Interview Spotlight: ZTR Director of Product Development, Viktor Gvelesiani

  1. How long have you worked in the rail business and what positions have you held?

I have been in the rail business for almost 23 years and was fortunate to experience a variety of roles – from technical support, customer service, installations and locomotive troubleshooting to product development, application and management. I spent countless days on board locomotives in many parts of the world and was fortunate to experience the life of many locomotive crews and enjoy their scenery; the view is breathtaking! There is no better way to see the beauty of our country than from a moving train, especially if you are fortunate enough to get a premium seat at the front!

  1. What has been the most significant change you have seen in the industry in that time?

The amount of grey hair (Gvelesiani smiles). The industry as a whole is getting increasingly younger. It is a great thing to see. And I believe technology is one of the crucial enabling factors in this transformation.

When I started in the railroad business, very few things could be learned in front of a computer screen. Knowledge had to be acquired through years of experience. The expectation was that the operator would know not only what needs to be done, but also how to get the best performance from the equipment. And that requires a lot of experience.

Today, when faced with a question, the first thing we do is Google it. Besides that, we now have the Internet in our pockets ready to take our questions at all times. We expect the equipment to be smart and intuitive enough to tell the operator how to achieve best performance and in some cases even take over control and do it automatically.

  1. Where do you think the future of the industry is moving?

I believe our expectations of technology are changing and are being shaped by personal electronic devices. They are almost invisible, they are very intuitive, customization and give us access to the information we need at the right time. And these expectations will continue to transform the industry. The most significant and the most amazing things will come from the interaction. Not only the interaction between humans, and computers, but also the interactions between various technologies. The Internet of Things is a popular term that describes how various pieces of technology can interact with each other, provide the right information, in the correct amount and at the right time to the people to make the best decisions possible. I think this integration of technology and human interaction is going to shape our industry.

  1. You have travelled extensively in your rail career, where has been your favourite place to do business and why?

Do I have to pick just one? I have fond memories from America, Canada, Australia, South Africa and Europe. One thing remains the same regardless of where the railroad is:  You need to arrive at the test site early, if you are even a minute late, the train is already gone.

  1. Tell us something people may not know about you.

I started my career in electronics design for applications where size really matters. The largest motor I had dealt with at that time was less than 0.5 HP. My grandfather didn’t work on an old railroad, nor did any of my relatives. In fact, it never even occurred to me to question how these things work – something I naturally wonder every time I send an e-mail.

But from the time I first set my foot on board a locomotive, I got hooked. Not just by the door latch (another broad Gvelesiani grin). I quickly realized that railroading was not only about big engines, heavy trains, really uncomfortable cabs and billions of tons of coal and oil… it was just as much about the spirit of its seekers and discoverers that built this industry and our country for that matter. And it is that spirit, living in people who dare to follow their dreams no matter how impossible they seem, that continues to excite new generations of young people. Keeping this spirit alive is all we have to do. Pretty simple.

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