ALTOONA – Penn State Altoona has received a $100,000 grant from Norfolk Southern Foundation to help fund ongoing development of the campus’ proposed Rail and Transit Engineering baccalaureate degree program, which would be the first of its kind in American higher education.
The proposed program is in direct response to demographic shifts that have resulted in the loss of highly trained railway engineers in recent years. Penn State’s Civil Engineering four-year degree program will provide a strong technical foundation for the new degree program.
Norfolk Southern Foundation was established in 1984 to direct and implement Norfolk Southern Corp.’s charitable giving programs. The foundation’s mission is to enhance the quality of life in communities served by Norfolk Southern through strategic investment in educational, cultural, environmental, and economic development opportunities.
“On behalf of the entire Penn State Altoona community, I express heartfelt appreciation to Norfolk Southern Foundation for the vital role it is playing in the creation of this exciting academic initiative,” said Penn State Altoona Chancellor Lori J. Bechtel-Wherry. “We are proud to be a national leader in this discipline. The railway industry has an established history of philanthropic support at Penn State Altoona. As an institution committed to public service, our college draws inspiration from Norfolk Southern’s community spirit, and we are grateful for the railroad’s support of our vision and their partnering with us to enhance academic and career opportunities for our students.”
Penn State Altoona’s proposed broad four-year Rail and Transit Engineering program — including existing civil engineering courses, coupled with new customized courses in rail business, mechanical systems, track, operations, communications, and regulation — will produce graduates who will quickly acclimate to the rail industry and its suppliers.
Pending approval by the University’s Faculty Senate and administration, the Altoona campus plans to enroll the first students in the program in the fall of 2010. Norfolk Southern will provide the program with technical support and assistance. In addition, the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museum, which has a close relationship with Norfolk Southern, has offered to the program space in a new roundhouse planned for the museum property.
“While the rail industry is operating in challenging economic times, the fact remains that our workforce is maturing,” noted Cindy Earhart, Norfolk Southern’s vice president of human resources. “In order for Norfolk Southern to remain successful, we need to develop a talent pool that understands the railroad work environment. Penn State Altoona’s proposed Rail and Transit Engineering program will provide the industry with skilled and motivated graduates who want to become the next generation of railroaders.”
Bechtel-Wherry described the program as “a groundbreaking academic initiative that will provide students with a unique multi-disciplinary experience.”
“It is entirely fitting that Penn State Altoona — located only minutes from the hub of Norfolk Southern’s local operations — will offer this particular program,” she said. “The potential impact of this program on the railroad industry is substantial. Through our proposed Rail and Transit Engineering baccalaureate degree program, we have the opportunity to play a vital role in training engineers for placement within the expanding railroad industry. The potential benefits of this program for our students, our college, our community, and the railroad industry are limitless.”
Norfolk Southern and Penn State also are engaged in joint research to improve the energy efficiency of locomotives and reduce railroad emissions. Funded by Norfolk Southern and the U.S. Department of Energy, this effort will encourage students at Penn State to assist in the development of new and innovative technologies for the rail industry.
Norfolk Southern Corp. is one of the nation’s premier transportation companies. Its Norfolk Southern Railway subsidiary operates approximately 21,000 route miles in 22 states and the District of Columbia, serves every major container port in the eastern United States, and provides superior connections to western rail carriers. Norfolk Southern operates the most extensive intermodal network in the East and is North America’s largest rail carrier of metals and automotive products.