By David Finlayson, June 29, 2010
EDMONTON — CN says there is no safety issue with CP management acting as pilots on trains rerouted to CN tracks between Edmonton and Biggar, Sask.

The Teamsters Canada Rail Conference has asked federal Transport Minister John Baird to launch an investigation into the practice, which it says is putting the public and employees at risk.

CP is rerouting trains to CN tracks because of flooding in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, and the 416-kilometre stretch from Edmonton to Biggar is the only one where CN pilots are not being used.

CN claims a shortage of engineers has forced them to use CP management, but the company rejected union concessions that would have provided sufficient pilots for all the rerouted trains, TCRC general chairman Bruce Willows said.

CP crews normally work shorter runs — about 210 kilometres — than CN, and the Edmonton-Biggar stretch is a very long run even by CN standards, he said.

“Fatigue and attentiveness become critical factors, especially as it is a high-speed run with 60 m.p.h. track in this territory.”

The slightest mistake can have catastrophic consequences in a safety critical industry, and there have been more than 10,000 rail accidents in Canada since 1999, Willows said.

“This is simply unacceptable. We need CN to make safety a priority, not an option.”

“Unfortunately, CN is placing its operational considerations ahead of safety of its employees and the general public.”

CN spokeswoman Kelly Svendsen said the CP managers are all qualified as conductors and engineers, and were given the same familiarization training as CN employees would get in the same situation.

“Absolutely we have fully qualified engineers and pilots on that subsection.”

CN got approval from Transport Canada prior to starting to use the CP managers last Friday, Svendsen said.

They are all being used on the same subsection, so they are familiar with the line, she said.

On the other stretches, rerouted trains are using CP conductors and engineers, and CN pilots.

Svendsen said rerouting is a common practice in such situations, and the two companies already have a track-sharing agreement between Kamloops and Vancouver.

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