Meet Operation Lifesaver's Advisory Committee: Read an interview with committee member Jean Tierney

This week we continue our series of blog posts featuring interviews with the members of the Operation Lifesaver Advisory Committee. You’ll get to know the dedicated people who work together to educate Canadians on rail safety, with the goal of preventing railway related injuries and deaths. These committee members work to develop Operation Lifesaver’s national direction, set goals and priorities and offer advice to National Director, Dan Di Tota, on how best to develop and implement Operation Lifesaver’s programs. This week’s interview is with Jean Tierney, Senior Director of Safety, Security and Risk Management for VIA Rail Canada. VIA Rail Canada operates the national passenger rail service on behalf of the Government of Canada. An independent Crown Corporation established in 1977, the company provides Canadians with safe, efficient and environmentally responsible public transportation. VIA operates up to 503 trains weekly on 12,500 kilometres of track, and serves 450 communities across the country, from coast to coast and north to Hudson Bay. On when she joined the Advisory Committee and how it happened: “I’m fairly new to the committee. My first meeting was in September 2010 in Toronto. In 2010, I rejoined VIA Rail’s Safety, Security and Risk Management team as the Senior Director. Rail safety is such an important issue for Canada and for VIA Rail, so I felt it was important that I sit on this committee.” On the importance of spreading the rail-safety message: “It’s extremely important to me. I live near railway tracks; I have children that go to school near railway tracks. The railway is part of who we are as Canadians, it’s part of our history. I firmly believe that all trespassing and crossing incidents are preventable. So we have a responsibility to take every opportunity to raise awareness with the public so that they know that taking a risk is not worth it, the consequences are too dire.” On her love of trains: “I was fortunate to travel a lot by train when I was younger – short trips and longer distances as well. The train is the best way to travel - there’s the romance of the train and it’s the ultimate in relaxation. Part of our branding is that it’s truly relaxing but it can also be incredibly productive, if you choose to use your time that way. Everyone is connected technologically now, so you can have business meetings on the train, which I frequently do. You also have the opportunity to meet fellow Canadians, as well as visitors to Canada. And of course there are environmental benefits as well. I love it.” On one way that VIA Rail Canada is working to reduce railway related risks: “We have a crossing closure program that sees us going door-to-door to the properties along our tracks, on our infrastructure - normally we run on CN tracks but we do have tracks of our own. We’re meeting the owners of private crossings and asking them, if we observe that they’re not using their crossing, to close it. Every crossing we can close, the safer it is. There’s less risk that somebody will go around the barricades and there’s less risk that someone will cross and not notice that a train is coming.” On what she’s taught her own children about rail safe behaviours: “I have a 17-year-old son and a 19-year-old daughter. From the time that they were very young, when we were out riding our bikes, we did not take the path that went across the tracks. We took the tunnels, even if it took extra time. I also taught them to never rely on someone else to tell them when it’s safe to cross the tracks, whether on a road or at train tracks. You have to look yourself - you have to be in control and aware of your environment. You can’t avoid all of the risks that you’ll be exposed to in your life. But these types of things you can: you can choose to trespass and you can choose not to cross when you’re not supposed to.” On her experiences with the Advisory Committee so far: “I have a lot of demands on my time, so I have to make sure that wherever I go it’s value added, that it will make a difference. The meetings I have attended so far have always brought about some change that I’ve felt very good to be part of. Dan Di Tota is so engaged and passionate about this cause. We’re very fortunate to have him there. Together we’re effectively discussing the issues and being very strategic in how to use our resources. We’ve identified the best target audiences so that we’ll have the biggest impact. I’m just delighted with it.” On the common thread that connects everyone on the Advisory Committee: “One of the main requirements for being involved in Operation Lifesaver is a genuine care for others. We’re human beings first, no matter what our role is in an organization, no matter what company we work for. That’s the equalizer. I find that at this committee everyone is aligned in the same direction. We all want to raise rail safety awareness and prevent trespassing and crossing incidents.” On the importance of Operation Lifesaver’s mission to VIA Rail Canada: “At VIA Rail, we’re all about people serving people. Operation Lifesaver is very important to us because when there’s an incident it impacts our locomotive engineers, our service managers and our on-train crew - and they’re facing the public, our passengers on the train. When an incident happens, it’s such a tragedy and our locomotive engineers are greatly affected. They’re well trained, they’re professionals and they’re human beings, who are greatly impacted when something happens. And it goes beyond those who’ve actually visually witnessed it, if you’re on that train and you know why it’s stopped, customers and employees, it’s a very tough thing to deal with. The prevention aspect of Operation Lifesaver helps to avoid these incidents.” On her personal mission to spread the rail-safety message: “It’s all about the word of mouth - spreading the message and having an impact. That’s why I watch for every opportunity, personal or professional, and if there’s a chance to raise rail safety awareness, I do it.” Check back next week for our next interview with Chris Lungstrass, Inspector for the Ontario Provincial Police, Eastern Region Headquarters.