I was left dumbstruck when CP announced it was laying off 260 maintenance of way employees across the country. These workers inspect, maintain and change tracks that are damaged by weather, the passage of very heavy trains, or time.
My 20 years of experience on Canadian Pacific maintenance of way crews leads me to fear the worst if rail carriers slow or halt their rail maintenance programs. This is not including approximately 240 positions that CP management have opted not to fill.
This means, for example, that the Winnipeg rail yard, one of the nation’s railway hubs, will lose four of its track maintenance workers for an indefinite period. This is a very puzzling decision when you consider that nearly 80% of all railway accidents and incidents take place in rail yards and that dangerous goods travel daily through the Winnipeg yard.
I also learned that a number of maintenance of way crews have had their personnel cut in half on some Subdivisions. Meanwhile, train traffic remains, and tracks require maintenance, especially during the summer months, the ideal time to upgrade the tracks to prepare for winter.
To add insult to injury, Canadian Pacific management has decided that a risk assessment regarding these layoffs is unnecessary.
While it’s true some governments and towns have neglected streets and highways maintenance for years, even decades, unlike road networks, railways are unforgiving. Given the length and weight of trains, a poorly maintained track network is a sure way to heighten the risk of accidents. Just imagine a derailment in the middle of a city the size of Winnipeg!
Everyone agrees on the importance of thorough track maintenance. The federal government must step in immediately to bring this rail carrier back in line – if only in memory of the victims of Lac-Mégantic – to ensure the safety of Canadians and of every worker in the industry.
Gary Doherty is a maintenance of way employee with CP and president of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, Maintenance of Way Employees Division.