Keeping It Rail: More train conductors needed for GO Transit expansion

Part One in a three-part series looking at the process of becoming a Commuter Train Operator

Being at the helm of thousands of pounds of pure locomotive power is the stuff of some kids’ dreams. It’s an interesting journey to get there though and, for GO Transit train conductors, it’s one that always starts further back surrounded by customers.

In order to become a Commuter Train Operator (CTO), Bombardier employees complete at least one year, on average, as a Customer Service Ambassador (CSA) before being promoted. Bombardier operates the GO Transit train network.

Tyler Austin spent most of those 12 months riding the rails along the Lakeshore East and West lines, occasionally telling the odd ‘dad joke’ over the PA system. While sitting outside the Bombardier Crew Centre in Etobicoke, he spoke about some of that interaction with customers.

“For my last announcement, I said ‘I’m moving up and I’ll be waving out the window at the front from now on,’” he explained. “I had people walking by and walking through the train to make a point of saying ‘Congrats’ and ‘Good luck.’ One person even said, ‘You know we’re going to miss your jokes in the morning.’ It was kind of nice.”

Conductor School 2

GO Transit has just announced its largest service increase in five years. With that, Metrolinx and Bombardier face some unique challenges, including training people to operate all those extra trains.

“This is a particularly heavy year for hiring because we know that extra service is coming,” said Paul Robinson, Manager of Training and Customer Service with Bombardier Transportation. “We have to ramp up for that.”

Robinson noted that just one class per quarter would normally take place. So far this year, 72 people have already been trained with another 20 to 22 more before the end of 2018. On average, 500 people apply to become a CSA every time a position is posted online.

Austin’s experience is like many others going through the program but probably different in the most obvious way. He had no former rail experience before applying to become a CSA and is actually a certified firefighter.

He applied for the job thinking it would be a way to transition to Bombardier’s Aerospace Firefighting Team. Once he began interacting with GO customers, he said he totally “fell in love” with the CSA role and became totally obsessed with the head-end of the train. He knew, at that point, being a conductor was something he wanted to work toward.

Conductor School 3

“We have people from all industries apply,” Robinson explained. “What we’ve learned is that we want to skilled communicators. We can give them the train operation skills as long as they have the right attributes coming in the door.”

Austin is now in the midst of what’s commonly referred to as ‘Conductor School’ and he’ll soon be climbing into the cockpit of a locomotive as a certified Commuter Train Operator.

“I’ll never forget my very first interview as a CSA,” Austin said. “It was said that we are not hiring you as a Customer Service Ambassador. We’re hiring you because there something in you to be an engineer eventually.”

“You’re with a company that promotes you,” he said. “From a customer service ambassador to safety critical positions like a being a conductor. I mean, you’re moving trains with thousands of people. It’s crazy.”

Austin also has some advice for anyone who is interested in a fast paced, exciting career within the rail industry. “I would definitely say apply,” he said. “If you’re good with people and you have the drive, absolutely give this a try. Having a few dad jokes doesn’t hurt either.”

In order to keep all those trains running safely and on time, potential Commuter Train Operators undergo rigorous training and testing. It includes signal testing, time in a simulator and observation trips riding the rails. Austin’s attempt to become a CTO now involves trying to make it through the challenging eight week course.

Part Two of the Keeping It Rail series will focus on that part of Austin’s journey.

Anyone wishing to apply for a position, can visit the Bombardier job site.