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10 Questions with Garth Clermont

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How did you get your start with Canadian Pacific?

I joined around the beginning of 1981 and have worked here ever since. I started out as a trainman/yardman. After that, I was a conductor. You had to write tests at that time, after two years, and then you would be promoted to conductor, and then to engineer.

What’s your favourite thing about working for the railroad?

The independence; once you leave the yard, you’re for the most part working on your own, just you and the conductor. You know what you have to do, and you do what it takes. You also get great scenery; that’s just an added bonus.

This summer, we took a special CP Canada 150 train across the country, you were on the train?

I was the Engineer on launch day as the train pulled out of Calgary, Alberta, and again on the eastward portion from Field, British Columbia back to Calgary.

What does it mean to have been one of the locomotive engineers driving CP’s Canada 150 train?

It actually came in two stages; first I was notified that I would drive the Canada 150 train, and then the second stage was several days later when I found out that the Prime Minister would be on the train. That was something else. It was quite surprising. I was honoured to be part of the crew.

What was it like meeting the Prime Minister?

There were some nerves at first, meeting the Prime Minister, but after a couple of minutes it was great. I introduced myself and told him that this was the second time that a member of his family had been on a train that I was on. I explained to him that I was also on a train that his father, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, had been on. There were several moments where he didn’t say anything and I didn’t say anything, it’s hard to describe, it was a moment I think for both of us.

What was it like having the Prime Minister and his daughter on the train?

After the initial introductions, we boarded the locomotive. Once everybody was inside, we showed him the controls. He asked us questions about what it was like running the engine and driving trains. His daughter was there, so I had her sit in the engineer’s chair. I think she enjoyed it. They rode in the locomotive from Field to Lake Louise. After that they rode in one of the passenger cars.

How did this differ from your trip decades earlier with then Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau?

On that occasion, it was a passenger train running eastward out of Field, Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau was on board, as was German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt. It was just a regular passenger train that was operated by VIA with CP crews on it. My job, on that particular train, was baggage man; it was basically looking after all the luggage.

When you became a railroader did you ever think you would be on a train with two Prime Ministers?

No, nothing like that seemed likely, no matter how long I worked here. I saw a future of freight and passenger and switching cars.

Do you do anything differently as a locomotive engineer when you’re pulling a train that has passengers versus freight?

Yes. The first thing different with a train like the 150 train was the units; they were made in the ‘50s and the diesel engine in the locomotive is different than the units we have today; the power response is a lot faster. The passenger train is also shorter, but the cars are actually fairly heavy. You have to take that into account when you’re cresting a hill, going into a valley or coming into a curve. You’re always compensating for rolling resistance and thinking ahead. With the passenger, it’s a short train; you have to react a little bit faster than freight.

Anything else you’d like to say about the experience driving the CP Canada 150 Train?

The experience was a highlight of my career here at CP. I can’t imagine anything that would top a trip like that. I considered myself fortunate to have been chosen as the engineer to take that train. It’s the experience of a career, of a lifetime.

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