Norfolk Southern Provides $100,000 Grant to Penn State Altoona for Railroad Engineering Degree Program

ALTOONA, Pa. — The Norfolk Southern Foundation has given $100,000 to Penn State Altoona to assist in the development of a four-year Rail and Transit Engineering (RTE) degree program.

This innovative Bachelor of Science program will include existing Penn State civil engineering courses, coupled with new customized courses in rail business, mechanical systems, track, operations, communications, and regulation. The program is designed to produce graduates who will quickly acclimate to the rail industry and its suppliers.
“On behalf of the entire Penn State Altoona community, I express heartfelt appreciation to Norfolk Southern for the vital role it is playing in the creation of this exciting academic initiative,” said Dr. Lori J. Bechtel-Wherry, chancellor of Penn State Altoona. “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.”
Cindy Earhart, Norfolk Southern’s vice president human resources, said: “While the rail industry is operating in challenging economic times, the fact remains that our workforce is maturing. 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 Rail and Transit Engineering program will provide the industry with skilled and motivated graduates who want to become the next generation of railroaders.”
“I want to congratulate Norfolk Southern and Penn State University for coming together to create this fantastic baccalaureate program in railroad engineering,” said Congressman Bill Shuster, Ranking Republican on the Subcommittee on Railroads in the House of Representatives. “Pennsylvania played an important role in building America’s railroads, and our state continues its proud heritage to this day. The transportation of goods and services over rail is critical to our economic growth and educational programs like this at Penn State will help improve its role across the country. I want to recognize Norfolk Southern for its commitment to improving the communities it works with and I congratulate Penn State and its students on this exciting new educational opportunity.”
“As a proponent of the Rail and Transit Engineering degree program for the past ten years, this truly is a dream come true,” said State Rep. Rick Geist. “It took bringing the right people to the table to create this win-win development for Penn State Altoona, Norfolk Southern and all of Blair County and we certainly have the right people. A Rail and Transit Engineering degree program is evidence of railroading’s bright future and will usher in a new and exciting era.”
Penn State Altoona is an ideal site for the new program, given its geographic location to Norfolk Southern’s primary locomotive maintenance facility and the railroad’s main artery between the Chicago and New York markets. Founded as a rail center in 1849 by the Pennsylvania Railroad, Altoona is world-famous for its long history as a leading site for steam and diesel locomotive repair and maintenance, and its landmark of rail engineering, the Horseshoe Curve.
Another component of the Penn State RTE program is the Altoona Railroader’s Memorial Museum, which is dedicated to revealing, interpreting, commemorating and celebrating the significant contributions of railroaders and their families to American life and industry. The museum has close relationship with Norfolk Southern and has offered the Penn State program space in a new roundhouse planned for the museum property.
Pending approval by Penn State University’s faculty senate and administration, it is anticipated that classes in the RTE program will begin at Penn State Altoona in the fall of 2010. Norfolk Southern will provide the program with technical support and assistance.
Bechtel-Wherry described the program as “a groundbreaking academic initiative that will provide students with a unique multidisciplinary 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 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, and the railroad industry are limitless.”
Norfolk Southern and Penn State have also engaged in joint research to improve the energy efficiency of locomotives and reduce railroad emissions. Funded by NS and the U.S. Department of Energy, this effort will encourage students to get involved in developing new and innovative technologies for the railroad.