Butting Out
The crew of a Montreal-bound train take a smoke break at Coteau, August 2008.

I should start by mentioning that I am a non-smoker who has never smoked.

Some time ago parliament passed a bill which made it illegal to smoke any where on a train.  This was done without consultation and railway safety inspectors were given books of tickets to punish violations.  This included the locomotive cab.

A little while later, I climbed into the cab of a VIA locomotive in Toronto to travel to Ottawa.  The greeting was a little cool as I took my place on the jump seat.  I hitched up my pant leg to show the green triangle on my black work boots.  They weren’t going to get me on a technicality! 

We set off and the trip was uneventful although the train was being driven right up to the speed limit so we arrived at Kingston a couple of minutes early.  As soon the train had stopped both men jumped off and each smoked a cigarette in record time – just the length of the station stop.

I then began to think that a smoking ban in the cab is not necessarily a good idea If the engineer is pre-occupied thinking about when he can get the next nicotine fix he might miss a signal or forget to blow for a crossing.  These trains are running at speeds up to 100 mph with several hundred passengers on board.

<>A couple of weeks later I travelled on the morning train from Ottawa to Montreal.  The Ottawa crews knew I always wore safety boots and I received a warm welcome.  The engineer this day was an old friend who was a heavy smoker who had tried unsuccessfully to quit several times.  The air in the cab was heavy with tobacco smoke. He looked at me and said:

“Do you mind if I smoke?”

I thought hard and finally replied:

“You know that smoking in the cab is illegal but if you feel that you absolutely must have a cigarette I won’t say anything.  Just don’t blow the smoke in my direction – in fact blow it out of the window.”

The trip to Montreal was uneventful apart from the occasional rush of fresh air as the right hand window was opened from time to time.

I have often thought about this incident and have asked myself whether I did the right thing.  Each time I have concluded that I behaved correctly. Enforcing a strict ban on smoking in the cab could have put the lives of many passengers and motorists at risk. It really comes down to the first rule in the rule book (CROR – General Notice)

“If in doubt, the safe course must be taken.”

Ottawa Valley Associated Railroaders, The Interchange March 2009.

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