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More train pains

ATHENS, Ont. - The shocking Hours-of-Service policies that force Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) employees to work beyond their means reported last month in Truck News isn't restricted to the Prairies....

ATHENS, Ont. – The shocking Hours-of-Service policies that force Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) employees to work beyond their means reported last month in Truck News isn’t restricted to the Prairies.

At least not according to a former CPR employee who ran the rails around Smiths Falls, Ont.

As though last month’s revealing testimonial by CPR engineer David Boyko about the rail giant’s carefully guarded Hours-of-Service policies wasn’t enough, Derek Latimer, who served the railway for 12 years before recently trading in life on the rail for life on the road, has jumped into the ring swinging.

Latimer, who now hauls eggs for Burnbrae Farms, echoes Boyko’s sentiments about the dangers of Turnaround Combination Service (TCS), which he says could lead to disaster.

“With TCS, what happens is when you get to your destination, you don’t go off-duty,” says Latimer, noting that rail employees can log up to 18 hours of work in any given day under the system.

“TCS was a ploy that the company implemented to get crews to work longer and take away their option to book rest when they get to their away from home terminal.”

The controversial system was brought into play in 1995, and crew members say they have been forced to work long and inconsistent hours ever since.

“Hours-of-Service on the railway means nothing,” says Latimer. “The company will threaten you if you book rest. I know this first-hand because not once, but twice I was issued demerits under the Brown System of Discipline for booking rest.”

In Latimer’s case, it took nearly two years of hearings before the company finally admitted their mistake and cleared him of any wrongdoings. But by that time he had already earned those demerit points back by putting in an error-free year.

Boyko and Latimer have never met each other, but they are united in their efforts to break the code of silence that they say clouds the railway’s operations.

“Nobody in the real world knows what’s going on,” says Latimer. “They see a train go by, the engineer waves at them at the crossing, they blow the horn and that’s it. That’s how a train affects your life. Well, when you’re actually on that train it’s totally different.”

Latimer says it’s not uncommon for conductors to fall asleep while on duty, and it’s only a matter of time before disaster strikes.

“When you see a train crossing, especially at night, the chances of one of the crew members being asleep is quite high,” says Latimer.

“This is very dangerous as there are only two crew members on a crew. What happens if both fall asleep?”

Survivors of the 1986 Hinton, Alta. train disaster that claimed the lives of 29 people know all too well the devastating impact of sleep deprivation.

Latimer fears a similar tragedy could occur, if the corporation doesn’t change its way of thinking and act more responsibly.

He points the finger at lower-management officials who, although familiar with the difficult working conditions faced by front-line workers, continue to enforce authoritarian policies and turn a deaf ear to complaints.

“It’s almost like the company officials brainwash their lower management,” says Latimer, noting most managers cut their teeth by running the rails as conductors and engineers.

“A lot of them know what both ends of the job are like … It’s almost like they’re being brainwashed into thinking ‘This is the way things have to be done.’ I’m sure they must get a performance bonus of some sort.”

Although Latimer accepted a considerable pay cut by handing in his resignation and getting behind the wheel of a truck, he says he has no regrets.

“I was tired of the job and everything else,” says Latimer. “I like the transportation industry itself and trucking was right there. It seemed like the thing to get into.”

Meanwhile, CPR continues to avoid Truck News reporters. At press time, CPR officials insisted they weren’t yet prepared to respond to the damning allegations.

The union representing CPR employees was also unavailable for comment as Truck News went to press. Ironically, however, a link on the United Transportation Union’s official Web site which is supposed to provide information on a worker’s ‘Right to Refuse Unsafe Work’ is ‘currently unavailable.’

A cryptic message appears stating that information on the subject is being rewritten to reflect recent legal changes. n

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