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A Day for Discovery

May 21st 2015 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

“Connecting people and places from coast to coast, it is only natural that VIA Rail would be committed to providing a productive and welcoming workplace that reflects our Canadian society”.  This statement, taken from the Diversity and Inclusion section of VIA Rail’s Careers webpage is a good summary of how we feel and act at VIA Rail.

From a passenger perspective, our aim is to be at the service of all Canadians. Internally, we are supportive of and encourage diversity and inclusion in the workplace. This year, our employees will be celebrating by sharing culinary dishes that highlight the flavours of their cultural backgrounds. Employees are invited to gather, taste and discuss on the afternoon of May 21, the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.

We are fortunate to experience the varied foods, arts and music (among many other things) that come from living in Canada, a melting pot of different cultures and backgrounds. From coast to coast, each province and territory has their own distinctive traditions and history. Add to that the various ethnicities of many Canadians, including those of the new citizens we welcome every year, and we are never at a loss for new things to do and see.  From the Mushtari Begum Festival of Indian Classical Music and Dance in New Westminster, BC to the Glengarry Highland Games in Maxville, Ontario, Canada has got it all (and the best way to get there? the train, of course).

The many benefits of diversity in our country (and in others) have been studied and conveyed for years, and these advantages are easy to see. These gains can also be seen in business. Fostering and supporting diversity in the workplace improves effectiveness from productivity to problem-solving.  It also fosters innovation and helps client-based organizations such as VIA Rail provide better customer service. And, bringing it right down to the individual level, fostering diversity within your own life is also very rewarding.

Today is a great day to “Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion”.  Grab a couple of tickets to a new festival, learn more about a culture you’ve always wondered about, or try a new food – something we are looking forward to doing during our afternoon celebration today.

Great Canadian PoeTrain Participants: Poetic, Prolific and Robotic

May 7th 2015 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

Is there anything more inspiring than travel, more specifically travelling by train, when it comes to creativity? The passing landscapes seen through the windows of our transcontinental Canadian train are relaxing and gorgeous – two elements that we imagine would help any writer create beautiful prose.

No surprise then that Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour, comprised of 19 poets and one travel writer boarded our Canadian train in honour of National Poetry Month, in April. Actually, scratch that, make it 19 poets, one travel writer and kulturBOT boarded the train to write poetry and celebrate in cities across Canada, from Ottawa to Vancouver.

The Great Canadian PoeTrain group: David Brydges,standing third from the right, is seen holding kulturBOT

KulturBot 3.0, sibling to hitchBOT (the robot who hitchhiked across Canada), was kind of like the Great Canadian PoeTrain Tour’s metallic mascot. Working within the “found” poetry genre, this self-publishing robot periodically printed small poems it created based on the contents of geographer and fur-trader David Thompson’s explorer diaries.

Meanwhile the PoeTrain group were quite prolific themselves. The 19 poets, originally from four different provinces and the Yukon, are compiling the work created during their trip in an anthology to be published later this month.

While on the train, the group benefitted from the use of a dedicated Skyline dome car for performances, workshops and music concerts, courtesy VIA Rail. They invited several poets and writer passengers to participate in their workshops and read their work (one of the participants was a member of VIA Rail’s on train staff!)

In anticipation of their future book release, we’d like to share a poem, written by Canadian poet David Brydges, one of the main organizers of the Great Canadian PoeTrain who was also asked to be the steward kulturBOT during the trip.

 

Prairie Spring Train

-David Brydges

The chug, chug, chug stops.
Silence and sibling reflection
move to morning peace place.

Underground golden wheat’s
roots slowly dream of rising.

Dawns reddish orange circle
encircles prairie pond
in wide luminous cape colours.

Flocks of Canada geese pilgrimage home.
Playfully forget scattered vagabond formation.
As if spring exuberance lifts their spirits.

Grassy hill white rabbit carcass
will someday be the earth.
Raven tries out flying metal machine.
Carving steel civilization sliver
that trespasses elk territory,
in one more subjugation.

The “Canadian” transcontinental engine
rumbles, sways its horizontal body track ward.
We rock, lurch into the forward clickety clack car.
Train astronauts on altered space journey.
And I awake to a breakfast of well-cooked rhythms.

Thanks to the PoeTrain poets for bringing their adventures onboard and for sharing their expertise and experience with other VIA Rail passengers.

Operation Lifesaver Tells It Like It Is

April 23rd 2015 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

VIA Rail had a vision of the role we could play in terms of enhancing and increasing safety awareness along the railway. The fact is that people are still unaware or simply ignore the dangers of trespassing on or getting too close to railways. This situation is simply not acceptable, and part of our safety mandate is to continuously improve awareness so that we keep people and cars off the railroad tracks.

For the past 34 years, VIA Rail has employed one of the most knowledgeable people in the safety business. She has helped to create and shape VIA’s Safety Management System, which goes above and beyond rail safety regulations and is very highly regarded in the industry. We realised that her knowledge needed to be shared widely, so that more people could benefit from her wisdom and experience.

Therefore, in 2014, we sent our Senior Director of Safety and Corporate Security, Jean Tierney, to work in a leadership position at Operation Lifesaver (OL). OL was once a program under the Railroad Association of Canada, but has since developed into a separate not-for-profit organization with its own Board of Directors. The activities planned and executed by OL are designed to increase safety around rail property and trains. To this end, the videos, blogs and awareness campaigns they create don’t beat around the bush. With first-hand accounts of incidents and personal stories about these avoidable events, OL is working hard to bring home the message that there is no grey zone when it comes to safety.

Check out one of their latest campaign posters:

It’s got humour, but the message is strong; there are some things you just don’t take chances with.

With Jean’s help, OL’s Rail Safety week, which takes place from April 27 – May 3, is more far-reaching and expansive than ever before. This year, they have enlisted the help of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, who will be promoting rail safety week to over 3,000 Canadian communities to help get the message out. For a list of activities in your area, visit http://www.operationlifesaver.ca/rsw2015/.

Along with her work at OL, Jean remains a key member of the VIA Rail team and continues to work in the interest of VIA Rail and its safety goals. The strong culture of safety established at VIA Rail continues to prevail and is part of every decision we make. In fact, part of Jean’s mandate is to coach and teach other companies and organization about safety – by using VIA Rail as the model.

We hope to see you at some of OL’s Rail Safety Week events. VIA Rail will be an active partner, as always.

How to Manage Risks: ERM at VIA Rail

April 10th 2015 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

Enterprise Risk Management (ERM), as a concept only dates back about a decade or so – and was incorporated only in certain industries, such as banking. For transportation companies, implementation of an ERM program, in many cases, is still in the works. At VIA Rail, we understand the benefits of researching and creating an ERM program, which is why we established an ERM policy, adopted by our Board of Directors in 2014.

ERM is a framework within which a company can successfully navigate risk – both negative risk and positive risk (otherwise known as “opportunity”) in order to better achieve its objectives. For a transportation company like VIA Rail, the top consideration is the safety of our operations for which we have a strict no-risk policy. When it comes to safety, we follow the rules and we make sure to go above and beyond the accepted railway regulations to ensure the safety of our passengers, our employees and the public.

ERM also encompasses several other factors of our business such as employee engagement, revenues (linked to marketing) and technology. These are areas in which VIA has opportunities to thrive, as long as we understand and mitigate the potential risks associated with them. Here is where Denis Lavoie, VIA Rail’s Director of Enterprise Risk Management steps in. In his role, Denis is responsible for considering all potential risk factors, and creating the frame within which we can implement new initiatives, learn and grow. Denis identifies and monitors the “leading indicators” of each ERM factor, to ensure that we are moving in the right direction. Using these indicators, he follows our progress and lets us know if and when we need to make adjustments to our strategies.

Denis Lavoie, Director of Enterprise Risk Management, VIA Rail Canada

One of Denis’ main responsibilities in 2015 is to instill a robust risk-aware culture among VIA Rail employees. What does it mean to be risk-aware? “Being risk-aware means taking the time to consider all the inherent possibilities, both positive and negative, associated with each project, before you begin. This simple exercise can save time, money and help with the development of thorough strategies right from the get-go,” explains Denis. In short, ERM improves the way companies are managed and directed, over the short and long-term.

Denis Lavoie’s innovative and comprehensive approach to ERM was recognized by his nomination for a coveted international prize awarded by the Institute of Risk Management (IRM) in London, England. IRM’s shortlist held six ERM specialists from around the world, with Denis being the only nominee from North America.  This achievement, shortly following his recent appointment as Director at VIA, is a nod from the renowned group confirming that VIA is doing a remarkable job in seizing opportunities for growth while anticipating and alleviating risk wherever and whenever possible.

Congratulations, Denis, from everyone at VIA Rail. We are fortunate to have you on our team.

To learn more about governance at VIA Rail, I encourage you to visit our newly updated Board of Directors’ section on viarail.ca.

VIA Rail at We Day

April 2nd 2015 by Yves Desjardins-Siciliano

It was a thrill to represent VIA Rail as the co-chairman of National We Day in Ottawa yesterday.

We Day happens every year, in front of thousands of youth, each of whom earn their ticket to attend because of their positive global actions. There are 16 events annually: nine in Canada, six in the United States and one in London, England. This year’s event in Ottawa played out in front of an audience of 16,000! Thousands of leaders-in-the-making, already working in their communities to create change at a grassroots level… needless to say, this was a truly amazing event to be a part of.

I shared the stage with some awe-inspiring people in order to help the kick-off of a year of action called “We Act”. The We Act program offers educational resources and campaigns to help young people turn the day’s inspiration into sustained action.

VIA Rail’s role as a supporter of this event was simple: to share in this initiative as well as to promote the train as Canada’s most environmentally friendly way to travel. Helping our country grow and evolve is brought about not only by the larger projects these audience members have developed, but also by the smaller choices each of us make every day. Making sure our land is clean and healthy is part of that overall endeavour (we were also able to help by providing transport for many people to attend the day’s events).

I won’t inundate this blog with facts about VIA’s environmental track record, but suffice it to say that the “Green Choice” logo featured on our trains was earned through our employees’ great and ongoing efforts to improve our carbon footprint.  If there were a We Day for VIA, well, we’d have a long list of people who earned their tickets as well!

VIA Rail whole heartedly thanks We Day, which has been going strong and growing fast since its first event in 2007. The day began as the brain-child of brothers Craig and Marc Kielburger as an extension of the charity Free the Children, founded in 1995 by Craig when he was only 12 years old. It’s nothing short of inspirational, as was the event itself.

To connect with VIA Rail, follow us through Facebook, Twitter (either@VIA_Rail or my personal account @VIARailPrez) or on Instagram.