Leader, innovator, visionary, passionate, caring and energetic are some of the words used to describe CP’s Railroader of the Year: Kyle Mulligan, Chief Engineer. With a Bachelor’s degree in computer engineering, a Master’s degree in biomedical and electrical engineering, and a PhD in mechanical engineering, Mulligan’s vision and leadership have put CP light-years ahead of our competition since his arrival in 2015. However, it is not just what he’s delivering for the business but how he is delivering it that made him the clear choice for the top honour of the 2020 CEO Awards for Excellence.
“The thing that’s exciting about Kyle is he’s not just enamoured with technology. His main focus, the thing that drives every decision and solution he puts forward, is actually to solve real railway problems,” said Scott MacDonald, Senior Vice-President Mechanical, Engineering and Procurement. “A lot of companies get caught up in the latest technology, and there’s a lot of hype around solutions, but they don’t drive actual results. What Kyle understands completely is if it doesn’t drive safety and productivity, it’s not worth doing.”
His patented algorithm, implemented in 2016, uses existing wayside technology and predictive analytics to pull cars out of service and repair wheel bearings before they fail online. The result? A 96 percent reduction in the number of over-the-road bearing failures and a 2017 CEO Award for Excellence for Optimize Assets. While these achievements are more than some accomplish in a lifetime, Mulligan didn’t rest there.
In 2019, he led the team that enhanced existing cold wheel technology to receive regulatory exemptions to apply the solution to other non-captive car fleets. Previously only applied to the coal car fleet, CP can now use the technology on potash and sulphur cars to monitor air brake effectiveness and repair cars as required.
Mulligan’s other key deliverables that are advancing safety programs for the network include:
- The airflow dashboard allows CP to monitor a train’s airflow as it moves across the system, and gives better visibility and control over train lengths during winter operations.
- The broken wheel detector currently being piloted in Calgary will help solve a long-standing industry issue of broken wheel failures.
- The top of rail scanning system under development will enable the quantification of track surface corrugation and drive targeted rail grinding.
- For territories not monitored by centralized traffic control, the introduction of an inductance based broken rail protection system for a fraction of the current cost of similar technology.
- The machine vision portal or photo gantry system, up and running on the Maple Creek Subdivision, photographs and scans trains as they pass by at track speed, enabling analysts to notify the field should they see an issue with any car.
“Many of these technologies that Kyle and his group are developing don’t come from other industries or suppliers,” said MacDonald. “These are homemade CP solutions that are going to drive vast improvements in safety and productivity at the railway.”
What makes Mulligan so successful is that he is a railroader first. He has immersed himself in railway culture and tries to solve every issue from a railroader’s perspective to ensure he is producing meaningful solutions for the business. He is a locomotive engineer that has qualified on more subdivisions than any other manager. He is a certified railcar mechanic deployed on numerous occasions to fix railcars across the network.
“If I didn’t have that training, it would have taken a lot longer,” Mulligan said when asked how he and his team enhanced the use of cold wheel technology. “When we started bad-ordering cold wheel cars, 20 grain hoppers were sent to Port Coquitlam, B.C., and the team there just didn’t have anyone available at the time to fix them. So we went out there and we fixed 20 cars and learned so much from that experience.”
Mulligan didn’t stop there. He continued to monitor the cars using wayside detectors to validate that the repairs resolved the airbrake issues while confirming that the entire cold wheel process was working as intended.
“Kyle was a great team member to collaborate and work through the details with,” said Omar Ashraff, Manager Operations Systems Strategy. “He’s got a great big-picture vision and it’s that vision that really helps bring projects like advancing cold wheel technology with multiple players through to completion.”
Mulligan embodies everything CP wants in a leader. He has absorbed everything he’s learned through Consequence Leadership and the Coaching Capability Program to develop and enhance the skills of everyone around him.
“He's driven to produce results, he's developed an exceptional team and he's always trying to develop himself. When you have someone like that who works for you, it makes your job really easy.”
– Scott MacDonald, Senior Vice-President Mechanical, Engineering and Procurement
“He’s built an incredibly smart, talented team, but they’re more than technologists. He’s developing them into railroaders,” said MacDonald. “He’s driven to produce results, he’s developed an exceptional team and he’s always trying to develop himself. When you have someone like that who works for you, it makes your job really easy. Then on top of that, he smiles all the time. He lights up every room he’s in and he brings this infectious energy to the group.”
Those who work with Mulligan appreciate the energy he brings to each project.
“Kyle is caring and he’s always sensitive to the team members he works with. He always greets everybody with a smile, and he makes sure that people have an understanding of the vision and that the enhancements he’s part of are bringing value to CP,” said Ashraff.
“He has a box full of ideas all the time. He constantly has thoughts on how to improve our applications or operations, bring more cost-efficiency into the systems and make things more profitable,” said Om Pandeeti, Specialist Business Systems. “You have to be prepared for him to pop around with a new idea. He’s already quantified the benefits, so it’s not a matter of if we’re going to do it; it’s a matter of how quickly we are going to implement it. He’s always keeping us on our toes.”
Now leading a team of 14 talented technologists, analysts and engineers, Mulligan is shaping the future of technology and safety at CP.
“I want my team to learn from my passion as a railroader,” said Mulligan. “I hope I’m showing them to ask questions and really push to implement things and try to make a difference. I want my attitude to be contagious, and for my team to absorb that passion and never stop asking questions and driving their creativity.”