Conductors learn the ropes on Alberni rails

The final group of six students from BCIT wrapped up its hands-on conductor training on local rails, just in time for the real storms.

Brandon Adano

The final group of six students from BCIT wrapped up its hands-on conductor training on local rails, just in time for the real storms to begin.

In total, 24 students from the school took part in the required course work in November with the help of 10 members of the Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society.

The local resources have been used by BCIT since 2006. Prior to that, the rail yard in Squamish was the training ground, but after a company change, it was no longer practical.

“When it was sold to CN, they wouldn’t let them on the main line and were confined to the rail yard,” IHS volunteer David Hooper said.

“Here the railway is not being used commercially, so the students can actually get out of the rail yard and practice switching, then take the train to a destination and bring it back.”

In the Alberni Valley, the students and IHS members also take advantage of the track being set on a grade, where they can practice setting hand brakes.

The students have access to two locomotives to help simulate a real working environment and learn to work with other crew at the same time. In addition to the large, first generation diesel locomotive, the students have been training on a recently renovated one that worked in the paper mill.

“It was given to the ISH and sat for about 15 years,” Hooper said.

“It was restored around 2013 and BCIT was the motivation for that.

“It is not designed to go 100 miles, it was used to push cars around in the mill.”

Student Ryan Bank, from Nelson, said his time in Port Alberni has been a valuable experience.

“I had no idea the course would be as intense as it is and how much knowledge is required to work in the industry,” he said. “It is absolutely unique because everything we learn in the course related to the job we get to apply here in the real world.”

By the final day of training, Hooper said the students are ready to share responsibility of running the train and giving instructions to the engineer, IHS member and Alberni-based instructor John Land.

Although BCIT pays the society to conduct the training, Land said the benefits are more than just a financial influx.

“It is good for the young folks who want to come up in the railway business,” he said.

Land said he is not surprised at the amount of interest the society receives.

“There are a lot of rail enthusiasts around and the major railways employ thousands of people, so it is big business.”

Bank is hoping to land one of those jobs when he completes his studies.

“I’d like to get into the industry and my preference is Revelstoke,” he said. “It’s close to home and from what I hear, it is a different territory all together.”