Jan 11, 2007

Train engineer says GO changes unsafe

Last Friday was Dave Whitnall's last day driving the GO Train between Oshawa and Burlington -- and that's fine by him.
As of this week, the train engineer was moved to the freight division of Canadian National (CN) Rail, along with more than 30 of his engineer colleagues whose GO Train jobs were eliminated when CN implemented staffing changes Dec. 30.
"I'm glad to be going, it was getting exasperating," he said. "I was doing all the driving that was previously shared between two drivers. A 10-hour drive by yourself in any vehicle is not a good idea."
For his last shift on Friday, Mr. Whitnall drove the train between Oshawa and Burlington from 5 a.m. to 3 p.m. with no one to relieve him and no break except for the brief period when the train turns around. Before, he said the two engineers would take turns driving so the other could use the washroom, eat lunch or rest. GO Trains on the Lakeshore corridor used to operate with two engineers, a conductor and an assistant conductor. GO Transit recently asked CN -- which supplies the engineers -- to cut 34 positions as a cost-saving measure. Now, there is one engineer and two conductors.
The union representing the engineers filed a grievance, but a federal arbitrator upheld the decision last month.
Joe Lucifora, local chairman for Teamsters Canada Rail Conference for Toronto South, said cutting the positions could put passengers in danger.
"It's a huge safety concern. These engineers are on duty as early as 3:30 a.m. working up to 12-hour shifts," he said. "With only one of them where there used to be two, fatigue is a big issue."
Go Transit spokesman Ed Shea stressed rail transportation is federally regulated and said any changes must meet strict standards.
"Transport Canada wouldn't allow anything unsafe," he said. "CN has consulted with rail safety experts. We are confident this is fully consistent with safe train operations."
Mr. Shea said GO Transit regularly asks CN to look for cost-cutting measures, to help keep passenger fares and provincial subsidies as low as possible.
Cutting an engineer position made sense, Mr. Shea said, because GO Transit was one of the last in North America to put two engineers on a train.
CN spokesman Mark Hallman echoed these sentiments saying the new arrangement is safe.
When asked if the changes were to blame for two days of delays and cancelled trains on Jan. 2 and 3, he confirmed there were "teething problems" but assured that everything has since returned to normal.
As far as the union is concerned, this isn't over. Mr. Lucifora said a grievance procedure is still underway. In addition to safety concerns, he believes the new arrangement will cause ongoing delays, because two engineers are needed to quickly turn the trains around at Oshawa and Burlington.
As for Mr. Whitnall, he feels bad for his fellow engineers still driving the GO Trains and worried about the passengers.
"You're going 80 miles an hour with 2,000 people on board and you're stopping at the stations every few minutes," he said. "You have to be alert ... and that's hard when you're doing all the driving yourself."
Thanks to the News Advertiser & reporter Jillian Follert.

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