Safety issue divides rail family
Published: January 10, 2008
Source: Toronto Star - Greg Gormick
If you want to make a railroader howl, criticize their railway's
I've never met a good one who advocates skimping on safety to boost the
bottom line. That's the railway culture. At Canadian Pacific, this is
reflected in its cardinal rule: "No job on our railway will ever be so
important that we can't take the time to do it safely."
CP employees will tell you they take pride in the safety improvements
resulting from that management-endorsed rule. Some of them will also
tell you they're currently concerned about their colleagues at another
railway, which they always refer to as Brand X. It has been having
trouble of late: Five freight derailments in Northern Ontario, another
on the prairies and a lengthy list of high-profile accidents over the
last three years.
This is making some CP folks hotter than a dining car kitchen at
mealtime – not that they'll say anything for publication. As in most
professions, it's a point of honour that one railroader never publicly
criticizes another, even a competitor. When trouble pulls in, the
railway family bands together for the good of railroading. But at a time
when they're promoting rail as the safe, efficient and environmentally
wise route to the future, there is much consternation inside the family.
The CP crowd feels they are getting tarred with Brand X's safety brush.
This isn't just about safety for one railway's sake. Our rail system is
an interconnected web of steel that is neighbour to millions of
Canadians. They must all be safe if they are going to collectively earn
the right to move the goods that stoke our country's firebox. CP went
through its own ordeal-by-fire with the 1979 Mississauga derailment and
has had a few reminders since. It knows the price you pay for letting
the safety culture slip.
The public does have a say in this. We have oversight through Transport
Canada's Rail Safety Directorate and it has voiced its concerns about
Brand X's performance.
In 2006, the directorate produced an exhaustive report on the situation.
Because of its complex nature, I think it went over the heads of most
non-railroaders. But it contains one easy-to-understand finding that is
While Brand X managers said they made safety a priority, the
investigators reported "this contrasts with the view of many employees
and some front-line supervisors interviewed, who report that they feel
pressured – productivity, workload, fear of discipline – to get the job
done, which could compromise safe railway operations."
The directorate reported Brand X was making progress in correcting many
of the physical problems coupled to this string of accidents. But
progress was lacking on the railway's safety culture improvement
Rail safety is not just a matter of bandaging your physical flaws with
cash. If management and labour aren't working harmoniously to safely
move huge volumes of freight with heavy equipment over tough terrain,
all your spending goes for naught. Above all, the people who make the
trains roll need to believe the front office is committed to a culture
of safety first and stockholder dividends second. History has proved the
safest railway is also the most profitable.
It appears our government watchdogs may need to hop aboard Brand X
again. They should also take along copies of that CP safety policy.
Brand X executives should be told these aren't just words to be tacked
up on the roundhouse wall; they must become everyone's culture,
Nothing would please CP employees more – one competitive railroader to
Greg Gormick is a Toronto transportation writer who served on the
Minister of Transport's Steering Committee on a Railway Safety Act in