Locomotive gift from Norfolk Southern to support Altoona program

SD60i freight locomotive

The SD60i freight locomotive, "PSU 2020," donated to Penn State Altoona by Norfolk Southern.

Credit: Collin Reinhart

ALTOONA, Pa. — Penn State Altoona has received an in-kind gift from Norfolk Southern that will enhance the college’s Rail Transportation Engineering (RTE) program curriculum.

The gift is a SD60i freight locomotive originally built by General Motors for Conrail in 1995. Norfolk Southern took ownership of the locomotive in 1999 and has now gifted it to Penn State Altoona with the unit number: “PSU 2020.”

Although the diesel electric locomotive will not be operational, it will be used to teach students about locomotive parts, where components are located, and how they fit together. In the Railroad Operations & Safety course, students will learn about the basics of controls in the cab of the locomotive and learn to identify major locomotive components. In the Railroad Communications & Signals course, students will gain exposure to vehicle-based components that are interconnected to railroad signal systems. In the Railroad Mechanical Practicum, students will participate in lab exercises with the locomotive to learn about air brake systems, diesel engines, traction motors, cooling systems, and trucks/suspension.

“The locomotive is to our RTE students as a cadaver is to medical students,” stated Bryan Schlake, assistant teaching professor in rail transportation engineering. “Our students will get to really roll up their sleeves and learn the inner workings of a diesel electric locomotive. I don’t know of any university in the country that can offer this type of in-depth education in locomotive function and design.”

Additionally, various electro-mechanical engineering technology courses and independent study courses could benefit from using the locomotive. Schlake says there are also opportunities for outreach with the SD60i including developing K-12 educational videos and tours of the locomotive during future engineering summer camps.

Further, Penn State Altoona faculty are exploring a variety of research use cases for this locomotive that may include immersive learning, augmented reality, equipment location tracking, and radio communications.

The locomotive is housed at Curry Rail Services (CRS) in Hollidaysburg at no cost, and CRS has also offered to paint the locomotive as a gift to the RTE program. Penn State Altoona’s AREMA (American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association) student chapter is holding a design contest to develop a paint scheme.

Philip Merilli is the retired vice president of engineering for Norfolk Southern. A fourth-generation railroader from Altoona and a Penn State alumnus, Merilli says it has been an honor to be part of the RTE program at Penn State Altoona through its advisory board. “When the opportunity arose to further support the program with a locomotive for learning, I was happy I could make the connections necessary to enable it. There is no doubt that this donation will lead to more opportunities for future railroad engineers to be better equipped to enter and advance the industry.”