ALBERNI VALLEY NEWS
Port Alberni residents might have noticed the rail lines getting a bit more use last week, as a group of BCIT students completed their conductor training practicum with the Alberni Pacific Railway.
BCIT’s conductor training program is a 17-week course that prepares students to work as conductors on freight trains. It is a highly paid job, but comes with a high amount of responsibility.
This year, the APR celebrates its 10-year partnership with BCIT, as more than 35 practicum groups have come to Port Alberni since 2006.
“We are honoured to be part of this program,” said Kevin Hunter, president of Western Vancouver Island Industrial Heritage Society (IHS).
Other practice sites in Canada use a similar multi-track set-up, but the Alberni Valley has the benefit of the nearby McLean Mill National Historic Site and an uphill track. No other site has the use of a hill for practice.
“To the best of my knowledge, we have the best practicum site in Canada,” said Hunter.
The students start early in the morning and practice until after dark, in all kinds of weather—as close to a real-life simulation as possible.
Students were split into two groups last week, for two, two-and-a-half-day sessions. Each class started out with a safety briefing and practiced different hand motions to give directions to cars. Most of the practice work consisted of moving the trains in order, while working with different trains on different tracks.
They split into different groups to do work in the cabs and on the ground—a necessity because of the large sizes of the classes.
Most students, said Hunter, come from the lower mainland. One of these students was Shannon Sears, who hails from Nelson. She was the only female student in this particular session, although Hunter says they have had others in the past and hopes it becomes more common in the future.
“I wanted to try something completely different,” said Sears, when asked what piqued her interest about the industry. She previously worked for Interior Health and at a gym before joining BCIT.
The BCIT practicum program runs at the APR with the help of 10 different volunteers, and revenue goes right back into the railway equipment.
There are still spaces open in the next training course at BCIT next March.