Canadian Pacific Railway is planning on moving 73 locomotive engineer and conductors jobs from Cranbrook to Sparwood in order to create a new crew base in the Elk Valley community.
In an emailed statement to the Cranbrook Townsman, the company said the moves are being made to adjust to changing business conditions and to more efficiently serve customers.
Once the move is complete, CP Rail says 55 engineer and conductor jobs will remain in the Cranbrook/Fort Steele area.
All employees affected by the plan are being offered relocation assistance and there will be no net job reduction, the company added.
The plan is to have the new changes in place in Sparwood by the beginning of May.
Local union representatives with the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference said they’re disappointed with the decision but do not wish to comment further as the move is being challenged through a judicial review in an Alberta court.
Dave Fulton, the General Chairman for the Conductors, Trainmen and Yardmen in Western Canada for the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, says it is yet to be determined if the changes will make the operation more efficient.
“This is a complete change of what’s going on right now,” Fulton said. “They’re going to have road-switchers’ jobs that are centred out of Sparwood and then take the train directly from Sparwood to Golden — a loaded coal train.
“In their opinion, it’ll be more efficient. I appreciate what their position is, but that’s yet to be determined.”
According to a retired locomotive engineer who worked with CP Rail for over 30 years, the proposed changes will slow down the movement of the coal trains.
Greg Champness, who retired from the company two years ago said he’s been involved in implementing these kind of changes before, and it made things more inefficient.
“At present, trains start at Fort Steele, go directly to each coal mine, and start the coal-loading process,” Champness said. “Then, crews are dispatched to each coal train by taxi from Sparwood and change crews while loading. This process is fluid and the trains never stop running.
Currently, crews are housed out of a field bunkhouse in Sparwood while on shift.
“Without any changes, trains never stop running and the customer is well looked after,” said Champness, “but with the new changes, the customer is going to lose their ability to ship coal on a timely basis because of trains stopping in Sparwood waiting for crews and lots of other reasons.”
Complicating the company’s plan to shift the jobs to Sparwood is a judicial review of the proposal, which was activated under a material change clause of the bargaining agreement between the TCRC union members and the company.
“I can’t believe they’re doing this again, disrupting family life, communities and possible service levels to CP’s biggest customer when it could all be overturned in court next year,” said Champness. “In my mind, the disruptive changes proposed and the fact they could be overturned in court, is not treating families very fairly.”
Labour relations between the union and Canadian Pacific Railway have been strained over the years. According to various media stories posted on the TCRC website, contentious issues include the use of company managers to run trains as well as executive compensation, as Hunter Harrison — the former CPR CEO — earned $18 million last year.