Recognizing Valemount, B.C.’s rail safety efforts

For more than 30 years, the Roger Cyr Award has been Operation Lifesaver’s (OL) way of saying “thanks” to the individuals who help us spread the rail safety message from coast to coast. Traditionally, the award is given out during Rail Safety Week to an OL partner or volunteer who goes above and beyond in promoting railway safety. But this year, an additional award was given out to an outstanding community. 
The town of Valemount, B.C. was the winner of the 2021 Roger Cyr Community Award. The town was chosen as the first community award recipient to recognize the steps it has taken to prevent track tragedies. Those efforts have been spearheaded by Councillor Pete Pearson. The OL Rail Safety Ambassador and former CN signalman spoke to OL about why he has pushed to make rail safety a priority in the town.

How close are the railway tracks to your town?

The tracks run right through a major part of town. The original village was built on the north side of the tracks and we still have what is considered a main street that is parallel to them. We have two gated crossings in the community, but those gates were just installed last year, which is huge for us. On any given day, I would estimate that we probably have a train an hour, because we are a major thoroughfare for traffic coming out of Vancouver. The tracks split just north of town and go east to Edmonton and the rest of Canada, and then west to Prince Rupert. On average, we have about 24 trains a day and this is actually one of the fastest pieces of track on the Albreda subdivision. So, train speed is 80 kilometres an hour through town. We have not had anything significant as far as fatalities go, but there have been lots of close calls and near misses.
What have you done as a town to try to make the community more aware of the hazards around tracks and trains?

I've done a few sessions with elementary school classes, which is always a fun part of the job. We also installed “Look. Listen. Live.” decals on the sidewalk at both crossings in town. We have a community trail that circles our community and crosses the tracks at both crossings, so installing those is important.  We also have a really good partnership with our local community TV station and they’ve been awesome about airing Operation Lifesaver PSAs and videos. And the cool thing is that our local TV station is available by satellite, so it can be seen across Canada.
What difference do you think installing the decals has made in your community?

People have commented on them because they are walking with their head down, looking at their phones, and then, all of a sudden, they see this yellow square on the road in front of them and it definitely catches their attention. That's been positive because our Bigfoot Trail gets a lot of foot and bike traffic. So, I think the decals have been a big plus in just increasing awareness in the community.
Is there a particular group that you really want to reach in the community?

Basically, the kids. That's where it starts, right? if you can hit the kids in grades four, five, six, and seven, and hammer it into them, hopefully you can change behaviours before they get too ingrained and too complacent.
How did you react when you got the news that your town had been chosen as the first Roger Cyr community award winner?

It was pretty surprising. But I am proud of the work that we've done in the community for Operation Lifesaver. You know, we do our part in our little town.