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Thread: Conductor Training -- Toronto

  1. #1

    Default Conductor Training -- Toronto


    Have lurked here a bit & now would like to pick your collective brains a little!

    I've just accepted an offer of admission to George Brown College in Toronto for their railway conductor's program. 4 months & expensive but the hiring rate is very good & I'm keen. They say in the economy today change is the only constant & we all have at least three distinct careers. Railroad work will be my second, the first was publishing! I'd like to work as a freight conductor and then train as an engineer. Do conductors ever move to other jobs as well?

    What is the word from people in the industry about this program? Good, bad, indifferent? I notice in the USA conductor training is done within 5-7 weeks not 4 months as in Canada. What's with that?

    The drug tests RRs administer before employment - are they tests to determine if you EVER did ANY drugs even once or are they designed to help make sure the RRs are simply not hiring current/habitual users/junkies?

    I'm 41 years old. Would a RR see that as a disadvantage? I know they won't come out and declare an age bias, that would be illegal, but that doesn't mean they don't have preferences right?

    I'm single & have no kids. Is that a selling point to a RR when hiring?

    The medical tests -- are they also physical fitness tests? Are they out to eliminate bad backs, heart disease, blood pressure, diabetes etc for insurance reasons or do they just check for a heartbeat?

    Anyone know what Canadian RR interviews are like? I was told they use a three-on-one adverserial approach which can be rough.

    I know that's a lot of questions for a single post but appreciate any answers or general commentary for someone looking to start out in railways.

    Cheers! Work safely.

  2. #2


    Drug Test - Just to make sure you aren't doing them now. If you were a hippy 20 years ago, you'll be ok, but if you did them last week, well you'll have a problem.

    They'll do a background check, so if you have anything hiding in your closet, they'll probably find them. The key thing is to not lie. If you had a DWI 15 years ago, fess up, becuase they'll find it, and if you didn't, then they won't hire you for sure.

    The Medical Tests seem to be in depth, to make sure you are physically able to do the job, and won't die doing it. They also want to make sure you don't have a broken back or something.

    Being 41 isn't a problem from what I've seen. Maybe even a bit of a plus. You have an idea of the job, and if you worked for 15 years in an industry, than that'll look good. They don't want to spend the $$ on you and have you leave.

    Promotion from within is th word on being an Engineer. That is how the Class 1's get their engineers.

    I've never heard of the school, and some RR's like that you pay for you own training, but then others don't, and would just train you again.
    RRF Photo Gallery

    It's the same things your whole life. "Clean up your room!", "Stand up straight!", "Pick up your feet!", "Take it like a man!", "Be nice to your sister!", "Don't mix beer and wine, EVER!" Oh yeah, "Don't drive on the railroad tracks!"

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2004
    Dieppe, New Brunswick, Canada


    This is interesting! I'm also thinking of going to the same college for the same course!
    Luc Doiron
    aka. Redfox

    "Grab Life By The Horns!!" -Dodge

    My motto: ''When in doubt.......Floor it!!''

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Winnipeg, Mb


    After you are done your training at school expect another possible 4 months training.

    The drug test is a simple pee in a bottle.
    They do your background check.
    There was NO physical for CN and CP out of the school program in Calgary.
    The medical: You fill out forms, do a hearing test, eye test, colour blindness test, get your neck measured, doctor checks your stomach, asks you a few questions and thats about it.

    Conductors get promoted to engineers, trainmasters, yardmasters etc.

  5. Default

    try to get hired off the street, the conductor courses at george brown, sait and BCIT i heard were a joke... more so a waste of money

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Winnipeg, Mb


    Sait's used to be pretty bad ... but they changed there's and it is much better. There are many classes in the course that are VERY valuable.

    But the good thing about the course to is that you are guaranteed an interview.

  7. Default

    Quote Originally Posted by Chris de Vries View Post
    Sait's used to be pretty bad ... but they changed there's and it is much better. There are many classes in the course that are VERY valuable.

    But the good thing about the course to is that you are guaranteed an interview.
    I would have to disagree... I am currently in the training program and have heard terrible things about the schools. Our instructor's think they are a joke. Without a Railway how do you do any practical work? Going through the course does not guarantee a job with the Railway and there ain't no refund if you don't get hired. Our instructor told us not a lot of guys are making it past the interview. If you have a shot at getting hired... Go to the orientations!!! Get free training!!! Why pay $10,000 when you could be PAID to train? These damn schools will try to get a buck any way they can. Check the CP/CN websites for Railroad Personnel jobs... They will hire you or they won't, the school will not make much, if any, difference.

  8. Default

    Hey Thomas where you training at? I just finished writing my rules exam here in lethbridge with cp, now just need to qualify on the road.

  9. #9


    Okay, I went to SAIT and hired on with CP Rail three years ago, so this is my forum. I own this space!

    First of all, back out of the course. You are literally wasting your money. CP is so desperate for men, if you have any sort of mechanical background, teamwork background, or a background that involved a system in order to get a job done - you are in.

    Second, you will get a physical no matter what anybody says. You will do the pee test, and they only check for drugs in the last while. You will fill out a four page questionaire littered with all kinds of diseases and you have to identify who in your family has had them and when. You have to tell CP how often you like to drink. You have to admit if you smoke and when. You will do an isolated hearing test. You will do a vision test. You will get the finger up the bum. It will all be done. They check everything. A few guys from my SAIT class admitted that they drank 8-12 beers a week - they were sent in for alcohol counselling to see if they were at risk for alcoholism. This part of the hiring process is not taken lightly.

    Being single and having kids will make the lifestyle of being on call all the time much more tolerable. Consider if you really want to work 18 hour days that may start at 3 in the morning.

    The interview is special. I forget the technical name for it, but there will be up to three people in the interview with you. One manager, and often two union reps. The will ask questions like this, "Tell us about a time when you were faced with a situation that was potentially unsafe when you had to maintain a set schedule?". They grill you, it is a really intense interview; however, usually the manager and union reps will help you along and make it easier. Some interviews take 10 minutes, others take an hour. Don't think that the guys in there for an hour are in - this is all part of the mystery of CP Rail.

    I have worked with folks from George Brown in Saskatchewan. Notice I said in Saskatchewan. Sure CP promised them all a job... But they had to move to Saskatchewan at their own expense. And when they got here and rented their apartments, they sure as hell didn't work in that terminal for over one year. They were forced and bounced around at no expense to the company - this was not mentioned to them by management when they accepted the jobs.

    Hire on off the street, that is my advice to you. Save your money. I went to SAIT and it was terrible. I had to take math, english, computer skills, typing, history and a lifestyle course. What does this have to do with railroading? I don't know, but they suckered 4,000 dollars out of my pocket for those classes and I have nothing to show.

    Of course they finally streamlined the classes, but you come out with a general knowledge of railroading. You will hire on with a railroad and have to learn the rules all over again and then do all the qualifying trips yet. Seriously, consider my advice. I am sort of disgruntled, but everyone else I work with who have taken the courses (about 30 men) wish they would have just hired on off the street.

    You might be guaranteed an interview by taking the course, but you are not guaranteed a job. If you apply to CP, you might get a job but at no expense to you. I don't want to seem too bitter up front, but CP will lie to you. They will abuse your rights within the union (albeit what little of a union we have) and you will be treated worse than a dog at the best of times. Do not expect a reward for going above and beyond and you will not get three years vacation until after three years. After 10 you get 4, after 18 you get 5 and after 25 you get 6 or something like that. It is a totally different lifestyle from the normal, but a single guy like you might really enjoy it.

    CP Rail will hire just about anybody now because they are so desperate. They hire about 25 guys per class now, and only about 10 graduate - some quit because of the lifestyle and/or equipment intimidation and some are just too stupid for their own good. So good luck to you.
    Do we have a clearance, Clarence?

  10. #10

    Default Conductor Training: The Morning After

    Did the George Brown course in 2007. Here's a few quick observations about a rather mixed experience.

    Unlike SAIT, G. Brown doesn't require elective courses like business English and such so the program is only four months of signals, safety, first aid etc. The study materials were awful: an unwieldy collection of thousands of photocopied pages. Have you heard of textbooks, the program hasn't. Lot's of aging safety movies (cool!) and virtually nothing done online. A grade ten education will see you through the academic side.

    As for the instructors: can't really fault them, they had plenty of real world experience and were there to share it. Out of about 20+ students I think about 14 got snapped up by CP for conductor training in Toronto at $800-and-change a week before the program was over. That's a good outcome, unless you were among those CP deigned not to employ. It varies every year and after class started they reminded us it can take up to a year to get a rail job.

    Program is bloody expensive, too expensive for a working person/family. The program is put on by the Railway Association of Canada and is not a properly recognized program in the sense that it qualifies for gov't student loan programs or bursaries within the college. This is a huge disincentive. RAC cut a deal with G. Brown so that the program has the look and feel of "edjoocayshun."

    If there's fault with this program it is with the RAC who slapped it together because they are terrified on behalf of the member railways about the coming massive shortages of conductors due to a large wave of retirements of long service employees. I'm afraid this is where it chokes for me and the sour grapes start. In 5 interviews at rail companies nobody asked me a single stinkin' question about the course. Not even a token "what was your favourite part, little boy?" or "why do you like choo choos?" Where's all this demand they were talking about? Haven't they marketed this program to member railways as a source of New School railway workers?

    The interviewers were typically grim, weathered yard types. At CP I was sitting looking at three guys in jeans and sweatshirts or t-shirts with like sixty or eighty years of collective working experience. Not one of them showed the slightest interest in what we had taken pains to school ourselves in. They ask these scripted-by-the-HR-dept "behavioural" questions. You know, stuff like, "tell us about a time you handled a complicated situation." Stuff along the lines of "would you rather be dumb and happy or smart and miserable?"

    Also, the railways run you through weeks and weeks of training anyway. It seems the RAC set up these programs to give reassurance to railways not to people looking for training opportunities and new career directions. Why the oldest, richest, biggest businesses in Canada need to have their hands held like this I don't understand. What are they afraid of when it comes to addressing themselves to job seekers? The point is you have to weigh up the cost of the course against a lacklustre, unoriginal, totally conservative approach to hiring at the railways. Try hiring off the street first, absolutely. If you a re fit enough go the track maintenance route.

    Also, if you have glasses don't wear them to the interview and if you have a university degree don't tell them. Railways don't want the best possible people they want people who "fit." This means you have to pass the invisible, subjective radar of the people in front of you at that interview. They gotta feel you can hack it. This invisible, subjective process is more important than the rationalized, corporate stuff they put in front of you, the computerized or paper aptitude tests, reference/police checks and certainly the drug test is a joke. If you are a teenage toker living in your mom's basement don't worry, CP will hire you anyway! You get to know people a bit when you see them every day for four months: at least two kids from my program were serious druggies who smoked tons of way-too-strong Canadian homegrown but got job offers after flunking drug tests. CP was willing to "work with them on that." (Note to self: call my stock broker with a sell order for those CP shares!)

    Thing is, railway work is available and lucrative because it is awful. If they see you read books and worked in an office once they will panic and think you can't hack it or, even worse, are a railfan/trainspotter. They fear you are middle class wussy boy unlike them and will quit your job in tears if you have to man a switch in the rain for two days in a row. The rail industry looks down on railfans and word is they will not hire them as they are too easily distracted looking at trains to work with them safely. This "fit" business is funny and feels prejudicial but is a fact of life, many other industries have something similair. It shows people have not come very far from when this all got started in the 19th century. At all railway interviews there will be friendly chit-chat about teamwork and safety and working at night or in the winter but it is all about "fit." In their eyes you must "fit" or you ain't getting the job.

    My point is, manage what you project in terms of "fit" and try hiring from the street first, even if you have to spend a summer working in a trailer in the middle of nowhere. The course is no guarantee of anything and is expensive and still in its early stages. Even with such drawbacks though you have to remember that education is never wasted. Human beings thrive on knowledge and maturity.

    Yeah, some sour grapes here. Still lookin' for that rail job with the fat cheque and fat pension but the program, especially being around the equipment in the placement, is all part of the adventure of life so far. Hope this ramble helps anyone thnking about the training.

    Either way, stay safe.

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