BC Institute of Technology (BCIT) train conductor students are back for the seventh run of on-the-job training in Port Alberni.
Two groups of seven students from the Lower Mainland are in the Alberni Valley this week to take four-day practicums as part of their program, Industrial Heritage Society volunteer Kevin Hunter said.
The IHS coordinates the logistics of the practicum, and provides track preparation and safety monitoring during the sessions.
Port Alberni is the primary location for student practicums. Squamish is used as a secondary location when there are larger numbers of students.
The groups will be working 10-hour days over four days to complete their 40-hour practicum requirements, Hunter said.
“We do safety orientation on day one but from day two on they’re running trains between the roundhouse and McLean Mill,” he said.
It’s the seventh year the partnership between the IHS and BCIT has brought students to Alberni.
At 14 students, this week’s class is the smallest offering in the history of the program. As well, all of the students are male, which is an anomaly, Hunter said.
“Usually there are one or two female students. I don’t know why there aren’t any this year.”
The smaller group surprises Hunter because of the demographic shift in the rail industry.
“There are a lot of baby boomers who will be retiring out and need to be replaced,” he said. “They’re going to need people to get into the industry.”
Working with trains is a dream come true for one candidate. “I was obsessed with trains growing up so is this my dream job — gee, what do you think?” said student Zach Ozeg.
The 18-year-old Ozeg grew up in Ladner, B.C. where he graduated from Delta Secondary School in 2012.
Ozeg worked in a warehouse since graduation but said he really hasn’t done much since.
Ozeg loved trains while growing up. His first memory of a train is riding to Squamish as a three-year-old with his parents. He even had a large track and car layout in his room.
Most of Ozeg’s high school peers have moved on, some working others going to college and university. He never felt left out though. “I never really had any close friends. People thought my obsession with trains was strange,” he said.
Ozeg’s boyhood interest gave way to a computer when he entered his teens but his love of trains never waned. He scanned online for a way to get into the industry and found the conductors course at BCIT.
He was put on a waiting list but this year was notified of his acceptance. “I was just ecstatic when I got my letter,” he said.
The course has been fulfilling for the most part, he said. The class never got to use the tracks at BCIT because of equipment issues, and attention span during railroad culture lectures has been a challenge.
“But nothing compares to this. Nothing compares to the real thing of actually being outside on the tracks and with the cars,” Ozeg said.