History & Organization

The Transportation Research Forum had its origins in the late 1950s. In March 1958, a small group of transportation researchers in New York City held a farewell luncheon for a colleague Gilbert Walker, a native of England who had been on an assignment for the United Nations. More than 35 people turned out to hear Dr Walker speak on “Why Transportation Researchers Need a Forum to Discuss Their Work.” The success prompted railroad economist Herbert O. Whitten to ask if there was interest in future monthly meetings to allow others to speak on transportation topics. Thus was born the Transportation Research Forum of New York (TRF of NY), with Whitten serving as its first president. At that time, most of the major railroads were headquartered in New York City and their economists were frustrated by the narrow focus of professional associations which virtually ignored the unique nature of railroad costing and economics.

The American Economic Association (AEA) had formed a special interest group, the Transportation and Public Utilities Group (TPUG) in 1946. At the annual meetings of the AEA/TPUG in 1956, 1957 and 1958, transportation industry professional held informal get togethers to discuss industry topics. At the 1959 conference a proposal to interest TPUG in co-sponsoring sessions on empirical transportation research was unsuccessful.  At the 1960 AEA/TPUG conference in St. Louis, Missouri, TRF of NY sponsored an organizational meeting where the American Transportation Research Forum was formed. The word “American” was dropped from the title in 1964.

Annual conferences have been held ever since. From 1961 through 1963 they were held as part of the AEA/TPUG conference. In 1964 TRF split from the AEA and TPUG, although the annual conference was held at the same time and in the same city as the AEA through 1966.

A strength of TRF has been the local chapters. New York was the founding chapter of the ATRF. Local chapters in Washington D.C. and Chicago were organized soon after, and along with New York continue to this day. 

In 1965, Canadian members formed the separate Canadian Transportation Research Forum. The success of TRF led to the establishment of similar organizations in Israel and Australia and New Zealand, and to the co-sponsorship of an international conference in Bruges, Belgium in 1973

In 1987, TRF established a peer-reviewed academic and professional journal, the Journal of the Transportation Research Forum or JTRF. While JTRF has gone through several changes of publisher over time, as of 2018 it is available online as part of the Elsevier RETREC (Research in Transportation Economics) journal series (https://www.journals.elsevier.com/research-in-transportation-economics/).