Flood rerouting distresses train union

Train workers unfamiliar with a new route put in place after flooding in Alberta and Saskatchewan are jeopardizing safety, says the union that represents railway employees
Floods washed out this section of rail track near Medicine Hat, Alta., earlier in June. ((Submitted by Sue John))

Train workers unfamiliar with a new route put in place after flooding in Alberta and Saskatchewan are jeopardizing safety, says the union that represents railway employees.

Canadian Pacific Railway has had to reroute its trains onto CN Rail tracks due to washouts in the southern parts of both provinces. Torrential rains and flooding hit the region a week and a half ago, washing out railway tracks in some locations.

On most of the new routes, CP is using its own engineers and conductors on the trains, while CN's locomotive engineers are piloting them over CN track.

But untrained pilots are taking trains over a 418-kilometre stretch between Edmonton and Biggar, Sask., said Bruce Willows, general chair of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, on Monday.

On this route, CN is using CP supervisors who have only been given "minimal familiarization training" and have never travelled the high-speed, high-traffic route before, Willows said.

"This is not safe. Familiarity with the territory is an integral requirement in the safe operation of a train," he said in a news release. "Unfortunately, CN is placing its operational considerations ahead of the safety of its employees and the general public."

CN officials rebutted Willows's claims, pointing out that Transport Canada was satisfied with the arrangement on Friday, when the Edmonton-Biggar route began.

"All CP pilots are fully qualified locomotive engineers and given the same familiarization training that a CN employee performing the same duties would receive," said Kelli Svendsen, a CN spokeswoman.

A trained pilot accompanies the engineer and conductor on every new route until they're familiar with it, she added.

With files from the CBC's Andree Lau