Meet Rail Safety Ambassador Philip Jago

Trains have been Philip Jago’s passion for as long as he can remember. As a boy growing up in Prescott, Ont., he lived right next to CN’s Cornwall Subdivision line (now the Kingston Subdivision). Spending his childhood watching the trains roll by as he played in his backyard, he developed a lifelong interest in railways—an interest that has also made him aware of the risks surrounding trains and railway property.

Jago is one of dozens of Rail Safety Ambassadors across Canada helping us to spread the rail safety message online and in their communities. He spoke to Operation Lifesaver about his love of trains—and why he wants to be part our quest to stop rail tragedies from happening.

What has your involvement with the railways been over the years?

I worked briefly with Canadian Pacific Railway in Brockville as a temporary section man when I was a student. I was also a shed man in the local CPR freight shed, handling a wide variety of freight produced by the many manufacturers in and around Brockville at that time.

My academic pursuits led me away from railways as a career, but I’ve been involved with the Bytown Railway Society of Ottawa for 40 years. It’s a non-profit charitable organization set up to encourage an interest in railways and their history through historical journals, as well as through the restoration and operation of heritage railway equipment. Thanks to my involvement with the society, I was quite fortunate to have been one of the firemen on ex-Canadian Pacific Steam Locomotive No. 1201 from 1979 to 1990, which operated out of the Canada Science and Technology Museum for many years. In fact, I had the dubious honour of dropping 1201's fire for the last time following an excursion from Ottawa to Hawkesbury, Ont. I also worked as a fireman on the now-discontinued Wakefield Steam Train from 2006 to 2011. 

Why did you decide to sign up as a Rail Safety Ambassador?

I decided to sign up in early 2018 after seeing a notice on Facebook. It just seemed like the right thing to do. Railways are fascinating, but incidents surrounding them are very unforgiving. People need to be made aware of the consequences of their actions. 

I believe that when it comes to rail safety, it’s important to remember that safety is everybody's business and that we need to give a train the respect that it deserves. There are no second chances and eternity is a long time for a victim—not to mention the toll it takes on the families, first responders, train crews and other employees.

How have rail tragedies touched you personally?

Fortunately, my personal experience with rail tragedies is quite limited. But I did lose a school chum who was killed in Bellamy, Ont., in the early 1970s when the car she was in collided with a passenger train. That shook our whole class to the quick, not to mention the toll that it took on my friend's family.

What do you hope to accomplish as a Rail Safety Ambassador?

I see a real opportunity to spread the rail safety message, especially on social media. My Facebook posts are mostly about railways, and I have a number of rail enthusiast friends. By posting Operation Lifesaver’s messages, I touch at least 500 people. These people can then choose to share to a wider network, and so on and so on. This is a highly effective way of getting the word out, so I jumped at the Ambassador idea. The program helps me contribute a little by helping spread the rail safety message. 

Photo credit: David Woodhead