Each year, Villanova University's Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering offers a Professional Practices in Engineering course open to seniors of any discipline in the College. Designed to help soon-to-be graduates transition from college to career, a significant part of the curriculum is dedicated to a conceptual engineering project that tests the students' problem-solving skills. For the fall 2013 semester, students are working with the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) on a highway–railroad grade crossing study in Darby Borough, Delaware County, Pa.
Darby Borough's Main Street grade crossing project presents the DVRPC—and students in the Professional Practices course—with a highly unusual situation. Within the intersection of Main Street and Sixth Street, a single-track Class 1 CSX freight line bisects a double-track SEPTA trolley line. Vehicular traffic also operates at the grade crossing, and given the urban nature of the area and two elementary schools in the vicinity, there is substantial pedestrian traffic as well. "The Main Street highway–grade crossing is the only known grade crossing in the U.S. in which an active freight rail line crosses an active fixed-rail transit line where vehicular and pedestrian traffic are also present," notes Dr. Leslie Myers McCarthy, PE, assistant professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. "In recent years, both reportable and non-reportable accidents have occurred at this location, including some fatalities," adds department colleague Frank Falcone, adjunct associate professor. Both Falcone and Dr. McCarthy are instructors in the course.