Rail expert visits Tech

HOUGHTON – Michigan Technological University hosted Phil Pasterak, PE, head of transit and rail for consulting firm Parsons Brickerhoff Tuesday. Pasterak presented two seminars during the day, one focusing on track design and the other on the future of passenger trains in the United States.

“The proponents of these kinds of systems might say we need travel options,” Pasterak explained during his seminar on passenger trains. “We’re not trying to take away cars, but if you’re making a trip where a lot of other people are making a trip – say New York to Boston or San Francisco to L.A. – shouldn’t there be options where you don’t have to build another highway or expand an airport?”

Of course, establishing a new passenger rail system or even updating an old one to handle higher speeds and more traffic is not as easy as simply deciding there is a need for it. Pasterak discussed some of the many issues related to train construction, including the buy-in from state leadership, limited political will and a growing shortage of industry talent.

“A lot of people in the industry are retiring,” he said. “And while current students, like many of you, are studying to fill those positions, some of the knowledge only comes from experience and we are already starting to see a shortage.”

Pasterak looked at a range of different projects to paint a picture of the current passenger rail situation in America and an outlook for the future.

The projects are taking place around the country and range from systems that need infrastructure updates to handle higher speeds to completely new systems that are both in the process of being built or just being discussed as possibilities.

“When you get off an airplane you go get your rental car and get on a little shuttle or public transportation, like the People Mover in Detroit, to take you to the lot. But let’s say that People Mover doesn’t go one mile, it goes 90 miles,” Pasterak said, noting that such a line is a possibility from the Twin Cities to Rochester, home of the Mayo Clinic. “You can just get off your plane and an hour later you’re there. Wouldn’t that be easier than having to fly then drive or fly again?”

Passenger rail projects continue to go forward but Pasterak stressed the need for political will and strict adherence to environmental and government standards.

Another seminar by Ulrich Leister titled “Characteristics of Railway Operation and System Design” will be held Thursday from 4 to 5 p.m. at Michigan Tech in the Dow Environmental Science and Engineering Building, Room 642, as part of the civil engineering graduate program. The railroad transportation program will also host its ninth annual Railroad Night from 7 to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Franklin Square Inn in Houghton. For more information or to register for Railroad Night visit rail.mtu.edu.