WINNIPEG, Man. - The rail industry has gone to great lengths to finance those attacking the trucking industry on the issue of Hours-of-Service, but a concerned railway worker has turned the tables and...
WINNIPEG, Man. – The rail industry has gone to great lengths to finance those attacking the trucking industry on the issue of Hours-of-Service, but a concerned railway worker has turned the tables and is sounding alarms over that industry’s lack of regulations.
“A lot of times when you see a train right now, there’s a good chance that the crew on that train has been awake for 24 hours,” says Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) engineer David Boyko.
The startling revelation comes as Transport Minister David Collenette has requested further discussion over the rules regulating rest in the trucking industry.
However, Boyko insists the problems plaguing truck drivers pale in comparison to those at play in the rail industry.
“The trucker can stop for rest,” says Boyko.
“If he wants to keep going, he’s doing that to himself. But we have no option. When I’m called for work, that’s it. I’m stuck on that train until I’m off-duty.”
Although long hours and unpredictable schedules are nothing new to rail conductors and engineers, Boyko says the problems were exacerbated with the introduction of Turnaround Combination Service (TCS) in 1995.
“With TCS, the right to book rest has been taken away from us and it has literally changed the face of what we do for a living,” says Boyko.
The CPR veteran has been collecting everything from accident reports to employee logbook records in an attempt to raise awareness of the ongoing problem he faces.
But so far, his concerns have been brushed aside by the company and union, who he insists are turning a blind eye to the issue.
“Where’s the union? I’d like to know myself,” says Boyko.
“What the railway industry needs more than anything else is another Hinton accident,” he adds, noting that sleep deprivation was the cause of the 1986 accident that claimed a total of 29 lives.
“That opened a lot of eyes, but 16 years have passed and the company seems to think that people have forgotten about it.”
Unless working conditions are improved, and TCS is scrapped, Boyko issues a grave warning that another accident could occur in the not too distant future.
He says there have been recent cases where an entire rail crew has slept through numerous alarms and warning signals, only to wake up after the train has already stopped itself during an emergency procedure.
“People have literally woken up in the middle of nowhere – a conductor, a brakeman, an engineer – all wake up wondering ‘Where are we?'” says Boyko.
“They never heard the alarms, never saw the flashing lights. The train has stopped and everybody is out cold.”
Boyko is desperately attempting to break the code of silence that looms over the railway industry, since that’s the only way he feels action will be taken to improve the situation.
“I’ve read enough stories about the trucker’s Hours-of-Service and airline pilots and air traffic controllers, but you never see anything about railroaders,” says Boyko.
“That’s because it’s a very closed shop and everything’s handled in-house.”
The company executives behind the boardroom table aren’t the only ones causing headaches for rail workers.
He says the rail giant’s attitude has transcended through the ranks, and the corporate philosophy has washed off on dispatchers as well.
He claims they often have to contend with unrealistic scheduling, and when asked for an explanation the dispatchers rudely respond with a blatant disregard for safety.
“I have a taped conversation with a dispatcher (who says) ‘I’m punishing you guys for booking rest'” says Boyko. “That shows you the attitude the dispatchers have towards us.”
In the meantime, Boyko plans to continue his crusade with the hope of increasing awareness of the problem enough to force the railway to address it.
The policy of silence Boyko describes quickly became apparent to the Truck News staff as numerous messages left for CPR’s official spokespeople went unreturned. n