As Rail Safety Week rolls around, the Teamsters would like to remind the public never to approach tracks except at designated grade crossings. Moreover, it’s important to remain alert near tracks: trains can pass at any time, are quieter than ever, and can take kilometres to come to a full stop. Using train tracks as a shortcut, recreational path, or photoshoot location could result in serious injuries or death.
It’s also a moment for us to reflect on the broader, systemic issues that continue to plague the rail industry—issues that put both the public and railway workers in peril.
Each year, Canada witnesses hundreds of derailments, fires, explosions, collisions, and cases of runaway trains, often involving dangerous goods. In the past ten years, 21 railway employees have died on the job, and 110 have been seriously injured.
This year, we saw evidence of a systemic failure to protect those who operate our trains and the communities they pass through. Canadian Pacific was found in contempt of court after repeatedly ignoring orders to stop overworking train crews, a victory hard-won by the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference.
The science on fatigue is unequivocal. A railroader awake for 17 hours can be as impaired as someone with a .05 blood-alcohol level. Yet, thousands of instances still occur annually where train crews are not relieved from work in time. This is not just a violation of workers’ rights; it’s a ticking time bomb for public safety.
So, this Rail Safety Week, let’s broaden the conversation. Educating the public to avoid taking risks around tracks is important. But so too is holding companies and regulators accountable for systemic failures that put us all at risk.