The National Cooperative Rail Research Program (NCRRP) was authorized as part of the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 (PL 100-432, Division B). In September 2010, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) executed a contract with the National Academies, acting through its Transportation Research Board (TRB), to serve as manager of the NCRRP. Program oversight and governance are provided by representatives of rail operating agencies, state departments of transportation, and others.
NEED AND PURPOSE
The National Cooperative Rail Research Program (NCRRP) conducts applied research on problems important to freight, intercity and commuter rail operators. Research is necessary to solve common operating problems, to adapt appropriate new technologies from other industries, and to introduce innovations into the rail industry. The NCRRP carries out applied research on problems that are shared by freight, intercity, and commuter rail operating agencies and are not being adequately addressed by existing federal research programs. The NCRRP undertakes research and other technical activities in a variety of rail subject areas, including design, construction, maintenance, operations, safety, security, policy, planning, human resources, and administration.
The NCRRP is sponsored by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and managed by the National Academies, acting through its Transportation Research Board (TRB), with program oversight provided by an independent governing board (the NCRRP Oversight Committee) including representatives of rail operating agencies, state departments of transportation, and others.
The NCRRP carries out applied research on problems that (1) address, among other matters, intercity rail passenger and freight rail services, including existing rail passenger and freight technologies and speeds, incrementally enhanced rail systems and infrastructure, and new high-speed wheel-on-rail systems; (2) address ways to expand the transportation of international trade traffic by rail, enhance the efficiency of intermodal interchange at ports and other intermodal terminals, and increase capacity and availability of rail service for seasonal freight needs; (3) consider research on the interconnectedness of commuter rail, passenger rail, freight rail, and other rail networks; and (4) give consideration to regional concerns regarding rail passenger and freight transportation, including meeting research needs common to designated high-speed corridors, long-distance rail services, and regional intercity rail corridors, projects, and entities.
The NCRRP considers research designed (1) to identify the unique aspects and attributes of rail passenger and freight service; (2) to develop more accurate models for evaluating the impact of rail passenger and freight service, including the effects on highway and airport and airway congestion, environmental quality, and energy consumption; (3) to develop a better understanding of modal choice as it affects rail passenger and freight transportation, including development of better models to predict utilization; (4) to recommend priorities for technology demonstration and development; (5) to meet additional priorities as determined by the advisory board established under subsection (c), including any recommendations made by the National Research Council; (6) to explore improvements in management, financing, and institutional structures; (7) to address rail capacity constraints that affect passenger and freight rail service through a wide variety of options, ranging from operating improvements to dedicated new infrastructure, taking into account the impact of such options on operations; (8) to improve maintenance, operations, customer service, or other aspects of intercity rail passenger and freight service; (9) to recommend objective methodologies for determining intercity passenger rail routes and services, including the establishment of new routes, the elimination of existing routes, and the contraction or expansion of services or frequencies over such routes; (10) to review the impact of equipment and operational safety standards on the further development of high-speed passenger rail operations connected to or integrated with non-high-speed freight or passenger rail operations; (11) to recommend any legislative or regulatory changes necessary to foster further development and implementation of high-speed passenger rail operations while ensuring the safety of such operations that are connected to or integrated with non-high-speed freight or passenger rail operations; (12) to review rail crossing safety improvements, including improvements using new safety technology; and (13) to review and develop technology designed to reduce train horn noise and its effect on communities, including broadband horn technology.
The primary participants in the NCRRP are (1) an independent governing board, the NCRRP Oversight Committee (ROC), appointed by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation with representation from freight, intercity, and commuter rail operating agencies, other stakeholders, and relevant industry organizations such as the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), and the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP) as vital links to the rail community; (2) the TRB as program manager and secretariat for the governing board; and (3) the FRA as program sponsor. The NCRRP benefits from the cooperation and participation of rail professionals, equipment and service suppliers, other rail users, and research organizations. Each of these participants has different interests and responsibilities, and each is an integral part of this cooperative research effort.
SELECTION OF RESEARCH
Research problem statements for NCRRP are solicited periodically but may be submitted to TRB by anyone at any time. It is the responsibility of the NCRRP governing board to formulate the research program by identifying the highest priority projects and defining funding levels and expected products.
The NCRRP is managed using procedures modeled after those used by TRB in managing the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, Transit Cooperative Research Program, and Airport Cooperative Research Program. Day-to-day program management includes the following tasks:
- Assisting the governing board in identifying and prioritizing research needs;
- Appointing and coordinating expert technical panels to guide research projects;
- Developing and distributing Requests for Proposals (RFPs);
- Processing and evaluating proposals to select the best qualified research agencies;
- Executing contracts with the selected researchers;
- Guiding the research
- Reviewing research reports;
- Publishing and disseminating research reports; and
- Promoting the application of research results.
Each NCRRP project is assigned to a panel, appointed by the TRB; the panel provides technical guidance and counsel throughout the life of the project. Panels include experienced practitioners and research specialists; heavy emphasis is placed on including rail professionals, the intended users of the research products. The panels prepare requests for proposals and select contractors based on evaluation of the proposals received; the panels also guide the projects and review the reports. As in other TRB activities, NCRRP project panel members serve voluntarily without compensation.
SELECTION OF CONTRACTORS
The process for selecting NCRRP researchers has been used by the TRB in managing cooperative research programs for more than 40 years. This open process allows all potential research agencies to compete on the basis of technical merit and ensures that all proposers are treated fairly and that the program has access to the best talent available for each project. Proposals from potential research contractors are evaluated by the project panels. The evaluation considers the following: (1) the proposer's demonstrated understanding of the problem; (2) the merit of the proposed research approach and experiment design; (3) the experience, qualifications, and objectivity of the research team in the same or closely related areas; (4) the plan for promoting application of results; (5) the proposer’s plan for involvement of disadvantaged business enterprises; and (6) the adequacy of the facilities.
Selected agencies perform research under contract to the National Academies, guided by the Procedural Manual for Contractors Conducting Research in the Transportation Research Board's Cooperative Research Programs. Guidance for the preparation of final reports for submission to the NCRRP can be found in Chapter 5 of the Procedural Manual.
The Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 authorized $5 million per year for the NCRRP for FY 2010 through FY 2013. In FY 2010, the full $5 million was appropriated for the NCRRP and was provided to the National Academies, through the Transportation Research Board, in September 2010. No funding was appropriated to the program for FY 2011 and FY 2012. NCRRP funding in FY 2013 and beyond will be determined by the annual federal appropriation process.
Primary emphasis is placed on disseminating NCRRP results to the intended end-users of the research: rail operating agencies, service providers, and suppliers. The NCRRP will produce a series of research reports for use by rail operators, local agencies, the FRA, and other interested parties, and industry associations may arrange for workshops, training aids, field visits, and other activities to ensure that results are implemented by rail-industry practitioners.
A Memorandum of Agreement officially starting the NCRRP was executed by the FRA and the TRB in September 2010, and the NCRRP governing board was appointed by the Secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to the terms of the Memorandum of Agreement, in December 2011. Statements of research need have been assembled for consideration in formulating the initial NCRRP research agenda, and the governing board will meet in May 2012, to establish operating procedures for the NCRRP and to prioritize initial research needs.
To submit a research problem statement or to request further information on NCRRP, write or call:
Christopher W. Jenks, Director
Cooperative Research Programs
Transportation Research Board
500 Fifth Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20001
Program information and requests for proposals are available on TRB’s website. The web address is http://www.trb.org/NCRRP.