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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Structures and Dynamics

Picture of mechanical engineer inspecting a locomotive involved in a head-on collision
Patricia Llana, mechanical engineer with the U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s Structures and Dynamics Division, inspects an SD70ACE locomotive involved in a head-on collision. Rail accident investigations serve to assess the current performance of rail equipment, and are conducted in support of a passenger equipment crashworthiness research program funded by the FRA Office of Research, Development, and Technology. (Karina Jacobsen/U.S. DOT Volpe Center photo)

The U.S. DOT Volpe Center’s Structures and Dynamics Division improves the performance, safety, and resilience of the rail transportation system by applying engineering expertise in vehicle-track interaction, mechanical wear, fatigue, and fracture, soil mechanics, and vehicle impact energy management.

Some highlights of our work include:

  • Conducting rail equipment crashworthiness research since 1993, focusing on the types of structural modifications that can make rail equipment safer with a deep understanding of the factors involved in passenger protection and impact absorption
  • Studying rail and component structural integrity research since 1988 on rail integrity, heavy axle loads, rail grinding practices, alternative inspection procedures, potential benefits from improved non-destructive testing, and wheel performance
  • Producing rail tank car safety research and findings from full-scale impact tests in support of FRA since 1980, with a focus on puncture resistance, damage tolerance, residual cracks, and the structural behavior of tank cars during a derailment or collision
  • Conducting rail ties and fasteners research since 2007 on safety and performance issues 
  • Evaluating issues related to rail track buckling research through use of advanced corridor evaluation systems, appropriate inspection thresholds and guidelines, advanced instrumentation use, data analysis, and computer modeling tools

Our Capabilities

Engineering and Technology Deployment to Enhance Transportation

  • Assess the dynamic performance of ground transportation vehicles
  • Apply materials engineering principles to understand and improve rail component performance and tank structural integrity 
  • Plan, manage, and implement vehicles and rail structures, dynamics, and materials behavior
  • Interpret analytic and experimental investigations

Safety and Security Assessments

  • Analyze data from crash and incident reports, inspections, tests, and other sources to identify causes and propose solutions that will prevent or mitigate hazards
  • Focus on the types of structural modifications that can make rail equipment safer, specifically passenger protection and impact absorption
  • Conduct safety and performance research related to railroad ties and fasteners 

Meet Our Team

View selected staff biographies.

Brian Marquis

Chief, Structures and Dynamics