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Allan M. Zarembski, shown here at the 2016 Big Data in Railroad Maintenance Planning Conference,
Allan M. Zarembski, shown here at the 2016 Big Data in Railroad Maintenance Planning Conference, received an award from the journal Transportation Infrastructure Geotechnology.

Building the future of railroads

Photo by Evan Krape

Zarembski recognized for contributions to track engineering

Allan M. Zarembski, Professor of Practice and Director of UD’s Railroad Engineering and Safety Program, has received the 2017 Fumio Tatsuoka Best Paper Award from the journal Transportation Infrastructure Geotechnology. He was recognized for four papers that made significant impact on geotechnology in railway engineering, specifically in the realms of track geometry defects and track substructure.

Zarembski is the fourth recipient of this award and the second from UD. Dov Leshchinsky, emeritus professor of civil and environmental engineering, won the first Fumio Tatsuoka Best Paper Award in 2014.

Zarembski is recognized worldwide for his expertise in railway engineering, including track system analysis, railway component failure analysis, track strength, and maintenance planning. He is a pioneer in the use of “big data”—gathering, analyzing, and efficiently converting large volumes of complex data into useful information— in railroad engineering. Under Zarembski’s leadership, UD is a partner, along with Virginia Tech, on a five-year Tier 1 University Transportation Center (UTC) program awarded in 2016 to the University of Nevada at Las Vegas for “Improving Rail Transportation Infrastructure Sustainability and Durability.”

This partnership has allowed Zarembski to expand UD’s Railroad Engineering and Safety Program and upgrade its research capabilities. Now Zarembski and his colleagues are using big data to forecast the longevity of railroad tracks, an important question since it would cost about $100 billion to replace all the tracks in the U.S., said Zarembski. Several railroad companies are providing data for UD engineers to analyze.

The rise of big data in rail engineering

For the last four years, Zarembski has organized the international Big Data in Railroad Maintenance Planning conference, held annually at UD. This conference brings together railroad experts from academia and industry to discuss maintenance planning and techniques for big data analysis. Some presentations are theoretical; some are practical.

“This conference has grown in the quality of papers, quality of speakers, and level of interest of attendees every year,” said Zarembski.

The most recent conference, held on December 14 and 15, was the largest yet, with 220 international registrants.

When the Big Data in Railroad Maintenance Planning conference started four years ago, speakers shared their plans to use big data. In 2017, they shared how they have used big data to improve efficiency and safety. Some participants now have titles such as “director of big data” or “chief data scientist.” The conference has also expanded beyond track engineering, including railroad experts in issues such as locomotive performance and maintenance.

The keynote speaker was Wick Moorman, president of Amtrak, who described how the company has benefited from the use of data sciences. The Northeast Corridor’s railroad tracks contain more than 1,500 curves, which were traditionally surveyed manually by inspectors with printed charts. Now, rail cars outfitted with sensors collect data, which can be rapidly updated and used to calculate safe speeds. This is a case where big data could save lives.

“The two big derailments we’ve seen in recent years happened with unsafe speeds around curves,” said Zarembski.

Zarembski and co-organizer Nii Attoh-Okine, a professor of civil and environmental engineering who recently published a book on big data analysis in railway engineering, are already building the lineup for the 2018 event, which will be held in December.

In addition to teaching undergraduate and graduate courses in railroad engineering and safety, Zarembski also shares his expertise through UD’s Graduate Certificate in Railroad Engineering and short courses in collaboration with Professional Engineering Outreach. Next up: Operations & Operations Management for Passenger Rail on March 7 and 8. Registration is open until February 28.

About Allan Zarembski

Prior to joining UD in 2012, Zarembski was the president of ZETA-TECH, Associates, Inc. He also served as Director of R&D for Pandrol Inc., Director of R&D for Speno Rail Services Co., and Manager, Track Research for the Association of American Railroads. He received his doctoral degree in civil engineering from Princeton University in 1975.

 


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