The laboratory is a joint initiative between the University and the Canadian government, Alberta Innovates - Technology Futures (AITF), the Association of American Railroads (AAR), Canadian Pacific (CP), and Canadian National (CN).

The research chair is held by Professor Derek Martin of Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Alberta. It will conduct research specifically related to ground hazards and winter service reliability, issues that directly impact the safety and efficiency of Canada's rail network.

"Building a railroad isn't driving spikes by hand anymore," says Martin. "It's about the technology that keeps it operating 24 hours a day, the maintenance, and freight."

The laboratory will focus on some of the key challenges affecting the operation of Canada's railways. It will conduct research into ground hazards and will examine landslides, rock falls, subsidence, and erosion, as well as snow and ice conditions. Research related to winter service reliability will include studies of optimal materials, fuels, and cold weather engineering, avalanche monitoring and control, response to service disruptions and weather monitoring and predictions.

The Canadian Rail Research Laboratory will more than $US 5m over the next five years to fund its activities, including $US 1.06m from Transport Canada; $US 1m from AITF; $US 500,000 from the AAR; $US 500,000 from CP; $500,000 from CN and $US 1.5m from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC).