WORK is in hand to draw up a technical strategy for North America's railroads covering the next 20 to 25 years. It is being put together by a small working group drawn from the Association of American Railroads, TTCI and its sister business Railinc.

The idea originated with a small group of chief operating officers after the AAR board asked them to investigate future research needs. It was quickly recognised that wider issues needed to be considered which involved suppliers and government. From this grew recognition of the benefits of a common vision to define railroad technology needs in broad terms. The roadmap project formally began in January.

The model chosen was Foresight Vehicle, the UK's national automotive research programme which has led to a number of advances in manufacturing processes and product improvements. Aimed at senior echelons of the North American railroad industry, the roadmap will be 'business-driven', according to TTCI President Roy Allen. To be finished by the end of this year, it will have sections on trends and drivers, goals and targets and the technology needed to meet the goals. A draft is due for completion by September, after which input will be sought from other bodies such as the Federal Railroad Administration and major suppliers.

A major factor behind the decision to look 20 to 25 years ahead is today's favourable climate for the rail industry. Other influences included growing concern about clogged ports and road traffic congestion, while at state level transport departments are starting to recognise that rail can play a bigger role.

How best to handle growth is of major concern to the railroads - even if they just keep pace with GDP over the next two decades, traffic could grow by 80%. A technology roadmap - which Allen says will be 'a living document updated every two or three years' - could prove a key element in ensuring that the rail industry stays on top of demand.