Working on the Busiest Railway Interchange in the U.S.

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Daniel Rappoport (CE ’21) has worked on railroad projects across the United States and is currently a member of the team at Gannett Fleming that is finalizing the designs for capacity improvements to New York’s Harold Interlocking, the busiest railway interchange in the U.S. 

Seven hundred and eighty-three trains cross through this intersection each day, and the updated track and tunnel systems will add new connections to the interchange while helping trains pass through more efficiently. 

The team is planning out how and where the new tracks will get placed, how they will get connected to existing tracks, and how construction will happen. 

“It’s very interdisciplinary. We’re coordinating between the structural team designing the actual tunnels and bridges, the traction power team because all these trains are electric, the signaling systems team who are designing the control system that’s going to allow these trains to pass without hitting each other, the drainage team making sure it’s not going to flood, and environmental engineering team making sure the impacts of this area are offset,” says Rappoport. “I really enjoy working with different agendas and different perspectives, and I enjoy being able to learn their language and talk to them in a way that everybody understands.”

While his portfolio is national, Rappoport has remained based in Chicago. 

“Chicago is actually the railroad capital of North America. So the way that people go to Silicon Valley to work in tech or to New York to work in finance, people come to Chicago to work in the railroad industry,” he says.

Rappoport says that in the face of rising fuel prices and global climate change, building railroad infrastructure is an opportunity to be “on the right side of history.” 

“Freight trains can carry a ton of cargo 480 miles on one gallon of diesel fuel. That gas mileage is completely incomparable to what trucks can do,” says Rappoport. “The other thing is that more people are moving to cities, so suddenly transit is becoming attractive. America has had a reputation of, ‘Anyone who can afford to, drives, and anyone who can’t, takes transit,’ and that’s a very toxic social dynamic. Now transit is becoming much more egalitarian and invested in. I think that’s good for everybody.” 

While a student at Illinois Institute of Technology, Rappoport founded the Illinois Tech Railroad Club, a chapter of the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association.

This helped him find internships where he gained his first industry experience.

“I spent a summer traveling Abraham Lincoln’s original transcontinental railroad, the Union Pacific, doing engineering work while riding freight trains,” says Rappoport. 

The following summer Rappoport interned at Gannett Fleming where he found that he enjoyed the design side of railway work. At the end of the internship, he was offered a part-time position to continue working with the company through his senior year. 

When he graduated, Rappoport was hired into his current position as a railway track designer. 

“I really enjoy the spatial relations and geographical elements of transportation and railway engineering. Being able to physically move things on a map and get tracks to fit and get trains to go where they’re supposed to in the most cost-efficient way is really satisfying. It’s like a slide puzzle,” says Rappoport.

Rappoport says Gannett Fleming has been a great environment for him to continue growing as an engineer, while also expanding other professional skills. 

“I have a really wonderful opportunity from my boss for me to sit in on meetings that she leads, and I see how this back and forth happens when there are multiple clients with competing interests,” says Rappoport. “Being a very patient broker between two clients and trying to satisfy both of them has been a really valuable learning opportunity for me.”

Rappoport continues to be involved with the Illinois Tech community and is currently co-teaching an Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Program course with Adjunct Faculty Donald Grabowski focused on railroad engineering, which he helped start as a student.

“Professor Don Grabowski is my role model. He’s a vice president running the entire department of track engineering at his company, Knight Engineers and Architects, and he teaches as an adjunct professor. I want to continue gaining experience in the railroad industry and be in touch with the current trends, technology, and issues, and to then be able to teach about them,” says Rappoport.

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