Major Initiative Example

This example is for the Rail Transportation Program.


After three successful, six week summer courses in rail transportation (Summer in Finland 2004-2006) and early initiatives related to rail research, a Rail Transportation Initiative (RTI) was proposed with the future goal of taking the Michigan Tech railroad engineering program to a higher level. The initiative was defined as:

  • Three years in duration
  • Initiative would involve railroad engineering and urban rail transit
  • Initiative would be available to students in several disciplines (eventually develop a Minor in Rail Transportation, a Certificate in Rail Transportation)
  • Priority in undergraduate level (due to rail industry interest in educated workforce) but rail transportation could expand to graduate student program
  • Could involve distance learning/on-line course originating at Tech or transmitted to Tech
  • Would include rail related research, scholarships, internships
  • Would work with others to obtain funding and support—foundations, alumni, government organizations (FRA, NSF) and others


Program Timeline

Phase I Initiation



Rail PhD Candidate


100% University


  • Strengthen existing activities (summer in Finland, REAC)
  • Define needs and performance measures; build strategy
  • Build multi-disciplinary team to secure commitment from the University and industry

Phase II Development and Implementation



Rail Research Engineering


University and Industry


  • Develop structure and contents for Rail Transportation Program
  • Focus to expand student exposure and participation
  • Secure long-term funding and build resources
  • Perform faculty search

Phase III Sustenance and Diversification



Rail Faculty


University and Industry


  • Stabilize Tech status as top rail university in nation
  • Strengthen multi-disciplinary research program around key faculty
  • Explore and expand rail expertise and offerings


Initial funding was budgeted/requested at $45,000 per year for a three year period, totaling $135,000. Commitments at Michigan Tech were received from MTTI for $20,000 per year ($60,000), from the VPR for $15,000 per year ($45,000) and from CEE for $10,000 per year ($30,000). Industry was simultaneously approached for similar funding commitment and two annual partnerships ($33,000 each) with the industry were targeted. While there was expectation that some research funding would also materialize, specific amounts were not included in the initial plan.

External funding far exceeded the expectations.

The tables below present the planned and actual funding during the initiative.

Planned Funding
Source FY08 FY09 FY10
Michigan Tech $45,000 $45,000 $45,000
Industry $66,000 $66,000 $66,000
Total $111,000 $111,000 $111,000
Actual Funding
Source FY08 FY09 FY10
Michigan Tech $45,000 $45,000 $45,000
Private $45,000    
Industry $66,000 $128,500 $131,400
Research $291,405 $155,140 $212,682
Total $447,405 $328,640 $344,127

Budget and Expenses

The main budget item was to cover 50% of the RTP director salary from the Michigan Tech funding sources, while the other half was going to be covered from the industry. The main target for additional funding was to utilize it toward development of additional educational and research resources and promotional items. As the income above director’s salary hadn’t been solidified, no specific dollar amounts were identified for these categories.

Performance Metrics

While no specific metrics beyond the capability to secure the external funding were established in the beginning of the initiative, several metrics were quickly developed to track the progress on the program and demonstrate its performance to clients. Some of the key metrics included:

  • Number of students participating in rail related curriculum activities (courses, senior design and research projects)
  • Number of student members in REAC
  • Number of scholarships won in nationwide AREMA competition
  • Annual level of external research funding secured

Progress Beyond Initiative

The Rail Transportation Program(RTP) has continued its growth since the expiration of MTTI Initiative that got it started. From human resources perspective, the Program Director obtained a tenure-track faculty position in 2012 and a full time senior research engineer (and lecturer) was hired in 2013. The program offers annually three rail specific courses and has typically several externally funded student design projects. Since 2012, RTP has also been a member of a federally funded University Transportation Center. To date, faculty and students from seven different departments are (or have been) working on these projects.

Key Ingredients for Success

Looking back, there were several key reasons, why the initiative turned out successfully (if it’s considered a success):