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Jan. 23, 2008

New MSU program trains next generation of railroad executives

EAST LANSING, Mich. With thousands of railroad executives expected to retire in the coming years, Michigan State University this month launched a unique program designed to educate the next generation of industry leaders.

The Certificate Program in Railway Management is an intensive course taught by world-renowned transportation experts and covering virtually every facet of railway operations – from safety to technology, from regulation to finances.

While some U.S. universities offer degrees in railroad engineering, or courses relating to specific areas of railroad operations, MSU has the only comprehensive educational program in the nation for railway executives, according to program and industry officials.

Dennis Gilstad, chairperson and CEO of Fenton-based FCM Rail, said the goal is eventually to broaden MSU’s program and offer master’s and possibly bachelor’s degrees.

“There’s not a program like this in the Western Hemisphere,” Gilstad said. “Our intent is for MSU to become the railway education and research center of the world.”

Gilstad donated more than $1 million to help establish the Edward A. Burkhardt Chair in Railway Management at MSU. The chair is named for Edward A. Burkhardt, president and CEO of Rail World Inc. and Rail World Holdings LLC, and a leader in railway management for nearly 50 years.

A search is under way for the Burkhardt chair; that person will serve as the curriculum leader of the Railway and Transportation Studies Program at MSU.

Due primarily to the growth of the railroad industry and the aging of its executives, the industry is expected to hire 80,000 people over the six-year period ending in 2012, according to the Association of American Railroads in Washington, D.C.

Robert Gallamore, former director of The Transportation Center at Northwestern University, said MSU’s program should help fill a gap of educating the next generation of railroad executives. Gallamore directs the program’s curriculum along with Steven Ditmeyer, former economics professor at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces, National Defense University.

“The railroad industry is undergoing great changes today and there are many older, very capable employees that have reached retirement age or soon will,” said Gallamore, who’s also a former railroad executive. “The industry is going to be losing a lot of veteran talent and one of the purposes of the MSU railway program is to provide education and real-life experience to the next generation of high-potential employees.”

The certificate program is geared for railway workers with at least two years of experience. Seventeen people representing the full spectrum of the railway industry are enrolled in the initial course, which is given in four, one-week sessions over six months.

The program includes online, classroom and on-site learning, both in East Lansing and elsewhere across the nation, said Dennis Neilson, MSU director of railway management programs. The March 9-14 session, for example, will be at the Transportation Technology Center in Pueblo, Colo.

Neilson said the plan is to offer two courses a year and eventually offer special topic seminars. The program is housed in MSU’s College of Social Science.

Marietta Baba, dean of the College of Social Science, said Gilstad’s gift will allow MSU to “design an outstanding academic program for continuing education and professional development of rail executives to meet tomorrow’s challenges.

“The rail and transportation studies program at Michigan State University will help address the professional development needs of this growing global industry,” Baba said.

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Michigan State University has been advancing knowledge and transforming lives through innovative teaching, research and outreach for more than 150 years. MSU is known internationally as a major public university with global reach and extraordinary impact. Its 17 degree-granting colleges attract scholars worldwide who are interested in combining education with practical problem solving.