skip to main content

We see the railway industry through an integrative lens.


The Center for Railway Research and Education (CRRE) makes Michigan State University the leading university in North America offering research and education in management specifically geared to the rail industry.

We consider railways as a system that provides essential services, supporting continued sustainable growth of the economy and wealth creation for all.

Inside a railway facility


Low- and Zero-Emission Motive Power Research

Emissions, fuel price volatility and high capital cost for wayside electrification impact railways and their customers. Zero-emission or near-zero emission, cost-effective solutions are necessary for rail to remain a viable transportation mode, for expansion, and to competitively and sustainably meet current demand and accommodate growth. CRRE has world-leading expertise in alternative and zero-emission motive power, including:

  • hydrogen fuel cell systems for railway applications (Hydrail)
  • energy storage systems, such as batteries
  • discontinuous electrification with wired and wireless power transfer/charging
  • technology evaluation for various railway services
  • techno-economic appraisals
  • train performance modeling to determine energy consumption and emissions
  • conceptual motive power and powertrain development

Zero-Emission Multiple Unit (ZEMU)


MSU Research Leads to North America’s First Commercial Hydrogen-Powered Train


The December 2020 installment of Broad Matters is all about trains. Ken talks with Nicholas Little, Director of Railway Education at the Broad College of Business, about the Center For Railway Research and Education (CRRE) as they work to help guide the changing rail industry. From green energy to the vital supply chain solutions locomotives provide for companies, trains continue to evolve to provide solutions to the new business problems of our times.

Broad Matters: The Future of Rail is Green

Railway Age Series: Written by Nicholas Little, MSU-CRRE

December 19, 2023- Ensuring Trust, Based on Humanity

February 04, 2022- Evolution of Green Value Chains

October 12, 2021- Supply Chains: Broken Beyond Repair?

August 5, 2021- Railway Age: Why No Railroads?

July 2021-  Trains of Thought: When will U.S. Rail Freight get smart and who provides the traction?  by Nick Little

January 19, 2021- Be Informative and Collective. Raise Awareness and Perceptions

October 1, 2020- How well is Rail Intermodal Integrated into Supply and Value Chain Behavior?

June 10, 2020- There may be No New Normal

May 05, 2020- Look to the Future

April 10, 2020- Collaboration, Communication in a Post-COVID-19 World

March 27, 2020- Weathering the COVID-19 Storm

March 03, 2020- Possible COVID-19 Impacts, North American Freight Railroads

The Future of Rail Research: Customer/Supplier/Investor Relationships

Deliver a long-lasting, positive impact for all key stakeholders (shippers, carriers and investors) associated with the rail and transportation industry. Improve performance through collaboration. Explore criteria and objectives such as planning, technology, information, open bi/multi-lateral communication, end-to-end supply chain visibility, preparedness, long-term trust and value creation.

For the full report click here.

The Future of Rail series of short articles is available below:

July 2021

Trains of Thought: When will U.S. Rail Freight get smart and who provides the traction?  by Nick Little

We achieve our goals through four primary activities.

Education through university-level programs

Applied research in the railway field

Consultancy services through which industrial partners retain intellectual property

Knowledge leadership activities to disseminate knowledge, raise awareness of rail transportation and support growth

Railway Education Programs

We offer several educational options, ranging from half-day subject matter workshops to customized courses for specific clients, to our comprehensive certificate program. Our courses integrate knowledge and expertise from across Michigan State University. Partners include faculty and resources from the Broad College of Business, Engineering, Computer Science, Urban Planning, and Packaging.

Registration Railway Management Certificate Program

Our Railway Management Certificate Program (RMCP) was established in 2007 and has completed twelve successful iterations, providing education and enhancing the knowledge of more than 150 railway professionals across the industry. It is a residential course that consists of four modules, each administered as a one-week-long intensive unit including site visits. Each module is held at a different location relevant to the railway industry. Upon completion of all four modules, a Certificate in Railway Management is earned.

During each week, critical and topical subjects are covered in a classroom setting with interactive discussions and field trips to aid learning. Field trips include railroad facilities, customers, suppliers, associations and agencies selected to enhance participants’ learning. Group project work applies learning and develops teamwork skills.

The program was developed by MSU Railway Management Program staff, evaluated and improved with Class I and Class II railroad education and training directors, as well as AAR, ASL&RRA and FRA decision makers and other railroad industry leaders. Subject matter experts for the course include distinguished railroad and transportation industry leaders and experienced MSU faculty. An industry advisory board identifies critical issues facing the industry so that the program addresses those issues, thereby remaining highly relevant.


Our Continuing Professional Development (CPD) provides professionals with the skills necessary to thrive in a railway career—whether they have years of industry experience, just started at a railway-related organization or are planning a career change. Participants enhance their understanding of the railway as a transportation system, its role in today’s organizations and how it can be utilized to best serve customers.

You may choose to start with one option, but our flexible approach to education allows you to continue your development with us and join the Railway Management Certificate Program to gain a certificate over time.

Continuing Education Programs

(Click for more details)

Module One: Railway Business Administration and Leadership
East Lansing, Michigan (MSU Campus)

Module Two: Railway Regulation, Safety, and The Rail Industry
Washington, D.C. Area

Module Three: Railway Engineering and Technology
Pueblo, CO (Home of MxV Rail and TTC)

Module Four: Railway Operations
Chicago, Illinois (railway “heart” of the USA)

Request Information  

Your organization needs well-educated people to achieve its goals and create value for your customers. Our custom programs are an effective solution for employers looking to provide railway training for several employees at one time.

We tailor concepts and principles of railway systems to the direct context of your organization. This personalized content utilizes our No. 1-ranked, world-leading supply chain management faculty, Broad College of Business faculty, subject matter experts and our experienced and dedicated railway staff. Some of our previous clients include foreign railway companies and their government units.

Courses can range from a few hours to a day to several months. Content can be specific to a particular area or problem to a general foundation in railway systems. Delivery of the educational course can be at your premises or here at Michigan State University at the best-in-class Henry Center for Executive Development.

Request Information  

Our Approach

We aim to provide expertise in strategic business leadership, supply chain integration, technology decisions and the interface between different stakeholders. Our multi-disciplinary approach involves:

  • Management functions within the supply chain (operations, marketing, asset management and interaction)
  • Engineering disciplines (civil, mechanical, electrical and communication engineering)
  • Intersections between supply chain management and engineering that constitute complex railway systems

Additionally, our research and education covers all types of railways, including:

  • Freight railroads of any size
  • Long-distance passenger
  • Urban railways (metros and light rail)

In addition, any organizations, agencies or associations related to railways, such as rail shippers, consultancies and equipment manufacturers, are part of our scope. We strive to cover the whole breadth of the railway industry, providing expertise in strategic business leadership, supply chain integration, technology decisions and interface among the different stakeholders. More than 150 future senior managers and leaders of the North American rail industry have graduated MSU’s Railway Management Certificate Program since its inception in 2007.

Railway tracks in a heavily forested area.

Focus Areas in Research and Education

The CRRE takes a holistic view of the railway as a transportation system with focus on the breadth and complexity of the various sub-systems to meet the essential transportation function for shippers and passengers.

We work closely with the Broad College’s world-renowned Department of Supply Chain Management, its #1 ranked programs and its operations, logistics and sourcing experts. This uniquely positions us to concentrate on the railway from a business and management perspective.

Key differentiators of our perspective include:

  • The Railway as a System

    Ranging from the wide dispersion of assets and organizational functions; over the variability of the asset condition and changing requirements of customers, regulators and other stakeholders; via the diversity of asset types and service lifetime; to the interdependence between components to provide the transportation service, the railway as a system is complex.

    Often all of these aspects fall within the responsibility, authority and control of a single organization. It is critical for railway professionals to know and understand the capabilities and impacts of the various sub-systems and the interfaces between these to manage a successful railway.

    Shippers, customers, regulators and consultants also need to understand the complexity and interactions in order to integrate their expertise for efficient and effective engagement with railway firms and their people.

  • Role of the Railway in the Supply Chain

    Railways provide a means for the spatial integration of the supply chain and, in certain circumstances, also provide temporal integration. The strength of railways is the transportation of large quantities, either heavy goods or large volumes of cargo or both, due to its physical system characteristics.

    There is no other mode of land transportation with lower land use and energy requirements than rail, making it one of the most environmentally sustainable transportation modes. However, the system’s nature results in lower flexibility compared to other modes. Understanding what rail can contribute to your supply chain objectives to create competitive advantage is an essential part of our activities.

  • Management of Railways

    The primary function of the railway is the transportation of goods, passengers or both from one location to another to enable economic activity.

    To achieve this, several physical, organizational and virtual systems have to be in place: for example, the tracks, traction and rolling stock, train control, and business and customer service departments. Railways are asset-rich organizations owning vehicles, extensive infrastructure and handling facilities (depots, stations, warehouses and terminals).

    It is essential for managers in the railway industry to know about interactions between the different sub-systems, the underlying essential physics and engineering of the asset-based railway to make informed decisions. We focus on the whole system performance and the trade-offs that decision makers have to make to provide the desired service levels and meet stakeholder requirements while ensuring business sustainability.

    Marketing, financial and management accounting, risk and safety, ergonomics, knowledge of engineering and supply chain integration are critical for railway managers. Our focus is on the interaction and integration of these functions, covering the breadth of the organization, rather than a single very deep understanding of a function or discipline.

  • Wide MSU Knowledge Integration

    The large MSU community encompasses 17 degree-granting colleges covering a wide variety of disciplines. Many of their research activities and educational programs are highly relevant to railways, such as Engineering & Computer Science, Urban Planning, Criminal Justice (security and risk management), and Packaging, to name a few.

    We explore opportunities to collaborate and work with these subject experts for the benefit of the rail industry.

A European passenger train at station.

Innovative research propels the railway industry forward.

Our applied research inspires solutions to real problems faced by today’s railways, operators, suppliers, regulators and customers. To ensure industrial relevance and real-world impact, we seek partners or collaborators for the majority of our research.

An effective transportation system is necessary to sustain global competitiveness, maintain and increase the standard of living, and efficiently use resources while protecting the environment. Railways are a vital part of the transportation sector, enabling business opportunities and offering mobility to people. Our research focuses on scientific knowledge creation and application across the railway ecosystem, developing solutions to problems that the sector faces, enabling railways to sustainably meet current demand and accommodate growth to the benefit of society and business. We conduct research in two primary areas: low- and zero-emission motive power and railroad optimization.

Interior of a passenger station in New York City.

Better and stronger together

The Center for Railway Research and Education at MSU is proud to have supporters and partners in both the industrial and academic realms. We believe in long-lasting, mutually beneficial collaborations to improve the railway industry.

CRRE Advisory Board

The Center for Railway Research and Education is supported by an endowment fund established by prominent rail industry owner and executive Edward A. Burkhardt.

The center is governed by an experienced benefactors (founders) committee, comprised of significant donors, MSU leaders and railway research and education personnel. The board provides invaluable guidance, ensuring that our educational curricula and research are topical and relevant to the railway industry today.

Listen to Nick Little, director of railway education, discuss the center on the globalEDGE Business Beat podcast.

Get on the right track.

If you are interested in engaging with the Center for Railway Research and Education at MSU, please fill out our information request form.

Contact Information

  • Center for Railway Research and Education
  • Henry Center for Executive Development
  • 3535 Forest Rd
  • Lansing, MI 48910
  • USA