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10 Questions with Kari Elyk

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The only thing that Kari may love more than railroading are her horses. Growing up in northern Ontario, she watched her father make a career working for the railroad and in November 2016, she decided to follow in his footsteps and joined CP seeking to become a conductor.

The past two years have been full of excitement and positive changes. From graduating and working as a qualified conductor, to being featured on Discovery Channel’s Rocky Mountain Railroad TV series, to once again switching careers and enrolling in CP’s Signals & Communications (S&C) Maintainer apprenticeship.

Currently an S&C Helper out of Maple Creek, Saskatchewan, we caught up with Kari to ask a few questions about her new role and her experiences at CP thus far.

What made you take up railroading as a career?

My dad worked for CP for over 35 years, until his retirement a few years ago. Growing up in Dryden, Ontario, I watched him be an Assistant Track Maintenance Supervisor and later a Roadmaster, which in turn helped me develop an in-depth understanding and respect for the railroad.

Did you always know you wanted to be a railroader?

No, railroading wasn’t something I thought about until quite recently. Once I finished high school, my interests led me to focus on agricultural studies and livestock welfare. I worked as a pen rider in a feedlot for three years, monitoring herd health and moving cattle to new pastures. I really enjoyed the job and being a cowgirl, but over time I decided that I was ready for a more serious and stable career and that’s when CP came to mind.

Kari on the job.

Tell me about a typical day in the life of an S&C Maintainer?

Once I become a qualified maintainer, a large part my day will be spent testing various parts of the rail network. This can be anything from equipment, to crossings and signals, to ensure the overall safety of the railroad. Most of the time it’s a Monday to Friday job, with on-call shifts. However, due to the fact that maintainers mostly work alone, there is some flexibility in how you set your schedule for the day based on what testing and work needs to be done.

You were a newly qualified conductor before making the switch to S&C. What prompted this move?

The change I made was based around my life outside of work. I am very fond of horses and currently own three of my own. In July of 2017, I made an informed decision to make the switch over to S&C to work towards becoming a qualified maintainer. I found the time commitment and shift work schedule for this role to be better aligned with my personal life.

You work in an environment where most of your co-workers are male. How do you find this dynamic?

I don’t really take notice, since it’s something I’ve become accustomed to in all my previous roles. As a pen rider, I worked with only one other female and prior to that I was employed in a saw mill, where most of my co-workers were men.

What do you think are important attributes for an S&C Maintainer?

Attention to detail and being organized are critical to succeeding in this role. With each crossing, switch or signal, there are certain tests that need to be completed at certain time intervals. You have to be able to keep a schedule of all these details and plan around what’s coming up, so that tasks are finished on time and nothing is overlooked.

Where do you see yourself in five years?

In the next five years I hope to be a qualified S&C maintainer in a permanent location, which right now will probably be Maple Creek, Saskatchewan. I am getting married this summer to an Alberta bull rider as well, and I am looking forward to buying a farm and some land, so I can have my horses at home.

You were featured on the Discovery Channel’s Rocky Mountain Railroad TV series. Tell us about that experience and how you initially got involved with the show.

Honestly, I had no idea that we were going to be on TV that day. The morning started early with a 3 a.m. call to report for our shift. By 5 a.m. we were on the train, starting our trip to Field, British Columbia. Shortly after, the rail traffic controller came on the radio and asked us to make a stop at Massive, Alberta, for a pick-up. This was only my second trip as a qualified conductor, so I didn’t think much of it.

When we arrived, trainmaster Ryan Mayman greeted us and asked if we would be ok with the Discovery Channel coming on board for the rest of our journey. This came as a complete surprise and made me more nervous than I already was in my new role. Looking back at it now, it was a neat experience and I am glad I had the opportunity to be part of it.

What did you think when you first saw the episode you were featured in?

I really enjoyed the series overall. In terms of the episode I was a part of, it was interesting to see the final product. I laughed a lot at my facial expressions and the way some of the commentary was sliced together. The producers did a great job at creating suspenseful situations in order to captivate TV audiences.

Why would you recommend becoming an S&C Maintainer?

As a novice in the field I find it very interesting, especially when it comes to testing and the electrical aspect of it. It requires me to think on my feet and use my problem solving abilities to come up with scenario-based solutions.

The other benefit with this role is the in-depth training you receive as a candidate, in addition to a fully paid apprenticeship. CP does a great job at providing on-the-job work experience alongside a qualified S&C Maintainer, so you can learn how to do tasks properly and be comfortable working on your own once you graduate.

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