) interest/emphasis for the program; and

2.         Prepare a detailed potential research agenda based on these interest/emphasis areas.

This strategic plan and research agenda will include descriptions of potential research problems that will address the purpose of the program in a manner compatible with the overall goal of generating effective applied research useful to the intercity freight and rail passenger industry.  This strategic plan and research agenda will also help to set priorities and present alternatives for sharing research ideas with the broader rail industry audience to stimulate research problem submissions consistent with the intent of the program in general and the ROC specifically. 

The product of this study will also include a stand-alone executive summary and a PowerPoint presentation or similar mechanism for sharing ideas and strategies among a diverse audience. 

Status: The final report has been published as NCRRP Research Results Digest No. 1.

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