OL Supporter: Sheila Duffy from VIA Rail speaks to Operation Lifesaver

We at Operation Lifesaver have embarked on a new series featuring some firsthand accounts from survivors, those who work with people who have experienced critical incidents, rail employees willing to share their experiences, and dedicated Operation Lifesaver supporters. In sharing their stories, we hope that you will be reminded of the very real dangers associated with trespassing on railway property and behaving unsafely at highway-railway crossings. Please share these stories with your family and friends so that no one you love befalls a similar fate.

In this instalment of the series, we sat down with Operation Lifesaver supporter, Sheila Duffy, Senior Manager, Customer Experience with VIA Rail, who has been working directly with Operation Lifesaver since 2006. She talked to us about how being a supporter and advocate of rail safety is important in her day-to-day work and shared some of the great rail safety initiatives and achievements she’s been a part of.

What is your job in the railway industry? How long have you been doing it?

I am Senior Manager, Customer Experience with VIA Rail. This role encompasses responsibility in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and part of Quebec for:  all management staff who manage stations and their personnel, all on-board employees, all Equipment Maintenance employees (who repair, service and provide preventative maintenance for the trains), all locomotive engineers who drive our trains, etc. 

I have been with VIA for over 28 years, and have worked in many departments: Customer Experience, Equipment Maintenance, Human Resources, and Safety throughout my career at VIA.

How long have you been involved with Operation Lifesaver?

I have been involved with the Nova Scotia OL committee since 2006.

Why are you involved with OL? Why do you think it's important?

I am involved for a few reasons: first and foremost my interest in safety, as a VIA representative, and as a concerned citizen. I think it is very important as children inherently love trains at a very early age (the immense size of trains, the noise, the lights and movement – very exciting!). However, there is a lack of education and awareness of safety around railway tracks and property. What children see and learn is often unsafe practices – stories from their parents and grandparents about walking the tracks to school, placing pennies on the tracks to see them flattened, etc. These stories, along with what is seen on television, in movies, in social media, perpetuate the daring actions as exciting and adventurous, not extremely dangerous. I want children to understand the importance of safety while still loving trains and all that they do. 

What kind of activities do you take part in as a means of promoting rail safety?

My greatest achievement thus far has been initiating Safety Day at our Halifax train station. We have done this for six years now, and have had over the course of time thousands of children visit the station and learn about rail safety in a fun and interactive manner. What’s key is that they bring this information home to their friends and family, and help educate them on rail safety! There are rail fans (PDF) in every community, big and small, and the participation we have had for this event overwhelmed me from the very first Safety Day event. It’s what drives me to continue. 

What does rail safety mean to you? Why should the average person care about being rail safe?

It means my employees and colleagues can work in an environment that they love, and that they can provide excellent care and service to our customers in a safe and comfortable manner. Travel should always be an adventure, a time to relax, enjoy and unwind. It should never mean having to be concerned that someone is taking a risk that can adversely affect themselves, their loved ones and the lives of (possibly hundreds) of strangers for the rest of their lives.

If you could communicate one rail safety message to Canadians, what would it be?

Some of the simple messages/catch phrases we already communicate: “Anytime is Train Time”, “Look, Listen, Live”, “Trains are bigger, they will always win”, etc. Treat trains and train property with the respect it deserves. 

Have you experienced an incident or near miss? If so, how does that experience impact the work you do with OL? What should it mean for average Canadians?

I have been on the train when there have been near misses, and I have been at an incident site. It makes you realize that a second can change someone’s life…forever, and makes me continue to work with OL because there is always more work that can be done with education, awareness and training. For an average Canadian we can provide them simple rules to live by that can keep themselves and their families safe while still loving and enjoying trains.


Thank you so much, Sheila, for taking the time to share with us the important work you do with VIA and your commitment to supporting Operation Lifesaver. It is the supporters like you that will help get the never-ending message of rail safety out to the masses.  

For more information and a wealth of free online rail safety resources, please bookmark Operation Lifesaver, and share it with your family and friends.

Want to read more real life rail safety stories? Check these out:

As always, we would like to remind you to ALWAYS: Look! Listen! Live!