Karthik Krishna Kumar: Working at the heart of billion dollar projects

The Queensland Government’s New Generation Rollingstock (NGR) project is the largest single investment in trains that the state has ever made.

The Government is contributing $4.4 billion to the project over 32 years in a move that has dramatically increased the capacity of the public transport network in South East Queensland and has created skills and maintenance jobs that will endure for years to come.

For project manager and PMO Karthik Krishna Kumar, being at the heart of the project brings together everything he loves about what has already been an international career in rail.

“It is a challenging and rewarding experience in and of its own,” he says.

“The focus of rail is rightfully turning towards the user and great strides are being made the world over.”

Karthik found his career in rail relatively early, starting in the industry straight after completing his Masters in Global Production Engineering, when he took up a place with Bombardier Transportation (BT) in Berlin.

While the decision seems like an obvious choice on reflection, Karthik says his move into rail was really the result of “both planning and chance” after exploring many different industries while at university.

“While in university, I worked through 10 internships and jobs,” he says.

“Although it’s not the most fun way to spend your uni breaks, this exposed me to diverse roles and industries ranging from one of the world’s largest Ice cream manufacturers to gas turbine re-engineering.

“But after all the prep and interviews, it was decision time.

“It was either a start at a big three consulting firm or one of the best-known graduate programs in Berlin.

“After some soul searching and two great discussions with my future mentor at BT, the decision was clear, and I joined Bombardier Transportation’s 18-month leadership program.”

He says the program provided the ideal platform to launch his career in rail, allowing him to shadow leaders, take part in a bid and help execute a company-wide transformation program.

The company also supported his move to Queensland to take on his current role with the NGR project.

These days, Karthik is balancing his project management duties on the NGR project while also acting as its PMO.

“As PMO, I help ensure effective governance is maintained across all functions and lead the internal governance and reporting to our stakeholders and business heads,” he says.

“This involves audits, reports, presentations and calls with counterparts the world over. But it all boils down to how well you understand complex information and crystallize it into key messages.”

“To keep things interesting, I also handle warranty on Queensland’s 160/260 fleet and support larger claims and bids across Australia.”

He says the broad focus of the role reflects his view that his career is about “zooming out” over time.

“I started out in very specialised core engineering and thermodynamics,” he says.

“From there I moved into design engineering, value engineering, production systems and optimisation leading up to project management and PMO.

“Every step has helped in some way or the other.”

He says the project reflects much of what makes him passionate about the industry, with its focus on boosting public transport use in South East Queensland.

He believes this focus on rail will continue to be in demand as more cities look for sustainable and long-term solutions to meet their transport needs.

“My greatest motivation for working in rail is the fact that the product is intrinsically sustainable. The bottom line is that we have yet to find a better mobility solution for efficient mass transit.”

“The mobility industry is evolving rapidly spurred by advances in electric vehicles, energy storage, the internet and the internet of things.

“The greatest factor in my view for the future viability of rail is the integration of these new solutions into the rail ecosystem (or vice-versa).

“This is what excites me. Even while I am neck deep in project execution, I still take every opportunity to discuss, research and participate in talks on sustainable mobility and our invested future.”

As a young leader that is already working as a PMO on a multibillion-dollar project, Karthik says more young professionals are needed in rail to foster innovation and new opportunities in the industry.

“Rail transport is such an established part of modern human society and is inter-twined with its history over the last two centuries,” he says.

“The industry is not necessarily as dynamic or innovative as the tech start-up scene. But that only means there’s so much more impact to be made.

“For that, we need more young, dynamic and passionate individuals to innovate and drive this industry’s future.

“Another thing about this industry is the sheer number of people who are truly passionate about rail to the point that they exclude all others.

“As someone who intends to remain a student forever, it’s a real pleasure to work with such driven teams that cross the boundaries of organisational politics and put in the work to maximise benefit for the end user.”

And what does the future hold?

“I don’t know where my career will take me. Only that I hope to never lose track of what I set out with: To impact our world positively.”