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Strike coincides with railway safety review
Source: Kamloops This Week
Published: May 18, 2007
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This week’s strike of CP track maintenance workers didn’t go unnoticed by a panel tasked with reviewing Canada’s Railway Safety Act.

The four-member panel, which is touring the country from west to east, was in Kamloops Wednesday to listen to issues relating to railway safety. That same day, CP workers walked off the job, including several workers in the Tournament Capital.

Although this most recent labour dispute is primarily about wages, a thread common to many such strikes is the issue of job safety and how to improve it.

It’s an issue the panel, led by former transportation minister Doug Lewis, will hear about frequently as it traverses Canada from Vancouver to Halifax.
Central to safety on the job is how to deal with fatigue among train operators.

Lewis laughed when asked if conductor fatigue can ever be solved by periodic reviews of the Railway Safety Act.

He said it can be improved, but added he doesn’t yet have any definitive answers, as the review has only just begun with consultations in Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver.

Fellow panel member Gary Moser, a retired CEO of the Health Employers Association of B.C., said railroad unions do have a stake in how the review unfolds, but noted it is not the panel’s job to intervene in disputes between workers and employers.

Kamloops railroader Brian Carroll, also known for his candidacy for the NDP in the 2004 federal election, handed in a submission to the panel that details how conductor-locomotive operators are trying to manage fatigue.

“Most train operating personnel are on call 24 hours per day, seven days per week,” the 29-year CN Rail veteran wrote in his submission.

Usually, he wrote, operators are well rested at the start of a shift, but there are exceptions, especially because train scheduling is often volatile.

“Conceivably we could, and do have, train-operating personnel who have been without sleep for over 30 hours handling trains that are well in excess of a mile long and over 10,000 tons with dangerous commodities on board.”

The transport of dangerous goods is a separate issue the panel will examine before submitting a report to Minister of Transportation Lawrence Cannon this fall.
“What we are transporting across the country isn’t logs anymore,” Lewis said.

While in B.C., he and fellow panel members visited the sites of several train derailments, including Lytton, where a train carrying coal jumped off the tracks last summer, sending several cars in the Thompson River.

Lewis said one issue the panel is likely to address in its report is how to improve the flow of information between various government agencies in the wake of a derailment.
The Railway Safety Act came into effect in January 1989 and has to be reviewed periodically.

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