What a train, UP Express crews cannot be vaccinated

Staff on the GO Transit and UP Express trains were allowed to stay at work without receiving their COVID-19 injections, despite the provincial transit agency introducing a vaccine mandate two weeks ago, Star learned.

Metrolinx, the Crown corporation that oversees GO bus and train lines, as well as the airport’s train service, announced on August 20 that it would require all personnel to be vaccinated against COVID-19. The policy, which was instituted under the direction of Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney, took effect on November 1 and is supposed to apply to employees, contractors and anyone who works on Metrolinx property.

But while Metrolinx has suspended GO bus employees who did not receive their vaccinations before the deadline, Star learned that the mandate is not yet in effect for the hundreds of employees who operate the GO and UP trains.

And while Metrolinx has framed the vaccine’s mandate as a key measure it has taken to ensure its transit service is safe, the agency It has not told the public that it does not yet apply to train personnel, and that for the past two weeks customers have traveled in vehicles whose crew members may not be vaccinated.

Metrolinx spokeswoman Anne Marie Aikins said the agency did not intend to mislead anyone and that trained staff are still required to be vaccinated, only for a later date.

“We have been consistently open and transparent throughout the pandemic,” he said. “Our expectation that all employees and contractors are vaccinated did not change. And that is what was communicated ”.

Unlike the bus employees, who work directly for Metrolinx, the train crews are employed by Alstom, a private company contracted by the provincial agency.

Aikins said Alstom “received less notice than Metrolinx” about the mandate, and the company requested an extension. Aikins said those negotiations were confidential, but Metrolinx has now agreed to an extension until December 5.

Until then, “Alstom must ensure that adequate testing and control measures are in place for unvaccinated personnel … so that employees and customers are not at risk,” Aikins said.

Although the mandate is not yet in force for train crews, in a November 8 blog post Metrolinx said the vaccination policy had caused a staff shortage that led to the cancellation of some GO train services.

Aikins defended that message, saying: “We did and we still expect some trains to be canceled as a result of crew shortages related to mandatory vaccination policy.”

Alstom spokeswoman Taissa Hrycay said the company considers the health of its employees, partners and passengers to be a “top priority” and “is fully committed to meeting Metrolinx requirements.” He said the company “strongly recommends COVID-19 vaccination at all of its sites.”

More than 1,000 Alstom employees work for Metrolinx rail services in O&M roles, according to the company. Hrycay said that as of Nov. 12, 88.2 percent of Alstom employees at Metrolinx sites had received at least one dose of vaccine.

According to sources with knowledge of Alstom’s operations, the company’s Metrolinx workforce has been understaffed for years, and the company may be reluctant to lay off employees who don’t get vaccinated because it would leave them unable to operate the required service.

Alstom did not answer a question about staffing levels. But Aikins, the Metrolinx spokesman, confirmed that the company faces a labor shortage “unrelated to the vaccine mandate” and said the agency has been assisting the company with “ongoing recruitment efforts.”

Ben Spurr is a Toronto reporter covering Star transportation. Contact him by email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr


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