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On the Job with Katrina Wiggins

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Conductor Wiggins, as she now smilingly calls herself, is part of CP’s new wave of recently hired conductors and is no stranger to hard work. as a busy young mother to a two-year-old boy, she found herself looking for a stable, yet challenging career to support her family. Canadian Pacific Magazine caught up with katrina to learn more about her experience at cp and her role as a conductor working out in the yard.

What brought you to CP?

Prior to having my son in 2015, I spent over six years working in agricultural research, while finishing my Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture and completing my Diploma in Animal Science at the University of Lethbridge. Once my maternity leave ended, I began looking for a stable career that allowed me to apply my skills and provide for my son. As I was sifting through online job postings, I found CP offered both these benefits and more, so I applied for a conductor position.

What made you decide to choose a conductor role versus other field-related positions?

I am not a mechanical mind, so engineering type-jobs didn’t appeal to me. Working with people, being part of a crew and putting cars together, is more my skill set.

I also like to stay active. Working outside keeps me on my feet. Every day I have the opportunity to work with a new crew and to challenge myself to learn different things. The role fits my lifestyle and the type of responsibilities I am interested in, so I thought it would be a good opportunity to take on.

Katrina climbing onto a locomotive.

What do your family and friends think about your new career?

My parents have been supportive of my choices since I started, and my partner has been very involved in helping me take care of my two-year-old. We also have a close family friend who retired from CP after 37 years and whom I consulted with before I applied. Talking to him allowed me to learn more about the company and the kind of job I would potentially be doing.

Describe a typical day on the job for you.

I would certainly not use the word “typical” with this position, since my responsibilities differ day-to-day and there is always something new to learn.

Out of the Lethbridge location, I had the option of working on the road or in the yard. I personally prefer the yard, as it allows me to have more of a set schedule and keeps me close to home and to my son.

On a day-to-day basis, I work off a switch list given to me by my supervisor, which outlines all the cars from a manifest train. A manifest train is a train made up of all types of different cars that are not necessarily in the right order. My main responsibility is to either take these trains apart or build them. Some days we also have to bring in other trains and tie them down. There’s definitely never a dull moment.

“Safety is always top-of-mind for me...You have to ensure you stay alert at all times.”

Tell me about your training as a conductor.

I started with CP in December 2016, and trained for three and a half months, prior to becoming qualified as a conductor out of Lethbridge. I trained at four different locations including Calgary, Medicine Hat, Sparwood and Coutts, down to the Canada/U.S. border.

I have been a qualified conductor since March 2017, but I am constantly learning from everyone around me. Working on four subdivisions, all with various rules and operating procedures, and interacting with a wide range of customers, keeps me engaged and fuels my desire to continue to expand my knowledge base.

What is your biggest challenge so far?

Working in the yard in wintertime is not an easy task. Sometimes you have be outside in -30C/-22F or -40C/F weather with no cover from the elements. Safety is always top-of-mind for me, as tasks become more challenging in the cold. Switches get harder to throw, handbrakes on cars become stiff and slippery conditions can develop anywhere.

There is sometimes also the issue of reduced visibility, but cars still needing to be moved. You have to ensure you stay alert at all times, regardless of the conditions, and to always make safety your priority. It’s important to me that we all get home safe at the end of our shifts.

Katrina exiting a locomotive.

In your opinion, what kind of individual is best suited for this position, and would you recommend it to other potential applicants?

This job is not for everyone, although I think CP gives all selected applicants a fair chance when they first walk through the doors.

The program is quite demanding. There is lots of information, rules and operating procedures to learn right away. I was in class for about six weeks and wrote eight exams, most of which had a 90 percent passing grade. Some required the full 100 percent to pass. Needless to say, you have to be willing to dedicate a lot of time to reading and studying.

As a graduate of the program, I would recommend it to individuals with a strong work ethic and those with good situational awareness. CP is a great company to work for, and if you enjoy being on your feet, working with people and stepping out of your comfort zone, there are a lot of positives to the role.

Katrina doing her paperwork inside the train cab.

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