A.Scheffer Lang, a founding member of the MIT Center for Transportation Studies and a longtime critic of traditional mass transit policies, died at home in St. Paul, Minn., on Jan. 14 after a long battle with cancer. He was 75.
Lang, known as "Shef," earned the S.B. (1949) and S.M. (1961) in civil engineering from MIT and served on the faculty from 1956-61. He returned in 1969 as a visiting professor, directing transportation activities in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, and became a professor the next year. The Center for Transportation Studies (now the Center for Transportation and Logistics) was created in 1973.
"Shef Lang was my mentor at MIT when I was a very wet-behind-the-ears assistant professor," said Joseph M. Sussman, the JR East Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and Engineering Systems. "He got me involved in the freight railroad field and generously gave me a great deal more of the credit than I deserved.
"His conceptualization of MIT's Center for Transportation Studies was fundamental to its success. For clear thinking on transportation matters, the world went to Shef."
An expert in railroad economics, technology and policy, Lang pioneered the use of computers in railroad operations. He was deputy undersecretary of commerce for transportation research from 1965 to 1967, at which time the Department of Transportation was established and he became the nation's first federal railroad administrator. He later was a senior researcher at the Association of American Railroads.
After receiving the bachelor's degree, he worked for the Denver and Rio Grande Railroads, served in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and did graduate work at Yale University. Lang conceived, designed and implemented the first real-time operating data system in the rail industry while director of data systems for the New York Central Railroad from 1961 to 1965.
He is survived by his mother, Theodora H. Lang of Wayzata, Minn.; his wife of 13 years, Patricia Hart of St. Paul; four children, Sarah Sponheim, Jeremy Lang and William Lang of Minneapolis and Phoebe Atwater of San Francisco; four stepchildren and eight grandchildren. Services were held at the Olivet Congregational Church in St. Paul.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 29, 2003.