Union releases recording of ‘exhausted’ CN conductor saying he’s too tired to operate train


The union representing Canadian National Railway employees has released what it says is a recording between a supervisor and a train conductor who was being asked to move a train even though he’s exhausted.

The recording was released just before a tentative deal was reached between CN Rail and Teamsters Canada that put an end to a weeklong strike that was impacting industries across the country.

“This recording illustrates CN’s blatant disregard for the health and safety of our members and the public,” said the president of Teamsters Canada, François Laporte, in a statement issued Monday.

According to the union, the incident happened on Oct. 19, 2018, near Pickering. Teamsters Canada says the recording reveals a chief rail traffic controller (RTC) asking a conductor with over 30 years of experience to operate a locomotive uphill through residential areas east of Toronto.

CN Rail did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

On the recording, the conductor and the RTC can be heard going back and forth over a radio for several minutes.

“The engine is not working right, we’re exhausted, and you want us to move the train. Is that correct?” the conductor says on the recording.

“Yes, I want you to bring the train to the crew change out point,” the RTC responds.

Listen to the full audio recording as released by the union:CN Rail conductor says he’s ‘unfit’ to operate train7:37The union representing Canadian National Railway employees released this audio, saying it shows a conductor being asked to operate a train when exhausted. 7:37

‘Who is responsible?’

The two keep talking, and the conductor requests more than once that the RTC contact Transport Canada to ask if it’s safe for the crew to move the train.

“If I take this train now, and we hit somebody, who is responsible for that now? Me or you? I think it’s both of us,” the conductor says.

Transport Canada spokesperson Annie Joannette told CBC News in an email that the agency has not received a complaint about the incident.

Teamsters Canada announced Tuesday that it had reached a tentative deal with CN Rail to end a weeklong strike. (Christinne muschi/Reuters)

“We will not hesitate to act as required to enforce the safety rules under the Railway Safety Act,” she said.

Transport Canada regulations stipulate that railway industry workers can only work for 12 hours continuously before they must rest.

On the recording, the conductor says the crew has been working for just over ten hours. “My engineer is exhausted. I’m exhausted, I’ve told you we’re exhausted right from the get go,” he says.

The RTC responds that conductors need to be fit for 12 hours when they start a shift, and informs the conductor that if he doesn’t move, he would be pulled out of service and investigated.

In the end, the union said, the conductor did not move the train and was suspended for 14 days without pay as a result.

No one from Teamsters Canada immediately responded to a request for further comment.

Returning to work

The union announced Tuesday that it has reached a tentative deal with CN Rail to end a weeklong strike, establishing an agreement-in-principle to renew the collective agreement for more than 3,000 railway workers.

CN’s normal operations will resume tomorrow at 6 a.m. local time across Canada, a statement from Teamsters Canada said.

A statement from CN Rail said staff will return to work at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

The railway workers had raised worries during negotiations about long hours, fatigue and what they considered dangerous working conditions. CN rejected the union’s claim that the strike concerned workplace health and safety, suggesting instead that it revolved around worker compensation.

The federal government had been under pressure from a number of affected industries and provincial governments to help end the strike.

Details of the agreement, which must be ratified by union members, were not immediately available.

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