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If you were looking for a cross-disciplinary technology forum that afforded an opportunity to listen, learn and network last month, the 14th annual Wheel/Rail Interaction ’08 was the place to be.
Held May 6-7 at the Chicago Marriott O’Hare, the event was organized by Advanced Rail Management Corp. (ARM) and Interface Journal, and presented by Progressive Railroading. The event was established in 1994 as a way to bring together track and mechanical users, researchers and suppliers to foster a better understanding of the interaction complexities of the wheel/rail interface. This year, 144 people pre-registered to attend.
“For too many years, we’ve had isolation and segregation between the disciplines,” ARM President Gordon Bachinsky told attendees in his May 6 introductory remarks. “We want to make these barriers go away.”
The barrier-breaking began from the get-go with “Advances in ECP Braking on Norfolk Southern,” presented by Walter Rosenberger, NS’ operations engineer-research and tests. The talk generated a range of questions from the attentive audience, setting the day’s tone.
“People who come here are focused,” said Bachinsky in a post-event interview. “It’s informal, and there’s a lot of give and take. You need that if you’re going to have the kind of cross-talk we’re looking for.”
One panel discussion especially fit that bill — “Identifying the Costs/Benefits and Challenges of Implementing Technology.” Moderated by Amtrak AVP-State and Commuter Partnerships Mike Franke, the panel comprised NS Director-Research & Tests Robert Blank; BNSF Railway Co. AVP-Quality and Reliability Engineering Lisa Stabler; and Salient Systems Inc. VP Technology and Business Development Ryan McWilliams.
The Q&A elicited spirited give-and-take, with panelists fielding questions about railroads’ commitment to R&D funding (Franke: “It’s among the lowest of any developed industry”), the long-and-getting-longer lead times for products/systems to make it into revenue service (Stabler: “If I had an unlimited amount of money in my budget, I’d buy cracked-axle detectors. Problem is, the technology is not there”) and the lingering effects of rails’ departments-as-silos structure (Blank: “I think it’s changing. One of the drivers is increasing fuel and materials costs”).
Wheel/Rail Interaction ’08 also featured the day-long “Principles of Wheel/Rail Interaction” course and a series of “InfoZone” sessions. Suppliers conduct the 30-minute educational sessions; this year’s slate comprised Portec Rail Products Inc. and subsidiaries Kelsan Technologies Corp. and Salient Systems Inc.; Rail Sciences Inc.; Lincoln Industrial Corp.; and Wayside Monitoring Alliance.
The organizers plan to add a fourth day — focusing on transit issues — to the Wheel/Rail Interaction ’09 program. The event will be held May 4-7, 2009, at the same hotel. For more information, call 847-808-1818; email: coordinator.
— Pat Foran