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CPR busy and hiring

Canadian Pacific Rail is in the midst of a nation-wide hiring blitz, with 88 positions opening up in Port Coquitlam alone.

Canadian Pacific Rail is in the midst of a nation-wide hiring blitz, with 88 positions opening up in Port Coquitlam alone.

Couple that with next week's national Rail Safety Week and you begin to see why CPR spokesperson Mike LoVecchio says that things are only going to get busier at Coquitlam Yard, CPR's largest Canadian rail hub after Toronto and Calgary.

On a tour of the sprawling yard, LoVecchio introduced The Tri-City News to a handful of the company's new recruits.

Of the current crop of 40 prospective hires training at PoCo - including four women - some had migrated here from as far away as Saskatchewan to find work as train conductors, mechanics, track maintenance workers and, many hoped, engineers.

Just shy of one-fifth the area of all of Port Coquitlam, the Coquitlam Yard sees nearly 40% of all the goods and commodities CPR moves through its whole North American operation, LoVecchio said.

And as Asian manufacturing continues to be a big part of the North American economy and the Canadian government continues to streamline Asian-North American trade through B.C.'s Asia Pacific Gateway, Coquitlam Yard's importance as a freight hub is growing, too.

Over the last year and a half, LoVecchio said, freight traffic on CPR lines has grown 17% nation-wide. Pair that growth with the company's aging workforce and you can see why CPR is in a hurry to hire 1,500 rail workers across Canada - 300 in B.C. - over the next few months.

Currently, LoVecchio estimates that one fully-loaded freight train arrives at or leaves Coquitlam Yard every hour.

Those 24 trains a day can each vary in length from 20 cars to 100, carrying anything from iPods to iodine, dairy products to diesel fuel.

"Nothing is restricted from Coquitlam Yard," LoVecchio said. "About 5% of all traffic through Port Coquitlam is - we don't call them 'dangerous goods' but 'regulated goods.' We don't own them and often we don't even own the cars they're on."

In terms of volume, the commodity moved the most through Coquitlam Yard is Canadian grain. By value, the top commodity shipped through here is coal. Those bulk commodities, along with potash and oil, LoVecchio said, make up about 40% of everything coming down the tracks into PoCo.

The remainder of the freight the Coquitlam Yard handles is about 23% consumer goods ready for store shelves, and the rest are "intermodal" commodities such as steel, forest products and larger consumer items such as automobiles.

And as Rail Safety Week begins on Monday, LoVecchio stressed that, while Canadian Pacific has been named North America's safest rail freight company for the last five consecutive years, accidents involving pedestrians and cars at rail crossings are still all too common.

From January to March of this year, there were 49 accidents at train crossings in Canada, six of them fatal and seven resulting in serious injuries. During the same period, there were nine rail accidents that occurred outside of designated crossings, seven of which were fatal and the other two resulted in serious injuries to pedestrians.

Next week, CPR Police will be conducting public safety demonstrations at the Harris Road rail crossing in Pitt Meadows.