In the spring of 1980, the National Asphalt Pavement Association and the Asphalt Institute sponsored a national contest for civil engineering students that required participants to write a paper on applications for asphalt paving materials in track construction. Under the direction of UK civil engineering professor Dr. Jerry Rose, and with help from L&N Railroad, an advanced materials class submitted the winning entry. In fact, their applications for railway trackbed construction enabled them to work on projects with other railroad companies. Thus, UK forayed into railway engineering—an area of focus that had long lay dormant.
The tradition of student involvement in railway research that began in 1980 has continued to the present day, most recently with the creation of the RailCats student organization. RailCats is the student chapter of the national American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA), and the Kentucky chapter is one of 10 or so in the country, according to RailCats president Mike McHenry. “If a civil engineering student is interested in the railway industry, this is a one-of-a-kind organization,” he says.
If a civil engineering student is interested in the railway industry, this is a one-of-a-kind organization.”
RailCats president Mike McHenry
RailCats, which became an official student organization in September, directs its resources toward three primary objectives: fostering an educational environment where students have the opportunity to get involved in railway engineering research; promoting careers in the railway industry—possibly coordinating internships/co-operative education assignments and engaging in social outreach endeavors where the members’ expertise can help the community and, simultaneously, promote railway engineering.
Dr. Reginald Souleyrette, the newly established Commonwealth Chair and Professor of Transportation Engineering and Dr. Jerry Rose are the faculty advisors for RailCats. Both bring extensive experience in railway engineering and an enthusiasm for involving undergraduate and graduate students in railway research. “The biggest misconception about railway transportation is that it’s on the decline. Commuter and urban rail transit in urban areas and short-to-medium distance intercity trains are significantly on the upswing. Further, freight tonnage has boomed since the ‘80s. The railroad companies—even through the recession—are better off financially than they have ever been,” points out Dr. Rose. “Companies are growing and jobs are there for civil engineers with an interest in a growing industry.”