Meet Operation Lifesaver’s Advisory Committee: Read an interview with committee member and co-chair, Mike Lowenger

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 the committee’s other co-chair (you met his counterpart Luc Bourdon in March 16th’s blog post) Mike Lowenger, Vice-President of Operations and Regulatory Affairs for The Railway Association of Canada. The Railway Association of Canada is the industry association of freight, passenger and commuter railways that operate throughout Canada. It represents some 50 core freight, tourist, commuter, and intercity Canadian railways, playing a major role in promoting the safety, viability, and growth of the railway industry within Canada. On when he joined the Advisory Committee and what his role is: “I joined the RAC in 1998 after 25 years with CN. When we moved to Ottawa from Montreal in 2000 the reporting changed at the RAC and I became Vice-President of Operations and Regulatory Affairs. My job was also to help Dan Di Tota manage his portfolio and give him direction from the industry. Really it became part of my job description to keep an eye on the Operation Lifesaver organization - to help it thrive, to assist in the governance and to support Dan from our side. But my job is not to diminish Operation Lifesaver’s position as an independent and arms-length organization in partnership with industry and Transport Canada. That’s very important.” On a real world example that illustrated to him the importance of rail safe behaviours: “My history with CN was in operations, mainly the engineering side. I was always interested in grade crossing safety and trespass prevention, among other operating safety issues. I remember in my early days, in the early 80’s, there was a production man who had about 40 years experience and he was walking along a siding and a train was coming around the corner and he thought for sure that the train was on the main track, not on the siding. The train kept blowing its whistle to say get out of the way and he kept waving, saying, ‘yeah I know you’re on the main track’ and he was run over. That was an employee! It showed me that no matter how much experience you have, the railway tracks are a dangerous place – especially if you don’t know what you’re doing or you lose your focus.” On why education must be included in the mission to end railway related injuries and deaths and how Operation Lifesaver is making it happen: “I would say that almost 100 percent of trespassing incidents and grade crossing incidents are due to failures in behaviour on the part of drivers and pedestrians. We can build great crossings, we can enforce, we can do all kinds of things, but the bottom line is that education, as far as I’m concerned, is the best way to teach people about the dangers on railway property and at grade crossings. So we have a wide variety of messaging techniques and outreach programs designed to reach people. I think we’re reaching about a million and a half Canadians every year.” On how he knows that Operation Lifesaver’s educational programs work: “Our statistics for grade crossings and trespassing have gone down over many years, even though exposure has gone up – more trains, more drivers on the road, more communities going up along the tracks. I’m sure a big contribution to that is Operation Lifesaver. Without education I think the numbers would actually have gone up.” On his experiences as a member of the Advisory Committee: “I could go on and on about all the great things going on. I’ve seen Dan and the Advisory Committee come up with a lot of great ideas. So many new ideas - that’s why we hired Dan back in 2000, because he is a modern thinker, very comfortable with computers and modern technology – so we’ve been able to do a lot of new things.” On his commitment to Operation Lifesaver and why he enjoys being a part of the program: “I love the program. I have lots of hats to wear in my job at RAC and I probably spend a lot more time on Operation Lifesaver than I should in terms of distributing my time. But it’s such an important program and for me, the best thing about it is the people who are associated with it. A lot of them are volunteers. All of them are passionate; they love to do what they do. Every time I go to a conference or I give a talk, I really enjoy the interest and the passion shown by every person involved with Operation Lifesaver, including the audiences.” Be sure to return next week for an interview with Rob Smith, National Legislative Director for Teamsters Canada Rail Conference.