Program Overview

Through completion of this degree, RTE students are prepared for careers in various sectors of the railroad industry including freight, passenger and transit. While the primary focus of the program is civil infrastructure, students also gain hands-on education and training that will make them marketable for a career in any area of railroad engineering, including:

  • Railroad track design and maintenance
  • Civil infrastructure design and maintenance
  • Railway construction management
  • Railcar and locomotive design and maintenance
  • Railway signaling
  • Railroad transportation logistics
  • Network planning and operations

Students begin by building a strong foundation in mathematics and engineering basics through courses including calculus, materials science, statics, dynamics, structures, and fluid mechanics, among others. As the program progresses, students gain numerous opportunities to lace up their boots and get out into the field to learn about railroad track maintenance, mechanical operations, and transportation logistics. Students gain in-depth, practical experiences through three different hands-on courses, called "practica", which incorporate actual railroad equipment and cutting-edge technology. The practica cover: 1) railroad track infrastructure, 2) railcars and locomotives, and 3) railway transportation and network operations. Finally, senior-level students complete an engineering “capstone” course, which allows them to bring together all four years of railroad engineering knowledge into a single project.

Moreover, the RTE program offers training in business fundamentals to prepare students for management and to help them understand how railroads connect with the society at-large. RTE students will take courses in the history and regulatory structure of railroads, accounting, and project management. In addition, socio-economic elements are woven into the program through coursework on Labor Relations, the relationship between railroads and the federal, state, and local governments, and an introduction to the real estate issues affecting railroads.


In addition to gaining these hands-on experiences through the RTE coursework, many students are also involved with world-class railway engineering research. Students work as undergraduate research assistants on various rail-related projects and often gain opportunities to present at railroad technical conferences. Finally, the vast majority of RTE students earn summer internships either with Class I railroads or railroad engineering consulting firms, providing them with the real-life work experiences needed to fully prepare them for full-time employment after graduation.

Altoona Curve

Altoona Curve

Credit: Penn State

Penn State Altoona is the perfect place to earn a degree in Rail Transportation Engineering. We are located at the foot of the famous Horseshoe Curve, one of the most historic railway engineering wonders in the world, and Norfolk Southern’s gateway through the Allegheny mountains on their mainline from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. In addition, we are in close proximity to numerous railroad industry suppliers, shortline railroads, the widely-respected Altoona Railroader's Memorial Museum, and one of the largest locomotive repair facilities in North America. As a literal “hub” for US railroad activity, our location provides RTE students with numerous opportunities to visit various rail industry facilities and access the latest technology and software tools. Nearly 100 years ago, in Altoona, PA, the Pennsylvania Railroad pioneered some of the most important railway engineering research to-date and developed engineering standards that are still in wide use today. Through the Rail Transportation Engineering (RTE) program at Penn State Altoona, we are making history once again in Altoona. Come discover how you can help shape the future of railroad transportation!