Moshe Kam IEEE President
Official picture of Moshe Kam
Appointment of Dr. Moshe Kam to Dean, Newark College of Engineering
3 April, 2014

ENGINEERING AS A LIBERAL ART: an address to the Edinburgh International Cultural Summit (The Debating Chamber, Scottish Parliament; Edinburgh, Scotland; 14 August 2012)
14 August, 2012

Comments during the dedication of an IEEE Milestone on the World’s First Reliable High Voltage Power Fuse, 1909 (3 August 2012, Chicago, IL, USA)
3 August, 2012

Comments at the Dedication of the IEEE Milestone Mainline Electrification of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, 1895 (21 June 2012, Baltimore, MD)
9 July, 2012

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Comments at the Dedication of the IEEE Milestone Mainline Electrification of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, 1895 (21 June 2012, Baltimore, MD)

Ladies and Gentlemen, Friends and Colleagues:

I am very pleased to be here today – on behalf of the IEEE Board of Directors – in celebration of this, our 120th IEEE milestone in electrical engineering and computing.   It is interesting and symbolically important that the milestone that we are discussing today is rooted in the challenges that often lead to impressive innovation, namely economical competition and regulatory and environmental constraints.  The general notion of how important inventions and advances in technology come about is fueled by images from the popular media, and is, in general, very romantic.  The new idea springs somehow, out of nowhere, from the prolific mind of a talented researcher in a crowded laboratory, or appears as an instant ‘Eureka’ revelation inspired mysteriously by the elusive muse of engineering and science.   The reality is that some of the most useful, important, intellectually deep and practically significant inventions were motivated very differently; by money, by the competition, by local constraints.  This is not unique to our art and profession of course; the heavenly Goldberg Variations of Bach would not have been written had a certain Russian ambassador not ordered this music to soothe him during sleepless nights…and had he not paid Bach 100 golden coins for the effort…

In the case of the current milestone, two major influences come to mind.  One is the motivation for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad itself, which has to do with the competition with the Erie Canal (serving New York City) and a canal proposed at the time for Pennsylvania, the so called main line of public works, which would connect Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. This economic competition with other transportation infrastructure was strong enough to literally move mountains around here, and to provide us with this very useful (and very challenging to establish) engineering monument.  Like many engineering feats before and since, the work was not conceived nor performed by a single person, but by a very large group of engineers, technicians and laborers, the names of most of whom we do not know; and as is often the case, the work is not very widely known by the general public who benefitted and still benefits from it.  In fact I find it a bit ironic but still instructional to observe that one of the ways in which the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the one that is "Linking 13 Great States with the Nation,"has become better known by the general public, is through its presence asone of the four railroads that for many years have been part of the US version of the game Monopoly...

The second motivation for the project we are commemorating today is regulatory.  The very motivation for constructing the Howard Street Tunnel had to do with the fact that it was politically impossible and economically prohibitive to build a surface line through downtown Baltimore.  Then there was the problem of fumes in the tunnel, and that of a City Ordinance that prevented the installation of flues and vents to exhaust the heavy smoke produced by steam locomotives in the tunnel, especially when moving passenger and freight trains on the steep northbound upgrade… Suddenly the ability of General Electric to make electric locomotives, powerhouse equipment, and electrical distribution systems appeared very attractive, and the electrification project went underway energetically. 

It is also noteworthy that the technology that was tested here was only six years old when put to practice, as opposed to the steam technology that it had replaced (at least over a portion of the path) – technology that was around for more than 60 years at the time.  Not less remarkable is the fact that the new locomotives were supplied at the beginning of 1895, the feasibility demonstration was made on June 27th 1895, and the first commercial operation took place on July 1st.  It is hard to guess how much time would be required today to put such new technology into operation, due to changes in engineering practice, but also due to environmental and other kinds of regulation.  They got it done – from demonstration to commercial operation – in less than a week.

The dedication of the Mainline Electrification of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Milestonealso gives us an opportunity to reflect on the changing landscape of technology, from the days of steam locomotives, to electric locomotives (that still pulled the steam locomotives through the tunnel until the steam locomotives took over again), to dieselization that made the electrified locomotives unnecessary in 1952, to magnetic levitation technology which brings back electrification of the railroads in an new innovative way.  And… we get an opportunity to review the impact that IEEE and its preceding organizations, the AIEE and the IRE, have had and still have on advancing the technology that was required for railroad development and expansion.  We, IEEE, supported railroad electrification, and railroad technology in general, consistently and persistently, through our journals, magazines, conferences, special sessions and special issues for more than 100 years.  The earliest article about technology related directly to the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad that I was able to find in our archives was a paper by two engineers of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad Corporation, J. H. Davis, and G. H. Dryden.  Theyspoke at the Winter Convention of the AIEE in New York on January 1933 and focused on the Centralized Traffic Control and Train Control of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.  The earliest paper on railroad electrification I could find in our archives, out of more than 130 we have published over the years, is from 1907.  An engineer identified only as W. N. Smith discussed “Practical Aspects of Steam Railroad Electrification” at the meeting of the Ithaca Section of the AIEE in December 1907.  We published extensively on railroad electrification technology during the first three decades of the 20th century – including detailed descriptions of designs from New York, New Haven, Chicago, Detroit, and the Central Illinois Terminal. Fast Forwarding to more recent times, IEEE published the first article on Maglev Technology in 1973, and we have published more than 750 articles on this subject since then.  We continue to be at the forefront of Railroad Technology; we even have separate Transactions devoted to Vehicular Technology and another devoted to Intelligent Transportation Systems.  We continue to promote and support the field, regardless of the modalities that are being used or the type of fuel, and feel equally responsible for advancing the technology as well as for what we are doing here today – namely, preserving and highlighting the rich heritage on which we are building the methods that will serve us in the future. These are the methods that – owing to economic motivation as well as regulatory, political, and environmental constraints – would inspire the engineers of our generation to write their own “Goldberg Variations” on this important theme.  Thank you.



Davis, J. H.; Dryden, G. H.; , "Centralized Traffic Control and Train Control of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad," Transactions of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers, , vol. 52, no. 1, pp. 308-312, March 1933, doi: 10.1109/T-AIEE.1933.5056295

IEEEXPLORE database, keyword searches on “Railroad” and “Electrification”


Moshe Kam ( ) ECE Department, Drexel University, 3141 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, USA
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