Zoo Train Challenge

What if Milwaukee area students designed and built a new steam locomotive for the Zoo?

Well, you can’t start by simply building a new steam engine, but you could prototype a process with a simpler project. We’re working with Coalition for Sustainable Rail, the Milwaukee County Zoo and partners from higher-ed and industry to develop a series of engineering challenges for area high schools.

For the 2018-19 school year we have teams from 6 area high schools working to design a replacement for the wooden water tower that services the steam locomotive. Teams will share their design decisions and approach to the project at a conceptual design review in December, and move on to detailed design in the spring semester. In April, a review panel will select an approach to move forward with that will be the focus of a boot camp over the summer to produce detailed design drawings.

Along the way, teachers leading the student teams will share what they’re running into as they guide the work. University and industry partners have stepped up to offer on-campus experiences to student teams that can help inform their designs. In the fall of 2019 student teams will work to fabricate and assemble the components which will be installed at the Zoo. What we learn from this process we’ll use to take on the next challenge– an automated coal handling system.

Who’s Involved


We’re working with a mix of city and suburban schools who are offering this first challenge in their senior level PLTW EDD courses.  We are delighted to have not only their participation but their support and ideas in developing the process.


Want to get your school involved?  Let us know.

Higher-ed Partners

We are grateful for the support of our higher-ed partners who are providing access to their expertise, facilities, and students to help our school teams.


Support the Initiative

Become an Adviser or Mentor

We’re putting together a pool of industry advisers from area firms and near-peer mentors from local universities to help student teams.  For details, look here.

Become a sponsor

We’re looking to cover roughly half the project costs through local funding.  If you’d like to help sponsor the project contact us and we can walk you through the options–  let us know.

Share your expertise

We’re working with other local partners to set up opportunities for schools to tap their expertise, through school based, or on-site workshops.  If you have an idea about how your company or organization might be able to help, let us know.