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Appendix 4: Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)

This document is in response to the Presidential Memorandum on October 28th, 2011, "Accelerating Technology Transfer and Commercialization of Federal Research in Support of High-Growth Businesses".  In support of this memorandum, the Federal Railroad Administration will highlight its activities addressing technology transfer conducted through the Office of Research and Development.  The FRA does not maintain or operate a Federal Laboratory as defined in the memorandum. The research from this Office is conducted through universities, support contractors, and small businesses being directed by FRA program managers that specialize in a specific area of research.  This approach also involves early and appropriate partnerships with the railroads, railroad suppliers, technology providers, state and regional rail authorities and railroad researchers at selected Universities to enable maximum real-world impact at the earliest possible time. These partnerships bring in both the suppliers and the end users into the initial development of the technologies which promote research transition and implementation (i.e. technology transfer).

FRA research is transferred to the industry and suppliers through the following processes:

  • Actively participate in Association of American Railroads, American Railway Engineering and Mintenance-of-Way Association, Transportation Research Board, American Public Transportation Association, and other railroad committees
  • Coordinate joint research programs with industry partners
  • Publish interim research results and formal reports
  • Attend technical conferences to present research findings, scan for new technologies, and coordinate research activities
  • Demonstrate technologies to railroads and suppliers
  • Develop and make available to industry unique custom hardware and software for specific railroad applications
  • Work with industry to apply for regulation waivers to encourage implementation of leading edge technology while maintaining safety

The FRA holds no patents and does not own any of the technologies developed under the research program.  However, multiple patents have resulted from the sponsored research.  These patents are held by private firms that were contracted to conduct the research.  In addition, some of these companies are actively utilizing the patents for commercial purposes. The government has usage rights to these patents if needed.

Previous experience has demonstrated that from concept to product commercialization typically take seven to ten years to completion. This duration is controlled by changes in requirements and funding levels during the development.  FRA Office of Research and Development focuses significant effort to assure that the ideas and technologies developed become useful tools for the industry.

The FRA utilizes a stakeholder subsidiary to hold a care, custody, and control contract on the Transportation Technology Center which is a DOT facility.  This contract requires minimum yearly reinvestment by the contractor to maintain and upgrade the facility at no cost to the government.  In return, the facility can be used for commercial activities related to the agencies missions.  The government has first priority on the use of the facility and controls the site modifications and upgrades. The research scientists and engineers housed at the facility are supported by the stakeholder subsidiary and not the FRA.  The FRA does conduct research at the facility utilizing an IDIQ Task order contract to meet specific research objectives.

RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT METRICS

Selecting the appropriate evaluation metrics is the key to aligning the researcher’s goals with those of the department. The wrong metrics are counterproductive and can lead to decisions and actions that are not beneficial to technology transfer activities. Success is measured by actual implementation of the ideas or technology by the industry.  The industry providing funding and support to a program or project is a strong indication that the activity has significant merit and potential for complete technology transfer. This metric is a function of the stage of the program.  The industry providing funding or in-kind services typically occurs during late stage programs.

Early stage projects no matter what the potential payout would not be funded by the railroads until there is a demonstrated potential for success.  Early stage projects or programs are defined as basic research which attempts to understand the fundamentals of railroad science or technology. Mid or late stage projects are applying the technologies developed in the early stages toward prototypes that can be tested and evaluated. The FRA does not fund projects beyond the prototype and demonstration stage.  Commercialization activities that turn the prototype into a product are done solely by the contractor or supplier usually supported by a railroad partner.

Below are the recommended metrics for early and late stage programs.  The early stage programs utilize effort based metrics while the late stages are outcome based.

Metrics to be considered for early stage programs;

  • Match to USDOT/FRA strategic objectives
  • Number of reviewed technical papers and/or conference presentations
  • Patents filed or issued through FRA funded R&D

Metrics to be considered for late stage programs;

  • Values of normalized statistical derailment trends
  • Funding levels or in-kind support provided by the Industry
  • Number of purchased, rented/leased systems provided by supplier
  • Number of new suppliers entering the market with similar technologies
  • Number of companies that utilize government furnished equipment
  • Number of track miles or employees covered by technology or approach

The effort based metrics data are internally generated and therefore can be easily collected.  The outcome based metrics can be much more difficult to gather. It will require information provided by the railroads and suppliers which may not be readily available.  Tight coordination with industry and possible rulemaking activities may be required. Further efforts will be directed towards the evaluation process which will better define measures for the level of success. 

As mentioned earlier, FRA Office of Research and Development focuses significant effort to assure that the ideas and technologies developed become useful tools for the industry. Technology transfer and business development has previously been accomplished through the FRA research program and will continue to be part of our mission.