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Engineer Would Have Been Hero -- If He Had Died

Letter to the Editor

Dear Sir:

I've been reading and hearing a lot lately about the CN engineer, Wesley MacDonald from Bathurst, who was involved in a train derailment while shunting at the Bathurst Mines March 9. The runaway and subsequent derailment was apparently caused by brake failure. As a result of the incident the engineer and three other crew members have been placed on suspension without pay for a period of time ranging between four and six months. The engineer is my father-in-law.

Wesley is a sensitive, caring individual who risked his life that say by staying with the train in order to blow the whistle at the three level crossings between Bathurst Mines and Bathurst. He even climbed out of the engine at 55 mph to attempt to activate the brakes in the first of 30 cars he had picked up before the engine brakes failed; however, the strong winds forced him back into the cab. As he says, ``I figured I was dying, but I wasn't going to take anyone else with me.'' He recalls that going around one bend at 60 mph brought the thought that his wife BEssie would now be left alone.

When the train finally left the track it was doing in excess of 75 mph. Wesley was fortunate. He escaped the crash without physical harm. Mentally, however, Wes has suffered immensely. He has nightmares about the crash and subsequent hearings. He's often been found by his wife in the early hours of the morning, sitting alone in the dark, softly crying.

The man's torment is just beginning. Wesley, who has worked 42 years with CN without incident, was due to retire in November of this year. He was working on his last five best-paying years to base his pension on. Now, as a result of the suspension, even his pension will be lowered. Should he be forced to carry that black mark with him the rest of his life?

Wesley is bitter. HE admits he lacked judgement that day, but the punishment doesn't fit the crime. He feels he should have received between 30 and 45 demerit marks (60 resulting in automatic dismissal) and left to finish his employment with CN quietly.

The strange thing is that Wes has carried on the same braking technique during shunting for the past ten years with the full knowledge of management, who make regular inspections and evaluations. If the man was carrying on improper procedures, shouldn't he have been told before this? Talk about locking the barn door after the cows get out!

Wes feels the reason CN is getting so strict now is that they're using him and the crew as an example to other employees, probably due to the increase in train derailments this year.

The only thing that strikes me as odd is that if the man had stayed with the train and died he probably would now be classified as a hero. Is this the type of company CN is?

Gerry Doucet

Newcastle, N.B.