A SAIT grad’s career in the railway

SAIT railway conductor alumna Toni Nicolas
Toni Nicolas and the track less travelled.

What happens in rail impacts all Canadians. If the shelves at your grocer and favourite stores in Calgary are full, you can likely thank a smooth (railway) operator.

Working in rail means you play a critical role in the proper functioning of Canada’s supply chain. The country depends heavily on rail to get grain and goods across country and to port, making trains vital to a strong economy.

Working in rail pays you to travel from the Northwest Territories down to New Mexico, and see parts of North America with a totally different view. 

“Tracks run through woods, mountains, tunnels and places that people driving don’t get to experience,” says Jason Purdy, chair of SAIT’s Railway Conductor certificate program.

A program built for success

Taking the newly revamped 12-week Railway Conductor certificate will give you the skills you need to be successful as a train conductor. Plus we’ll connect you to the industry and help you secure a job.

Look to Toni Nicolas, a 2017 graduate, as an example.

She found out about the program through a recruiter, who told her she should consider the certificate to boost her resume. She knew general things about trains and the travelling she would do, but the program taught her what she didn’t know, with a practical and hands-on education. Toni learned about train switching and marshalling (how you break up and place the different cars on a train), the physical aspect of the work (there’s walking, climbing and heavy lifting involved), how to communicate clearly via radio and the importance of safety. Instruction in the program is coupled with real-world examples to highlight reasons for the rulebook.

The pros of a railway job

Working in rail has proved beneficial to Toni.

 “I’ll always be grateful this industry has paid well enough in a job I genuinely enjoy while being able to support myself and my son much easier than I would in other areas of work,” she says.

Every single one of Toni’s classmates received the opportunity to apply, interview and test for big railway companies like Canadian National Railway (CN) and Canadian Pacific Railways (CP), many receiving job opportunities to pursue once they completed the program.

To do well, you have to be someone who can roll with the punches and adapt to changing circumstances, says Toni. You may work at different hours every day, and in all sorts of weather.

Moving around to different roles is possible too. From switching cars to locomotive maintenance, Toni’s journey has seen variety. In the past three years, her confidence developed as she’s taken on various roles, including conductor, locomotive operator and supervisor.

While she enjoys her job, Toni’s also thankful for the balance it helps provide.

“I’m very fortunate to have been hired by a company that allows me to put my family first, so having my schedule line up with those around me is a big priority,” she says. When Toni’s not at work, she spends it with family —biking, hiking or running through sprinklers in the backyard. 

Canada’s growing railway industry

CP recently acquired Kansas City Southern Railway, and is expanding service to Eastern Canada and U.S. ports. CN also announced a large investment in the provinces of British Columbia ($390 million), Saskatchewan ($185 million), Manitoba ($160 million) and Ontario ($430 million). This growth will mean more jobs too, and the Railway Conductor program  provides a foot into those opportunities.

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