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Dillon Consulting: Necessity is the mother of invention (and innovation)

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Paul Schaap
Paul Schaap


The word “innovation” enjoys a privileged position in the modern lexicon, connoting almost exclusively positive meanings. It symbolizes progress, forward-thinking, and creativity — attributes few could argue are bad.

But when we dive into specifics, “innovation” in the rail sector can look different depending on whom you ask. For some, a project isn’t innovative unless it presents a seismic shift in how we do business. For others, smaller advancements meet the appropriate threshold of forward-thinking. For Paul Schaap, a partner at Dillon Consulting (Dillon), innovation means all the above.

Dillon specializes in planning, engineering, environmental science, and management and has been active in the rail sector for more than two decades. They partner with clients to provide committed, collaborative, and inventive solutions to complex, multi-faceted projects. Schaap is a senior environmental specialist at the firm.

“I believe innovation is driven by need,” he says. “There’s shareholders’ need, regulatory need, customer need, and corporate drivers, too.”

These factors combine to encourage creative solutions at all levels of an organization — and this is especially true in the rail industry. At one end of the spectrum, CP’s hydrogen locomotive project is an example of massive innovation driven by the need for high efficiency and reduced emissions. But projects comparatively smaller in scale are also moving the innovation needle. For example, specialized hi-rail vacuum trucks are now cleaning up spilt grain on railway passages through the Rocky Mountains. Fewer Grizzlies and other wildlife find themselves in harm’s way without the attraction of a snack on the tracks ­­­­— a massive win for wildlife protection in the area.

These are just two innovative projects among many Schaap cites to make the point that innovations, big and small, are helping drive Canadian rail forward.

Schaap also notes collaboration is key when searching for and implementing innovative solutions. Several recent Dillon projects in coastal areas of British Columbia came to mind. Working closely with local Indigenous communities, innovative approaches to offsetting potential disruptions of track expansion with newly-created fish habitats resulted from integrating traditional Indigenous knowledge and practice with western science. The collaboration, new approaches, and results are exciting.

For Schaap, every innovation is proof of rail’s unwavering focus on problem-solving as a fundamental part of the job.

Strong, resilient, and efficient rail corridors operated by Canadian Class I’s and shortlines are integral to the Canadian economy. That’s why talented railroading teams work tirelessly to implement solutions in the most efficient way possible.

Whether delivering goods to the market or supporting Canada’s sustainability goals, Canadian railways are constantly innovating and delivering solutions daily.