Recognizing Operation Lifesaver Rail Safety Ambassador Bart MacMillan

Reducing the number of Canadians seriously injured or killed in railway trespassing and crossing incidents is Operation Lifesaver’s mission—but achieving it is a team effort. We rely on the rail industry, governments, police, unions, and the media to help ensure Canadians are aware of the hazards surrounding railway property and trains. We also depend on dedicated volunteers like Bart MacMillan.
MacMillan has been involved in railway policing in British Columbia for almost 40 years, first with BC Rail and now with CN. He is a constable and community service officer for CN’s Pacific Division. He has also been an Operation Lifesaver (OL) volunteer for almost as long as he has worked in the rail industry, and is currently a member of OL’s BC provincial committee.
During Rail Safety Week, we had the chance to recognize his contribution by presenting him with the 2017 Roger Cyr Award for Public Rail Safety. Named after the founder of OL Canada, this award is given to Operation Lifesaver partners and volunteers who go above and beyond when it comes to promoting railway safety and encouraging others to do the same.
We spoke with MacMillan after he received the award in September to find out why he has spent almost four decades spreading the rail safety message, both in his job and as an OL Rail Safety Ambassador.
What are some of the things that make you shake your head every day in your job?
It’s watching the people at the crossings. I’ll ask them: “Why are you walking down the right of way?” and they’ll say, “Oh, I’m just walking my dogs.” This type of thing.
Everybody is in such a hurry. They have to get across the railway crossing before the gates come down, or get through that traffic light before it changes. I want to say to them: “Wake up! Trains are going a lot faster than they appear to be.”
Have the trains themselves changed in your 40 years of railway policing? If so, how does that change what you notice as far as railway incidents?
Trains have become longer. Rail companies aren’t necessarily running as many trains as they once did, but the trains they are running are longer. So, people start getting impatient and looking for more ways to circumvent the crossings.
They might deke down a street thinking they can get across the tracks before the train comes, not realizing the train is probably blocking that crossing as well. When the train stops at a crossing for too long, for whatever reason—it might be to move a switch to get into a yard, or something along those lines—people will start climbing the train to get to the other side. They’ll climb between or over the container trains. That’s what I see the most.
When you see people doing things like this, what goes through your mind?
I think, “If only you knew the tragic outcomes I’ve seen with people doing exactly that.” I’ve seen too many people get killed or lose a limb. It’s like they aren’t thinking. They’re in a hurry to get somewhere. They want to carry on with their day. They don’t want this delay and the train is disrupting their plans.
Are there particular incidents over the years that have really stayed with you?
Yes, there was one incident in my BC Rail days, in North Vancouver. A CN train that was pulling into the CN/BCR interchange had to stop briefly to move a switch—and it was only briefly. At that particular crossing, as soon as it is blocked by a stopped train, pedestrian and vehicular traffic just comes out of nowhere.
In this instance, I guess what had happened was that the train had stopped briefly and two males didn’t want to wait. One got up on the flap car to get to the other side, but hadn’t jumped off the train yet. His friend was just about to step onto the train when it jerked forward and started to move. He was able to jump out of the way, but the first man—the one who was already on top of the car—lost his balance and went under the wheels. He died. That’s one I remember.
When you talk to people in the community about rail safety, what do you hope they take away?
That they need to “look, listen and live.” That they need to play it safe near tracks. Whether they just happen to be walking near the tracks, or if they’re crossing, I hope they do the proper and safe thing: Look listen, live.