2007 Outstanding Master’s Thesis (Tie) – David McCollum

David’s thesis is a comprehensive study of the effect of expanded future use of coal on the US rail system, in terms of congestion on rail lines and projected costs.  Coal use  is projected to grow rapidly over the next decades – not only to fuel power plants, but to make future transportation fuels. At the same time, the nation’s rail system is exceeding its carrying capacity related to coal transport, and there are serious questions whether the rail system could supply enough coal to meet future energy needs.   David’s thesis is the first major study of this important transportation energy topic in many years.  He used a variety of models and techniques to study how different energy futures might impact congestion on the current rail system.  Further, he explored solutions such as advanced signaling and rail line expansion, and estimated the costs and benefits for implementing these improvements. Interestingly, he found that strategically placed investments, at levels typical of historical spending in the rail industry, could enable expanded use of coal.

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