What exactly happened at GO Transit last week, and how likely is it to happen again?
The impression among many is that the regional transit agency has a serious labour relations problem, after disruptions affected train and bus service around the New Year’s Day holiday.
In the last days of December, a federal arbitrator ruled CN Rail could remove one of two locomotive engineer positions on GO Transit trains operated by the railway.
Several scheduled runs on GO’s principal Lakeshore route were cancelled or delayed over the following days, including on the morning of Tuesday, Jan. 2 — the first day back to work for many GTA commuters.
Train riders who subscribe to GO’s e-mail warning service were told of cancellations due to "crew" issues.
Several GO bus routes were also cancelled that morning because there weren’t enough employees to drive them. Bus operators belong to a different union than the train crews, but some observers became suspicious of the timing.
According to GO’s managing director Gary McNeil, the bus problems were due to a holiday-related scheduling scramble, exacerbated by an ongoing lack of trained drivers and the fact that some employees had reached their maximum allowable driving hours when buses replaced cancelled trains during the New Year’s weekend.
As for the train crew shortages, CN spokesperson Mark Hallman maintains they were due to "teething problems" and "work-to-rule behaviour," but he says regular operations have since resumed. Thirty-four locomotive engineer positions were eliminated by CN, and while these workers will find spots elsewhere in the company, many of them had worked on GO trains for decades. Engineers prefer the regular shift schedules, even if they have to report for work as early as 3:30 a.m.
Union representative Joe Lucifora says that since the arbitrator allowed the cuts to go ahead, a grievance process is now underway. He believes that having only one person who is trained to operate the train is an "extreme safety issue."
While all other GO lines rely on a single engineer, he says the Lakehore route is too busy to allow the same practice.
Of last week’s problems, he says that CN did not fully anticipate how the crew changes would affect service. Lucifora rejects the contention that employees engaged in "work-to-rule behaviour." Because his union is in a grievance procedure, he says any labour action "would not reflect very well on us legally."
When asked about crew-related issues affecting future service, he told In Transit, "I don’t see any real delays to the riders."