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Teamsters want probe of CPR safety

(Revised) — The union for several thousand maintenance-of-way workers with Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) wants Transport Canada to probe worker inexperience and other “public safety issues” at the railroad.

The railway, however, disputes some of the claims in the union’s request for federal intervention, and points to safety records and statistics that it says put it among the leaders in the North American rail industry.

“There is a startling increase in the number of safety rules violations at (CPR) and workers and the public are being put at risk needlessly,” William Brehl, president of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, Maintenance of Way Employees Division, said in a press release from the union Wednesday.

“The union is growing increasingly concerned about the number of inexperienced and inadequately trained employees operating (CPR’s) on-track and other potentially dangerous equipment,” Brehl said.

“The problem seems to be especially acute in Western Canada, where the company is dealing with an abundance of new and inexperienced employees.”

The Teamsters said their call for a probe follows an incident near Fort Macleod, Alta., on Nov. 4, in which a rail heater unit carrying propane tanks hit a maintenance truck on the line.

“The driver of the rail heater had less than a year’s experience and had not been given (CPR’s) basic machine operators’ course,” the union said.

CPR replied Thursday that the operator in question was fully qualified on that equipment as of May and has logged over 90 days on the equipment in question, including 40 under direct supervision. The unit’s propane tanks were “not involved” in the incident, which the railway said was appropriately reported and is being investigated.

Moreover, the company said the incident in question took place at Okotoks, Alta., about 130 km north of Fort Macleod.

The union, in its release, also cited a B.C. court’s imposition of a $250,000 fine on CPR last month relating to the 2005 death of an employee who was sent into a tunnel to break ice from walls. The union said the employee lacked proper equipment and training.

CPR, for its part, said it has acknowledged the court’s sentence and will not appeal its decision. The court did, however, acknowledge the railway’s safety culture and record, as well as its co-operation with investigating authorities, CPR said.

CPR said it continues to encourage the Teamsters and all other unions representing CPR workers to make their concerns known and report any possible safety issues through a clear reporting structure already in place.

CPR said it has led North American railways in six of the last seven years in terms of the lowest rate of reported injuries.

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