Bid opens up for train crews due to ‘Fridays off’ problem

Most GO train passengers know that the employees on board do not work for GO Transit, but instead for the railway companies CN or CP. GO officials confirmed Friday that the agency plans to open up the contract for operating its trains.

The announcement comes amid stories that some CN employees have “booked off” work on Fridays, claiming they were tired. Most engineers and train staff work split shifts, reporting for duty before 5 a.m. Union contracts allow fatigue as a legitimate reason to book off — not unreasonable since nobody wants a tired employee operating such heavy equipment.


But how big a problem is this?

Because GO trains make several trips during rush hours, a missing train means riders have to cram onto the next one. Crewing issues were one cause of trip cancellations this summer, as were equipment breakdowns and police investigations after “pedestrians” were hit by trains.

A major derailment on the afternoon of July 14 helped give GO its worst summer for train delays. Trains were on schedule only 84 per cent of the time in July — normally it’s around 95 per cent.

GO managing director Gary McNeil states, “By far, the vast majority of rail crews that work for CN and CP provide an excellent service to GO Transit. It only takes a few to to spoil the image. The real reason for contracting out crewing is a business decision — to get more of a performance-based contract.”

An open bid could also allow GO more control in communicating to passengers on board trains.

It seems train staff failed to show up two Fridays and two Wednesdays in the summer months. CN Rail’s Mark Hallman tells In Transit, “The fact of the matter is that, year to date, CN is providing 96.4 per cent on-time performance for GO. The other fact is that in the past six months, CN has had close to 9,200 ‘crew assignment starts’ for GO, and during that period, it was unable to fill four assignments. So let’s put this properly in perspective ... CN is providing exceptional performance.”

Hallman says that GO wrote CN on Aug. 29 of intentions to seek competitive bids on crewing trains, “solely for the purposes of trying to have greater cost control. There was no discussion whatsoever about crewing performance by CN.”

The big railways might bid for the work, as could other companies like Bombardier, which took over rail vehicle maintenance for GO several years ago. VIA Rail Canada, which used to rely on CN staff, now has its own crews.