Canadian National technology guru departing

Canadian National (NYSE: CNI) said it is confident that it can continue its momentum of deploying advanced technologies for its operations even as its chief technology guru prepares to depart.

Michael Foster, who currently serves as the chief information and technology officer, will be resigning from Canadian National (CN) effective Nov. 29 for personal reasons, the railway said on Nov. 19. He will move back to the U.S. to be near family and will pursue other career opportunities, CN said.

Chief Operating Officer Rob Reilly will take on Foster’s abilities on an interim basis while CN conducts a global search for a new chief information and technology officer.

Reilly has extensive experience in rail operations and field application of rail technologies from his prior position with Western U.S. railroad BNSF (NYSE: BRK), according to CN. 

The transition comes at a time when CN essentially has completed deploying positive train control (PTC) technology on its U.S. rail network and is now working on interoperability with the other railroads required to install PTC, according to Janet Drysdale, CN’s vice president of financial planning, who was speaking at Scotiabank’s transportation conference on Nov. 19. PTC is a safety technology that aims to monitor the distance between trains.

“I know the operating team isn’t going to miss a beat in terms of picking up the overall responsibility for the deployment of these advanced operating technologies,” Drysdale said.

Although Reilly is relatively new to CN, having just started on July 1 of this year, Drysdale said the newer members of CN’s operating team are working together with “long-tenured” regional vice presidents to focus on bringing six core technology initiatives to field operations. Those technologies include machine vision portals for inspections of rolling stock and automated track inspection cars that CN hopes will eventually help carry out more preventative maintenance and support CN’s safety and reliability agenda, Drysdale said.

Foster had joined CN in March 2018 as senior vice president and chief information and technology officer and was promoted to executive vice president this past spring. CN said in May that Foster had come from FedEx and had a background in applying artificial intelligence and data analytics to transportation logistics. Besides working on implementing PTC at CN, Foster was also responsible for working on initiatives related to automated track and train operations and mobile devices for frontline railroaders.

“I would like to thank Michael for his contribution and dedication over the last two years at CN. He has been responsible for leading CN’s digital transformation and important technological advances such as positive train control and other key innovation initiatives that are now well advanced. Michael leaves a strong team in place,” said JJ Ruest, president and chief executive officer at CN.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.