|Roger Cyr and Benoit Levesque (2002)
Operation Lifesaver is a unique public-private partnership that saves Canadian lives and suffering from injuries incurred at highway–railway crossings and from trespassing on railway property.
The public-private partnership program, sponsored by the Railway Association of Canada and Transport Canada, is supported by Canada’s railways, police forces, safety councils and leagues, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, community groups and some 500 volunteer presenters in communities from coast to coast. Without the program, more Canadians would have been seriously injured, or killed.
In 1980, there were 826 collisions at highway–railway crossings. Roger Cyr, the original Operation Lifesaver national director in Canada and a former general claims manager for Canadian National and Air Canada, says the program started with little more than an idea and some reference material gathered from the U.S. program.
Mr. Cyr had a desk and a filing cabinet, and eventually an assistant. He dug in and started to establish Operation Lifesaver in Canada. He accumulated data, worked his contacts in the railways, and developed ties with government agencies.
Gradually, the OL network came into being. Operation Lifesaver committees in the provinces were set up. The Canada Safety Council and the provincial safety councils and leagues in eight provinces became important partners.
Saskatchewan joined in 1981. Nova Scotia was the last to enter in 1988. Initially, the program had one mandate — to promote crossing safety. In 1989, however, the anti-trespassing component was added.
To promote its railway safety message to the public, OL established an education program to target the general population, from school-age children to adults. Partnerships with various agencies, such as police forces and engineering groups, were developed.
During this 10-year period, Roger introduced a wide range of public awareness programs, such as crash simulations, rail safety days, mall displays and was instrumental in introducing a new cross-buck safety symbol. In 1991, after 41 years of service at CN and 10 years with Operation Lifesaver, Roger decided to retire.
His successor, Ben Levesque, joined Operation Lifesaver as National Director on January 1, 1992 following early retirement from Canadian National’s Operations department. The OL programs already in place had worked quite well and involved volunteer railway employees and police officers, some provincial and municipal police forces, and the provincial safety councils and leagues.
It was time to build on the solid base that had already been established. Education became the principal theme of the new program. In 1992, OL introduced the first Officer on the Train program in Canada with the cooperation of CSX police officers between Chatham and Sarnia, Ontario. As a result, enforcement agencies became keenly aware of rail-related public safety issues.
In the mid-1990s, Mr. Levesque was invited to attend the Program Development Council of Operation Lifesaver Inc. in the United States and was accepted as a member of Council. The Canadian presenter kit was developed as a result to promote a consistent message throughout the country. The program expanded dramatically.
The 1995 Railway Safety Act review recommendations to the Minister of Transport included one to reduce the number of collisions at crossings and trespassing incidents by 50 per cent by the 2006. Direction 2006 was established to implement the recommendation. Operation Lifesaver became a partner in the program, and Ben Levesque accepted the chairmanship of the Education Committee. OL expanded its activities through the Presenter Program and its involvement in Direction 2006.
Demand increased for educational material, and a Web site was developed to increase OL’s visibility. Other important partnerships through Direction 2006 have been forged with groups able to influence public behaviour. New documents and products were produced, an electronic database was created to keep track of people, presentations and activities, and new material and videos have been produced, with positive results.
Today, with increased train traffic, more railways, and more vehicles on the road, the number of deaths and injuries along Canada’s railways continue to be driven down further, and faster. The volunteers and dedicated supporters of Operation Lifesaver have made it the best public safety program in Canada, and Canadian communities a better, safer place to live.
Please see www.operationlifesaver.ca
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