Train Conductor reflects on rewarding career

Train Conductor reflects on rewarding career

Laura Pineault, a West Coast Express train conductor

Transit Operator and Worker Appreciation Day on March 18 each year is a day to remember the contributions of all those who work in transit – from the bus operators and station attendants, to those working behind-the-scenes keeping our system safe, secure, and running each and every day.

For Laura Pineault, a train conductor on the West Coast Express, working as a part of Metro Vancouver transit has changed her life “immensely” since joining the team on March 23, 2015. So happy in her current position, Laura picks out the exact date without hesitating for a second.

“I enjoy the quality of life, the relationships you make with passengers and colleagues on board. It is freeing to work in a job that brings you happiness and when you can relate to people who are on the train,” Laura explains.

Looking at her journey to West Coast Express, Laura recognizes that it was almost accidental that she has ended up ferrying customers between Vancouver and Mission. Her original career path was more strongly tied to tourism but being keen to get into the industry at an early age meant she took a sideways step that changed the rest of her life.

“I wanted to work for the tourism industry. I applied for a job at VIA Rail for the onboard services, but unfortunately, I was not old enough to serve alcohol on the train. They offered me a job in customer service and being bilingual it was my foot in the door,” recalls Laura.

Being exposed to the behind-the-scenes operations of VIA as a customer service agent, Laura soon found herself accumulating a wealth of knowledge and a distinct interest in the mechanics of the trains she saw every day. “A job posting came up for the maintenance centre. It was a three-month training program to become a locomotive attendant, operating the engines and the rail cars in the yard. I decided that I would apply and try it out and it just ended up being something that I really enjoyed doing!”

The happy coincidence has since shaped Laura’s life as she has worked for VIA, Canadian Pacific Railway and Bombardier (now Alstom) throughout various roles on the railways. However, she admits that there was a steep learning curve and a number of personal sacrifices to make along the way to pursue her passion for the railroad.

Fortunately, Laura was confident in her abilities to deliver in the transit world and move people – even if some of the older generation were a bit unsure about a young woman becoming a locomotive attendant: “I didn’t ever doubt myself for a second. Any second guessing by other people made me want to stick around even longer. I love to rub salt in the wound when I need to,” she laughs.

Remembering those early days, Laura does admire the railway operators and workers who came before her and shaped her own experiences – her trainer, Carole Imhoff amongst them. “She was one of the first female locomotive attendants at VIA rail, she was the one that trained me on how to operate trains. It was nice to have female leadership because it made me realize that this wasn’t a job that discriminated. I was capable of doing the exact same things that my male counterparts were doing and make the same wages,” she says warmly.

Boosted from the start, Laura has carried the confidence of those early days through all her roles – particularly training to be a locomotive engineer, working on the head end of trains with the conductor, and in her current position at West Coast Express. Right now, she finds that being personable is one of her strongest traits – reassuring people on board the trains during COVID-19. Laura is proud that she helps move front line workers back and forth and feels fortunate to work in such an essential industry at this time.

“It’s very nice to know that we can be there for the first responders – the doctors and the nurses that rely on public transit to get about. For a lot of people who work in the railway industry, be it public transportation, commuter trains, freight, they are all providing a service that is necessary for the economy to keep rolling.

“Some of the front-line staff work excruciating 12-hour days and are exhausted. This train, this service, is their relaxing time. It’s an hour and 15 minutes and their chance to switch off and relax and enjoy the quiet. It’s complete quiet for them on the way in and the way back from work to decompress. It’s a nice service to have and people appreciate it,” she reflects.

While serving the commuters of Metro Vancouver certainly has its perks, Laura does miss her route up the Fraser Valley and encourages as many people as possible to experience a train ride up to Kamloops once it is safe again: “The scenery was beautiful!” she exclaims.

“If you have the opportunity to go by rail, take the train up the Fraser Canyon. The view is breathtaking. It is like having your office on wheels. Being able to look down and see all the wildlife, the trees. In the wintertime, the icicles forming off of the branches. It was beautiful. If you love nature, it’s a fantastic job,” she says happily recalling the details of our beautiful region.

For an accidental career, Laura could not be more ecstatic or enthusiastic for where the railways have taken her. In her 22 years in the industry, she has been ready to prove herself in any challenge and relishes the ones yet to come.

We would like to thank Laura for her contributions to our transit system here in Metro Vancouver and for sharing her inspirational story of a career that spans many sectors of the railway industry. At this time, we would also like to share our gratitude to all our fellow colleagues working in transit, who keep their communities moving and connected every day.