Jeremy Best has only been a CN conductor in Alberta for the past two years, but in his short career he has already seen too many close calls. He knows all too well the risks people take around tracks and trains—and the tragic consequences.
Best is one of dozens of Rail Safety Ambassadors across Canada helping Operation Lifesaver (OL) spread the rail safety message online and in their communities. He spoke to OL about why he wants to be part of our quest to stop rail tragedies from happening.
What kind of things have you seen in the last two years that have surprised—or alarmed—you?
As a conductor with CN, I see first-hand the mistakes that people make when they don’t follow the rules. It’s the risks that people are willing to take to shave a few seconds off their day that really surprise me. It’s really not worth it. Some of these trains are 18,000 tonnes, and they can be going more than 90 kilometres an hour.
For one thing, it’s an illusion as to how fast the train is going. I’ve seen it myself—standing there waiting to do a roll-by inspection on a train. You don’t know how fast they’re going until they’re right beside you.
All the time, I see people jump the crossing or walk down the tracks without any discretion of what could be coming—it’s really scary.
Can you give me some specific examples of the kinds of risky behaviour you see every day?
One example sticks in my mind…We were coming through a town, the first year of my career. It was about 5:30 in the morning and it was still kind of dusk out. We saw this figure standing on what we thought was either the rail or just beside it. As we got closer, we realized that the person was standing on the outside of the rail. But there is still two feet of overhang on the locomotive, so it wouldn’t have done him any good that he wasn’t on the rail itself. He was just walking down the tracks. And he just did not want to move. It was just terrifying. We didn’t hit him, but we could have. You’d think you’d see a train coming and you would leave, but it’s almost like some people don’t give trains the respect they are due.
In that town, there are a lot of trails that people use and some people walk across the tracks as a shortcut. But they are taking a huge risk. Honestly, if you think it is a shortcut, it’s a quick way to get to the hospital, that’s for sure.
In the two years you’ve been working with CN, have there been tragedies?
Yes. A close friend of mine was the engineer operating the train that actually hit and killed a person not too long ago. I wasn’t on the train at the time, but I heard that it was a younger person who potentially was intoxicated and they thought it was a good idea to play around the tracks. My understanding is that they were playing chicken with the train.
What impact has that incident had on your friend who was the locomotive engineer?
A huge impact. Huge impact. He was off work for quite some time. Mentally, it really takes a toll on the crew. Whether it’s a close call or an actual incident, it really shakes you up and I don’t think a lot of people realize that. I hope that there’s some good common sense out there that it’s not just the person who was hit by the train who is affected; it’s also the crew that couldn’t do anything to stop it. They take on a lot of the emotional toll.
What would you like to tell people who think about taking risks around train tracks?
Just stay away. Stay away. I can’t stress it enough. You wouldn’t go hang around an airplane runway, why do you think that playing around train tracks is any better? It’s not like trains are brand new. They’ve been around for hundreds of years, so I don’t understand it. It’s a risk. It’s a huge risk.