Growing up in Suttons Bay, MI my exposure to the railroad industry was extremely limited and I had no idea of the vast reach of the industry. It was not until I participated in Dr. Lautala’s “Summer in Finland” rail education study abroad program in 2009 that I truly began to understand the significance of the railroad industry and the role it plays in the nation’s economy. Prior to the ”Summer in Finland” my undergraduate studies at Michigan Tech primarily focused around structural design and analysis, but with a new found interest in the rail industry I wished to incorporate both focuses.
In 2010 as an undergraduate student I was fortunate enough to have a summer internship with BNSF in Belen, New Mexico on the Abo Canyon Capacity Improvement Project. The Abo Canyon Capacity Improvement Project incorporated my passion for structural design and analysis with 9 bridges and 8.5 miles of new secondary mainline track construction traversing through a narrow canyon pass. After my internship with BNSF I was offered a graduate teaching position at Michigan Tech.
After receiving my Masters of Science in Civil Engineering in 2012 I entered into the private sector and began working as a staff engineer for Cedar Corporation in Menominee, WI. At Cedar Corporation my responsibilities were not rail related but ranged from municipal resident engineering, bridge design, hydraulic design, wastewater design, storm water collection, etc. However in the back of my mind I missed the project scale and fast paced environment the rail industry afford.
With that desire to work in the rail industry and on large complex projects, I took my current position as Development Engineer, in December of 2013 with the newly formed Office of Rail in the Michigan Department of Transportation. Within the Office of Rail I work on the federally designated high speed railroad corridor between Detroit and Chicago upgrading the corridor’s track structure and signaling system to allow for intercity passenger rail travel up to 110 mph.
The section being upgraded within the federally dedicated high speed railroad corridor was purchased from Norfolk Southern by the State of Michigan in 2013 under a federal grant. The section now owned by the State of Michigan is from Kalamazoo, MI to Dearborn, MI approximately 135 miles long with an additional 50 miles of secondary mainline, controlled and non-controlled tracks. I manage the development of the capacity improvement projects along the corridor such as curve modifications, grade crossing replacement, bridge rehabilitations and replacements and assist in stations. Currently, the positive train control signal system is 85% installed and testing is scheduled to begin this summer. 2 of the 4 sub sections of the State owned railroad corridor have been reconstructed, which includes curve modification to allow for high speeds through curves and installation of premium grade crossing surfaces. This year the third sub section will be reconstructed beginning this spring.
I am extremely fortunate to be able to be a part of the high speed rail program. The ability to work for the Office of Rail is a very difficult but a very rewarding job requiring me to be aware of all local, state and federal facets affecting the project as well as the engineering fundamentals. The job always presents me with new problems and allows me to continually to grow, both professionally and personally.