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Shortline railway operators are often the first link in essential Canadian supply chains. These companies support local economies while providing a lower impact way to move what Canada needs.

The Railway Association of Canada (RAC) hosted its second Shortline Conference in Ottawa, Ontario. With topics such as shortline tax credits, sustainability, safety, and labour retention. Conference presentations, speakers and panelists, and more information from this years conference are below.

Dive deeper into the next steps to bring recognition, rewards and retention home in really practical ways.

Watch the Shortline Conference’s keynote speaker, Sarah McVanel, post-conference follow-up.

SRY Rail Link completes Annacis Island Track Capacity Improvement Project

SRY is excited to share news of the successful completion of one of our most ambitious capital improvement projects, the Annacis Island Track Capacity Improvement Project. 

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Wabtec Sustainability

2024 Agenda

Monday, May 6 NRC, 2320 Lester Road, Ottawa, ON | Transportation to be provided

Time  Session Location
13:30 – 16:30Tour of National Research Council Canada’s research facility
The tour will include rail large-scale research/test facilities, instrumented hi-rail truck, data analytics lab, cold weather air brake research facility, and advanced track inspection technologies demonstration platform project
NRC, 2320 Lester Road, Ottawa, ON

Tuesday, May 7Delta Hotel, 101 Lyon St. N. Ottawa, ON

Time SessionLocation
08:00 – 09:00Continental BreakfastBallroom C, Lobby level
09:00 – 09:05Welcome
Marc Brazeau, President and CEO, Railway Association of Canada
Ballroom C, Lobby level
09:05 – 09:50Keynote Speaker
Through the power of recognition, Sarah equips audiences with the tools needed to decrease burnout and increase employee retention, innovation, and customer satisfaction.

Sarah McVanel, International Recognition, Culture, and Retention expert
Ballroom C, Lobby level
09:50 – 10:50Shortline Railway Track Maintenance Tax Credit
In order to reduce costs and foster investment in Canada’s vital shortline rail infrastructure, a shortline railway track maintenance tax credit should be dedicated to helping shortlines invest in their infrastructure.

Moderator: Ryan Pidde, Director, Mickelson & Company
Thierry Lysiak, Vice-President Business Development, Genesee & Wyoming Canada
Tony De Thomasis, President and CEO, Essex Terminal Railway
Gerry Gionet, President, GIO Rail Holdings
Laura McNichol, Senior Vice President & Chief Sustainability Officer, WATCO
Ballroom C, Lobby level
10:50 – 11:10Break
11:10 – 11:40Railway Accidents Involving Crude Oil: Driving Access to Justice through Partnerships with the Railway Industry
Moderator: James Gunther, Director, Network Strategy & Partnerships, CN
Derek Pace, Legal Counsel, Fund for Railway Accidents Involving Designated Goods
Ballroom C, Lobby level 
11:40 – 12:30How Shortlines Help Keep Supply Chains Moving
Canadians expect that when they buy something, they’ll get it. When they produce something, they trust it will get to market. Each and every day, 24/7/365, Canada’s railways are moving vital products like fuel, food, and consumer goods.

Moderator: Lora Smith, Vice President Public and Government Affairs, Railway Association of Canada
Emily Mak, Director, Corporate Affairs and General Counsel,
Southern Railway of British Columbia
Shawn Smith, Chief Transportation Officer, Boundary Trail Railway
Sean Crick, AVP, Service Delivery, Cando Rail & Terminals
Ballroom C, Lobby level 
12:30 – 13:30LunchBallroom C, Lobby level
13:30 – 14:20Sustainability Initiatives
Canada’s railways are the most environmentally sound way to move both people and goods over land. Moving the needle on sustainability isn’t on railways alone; it takes a team of allies and partners.

Moderator: Lisa Tuningley, Founder and CEO, T-RAIL PRODUCTS
Sean Strong, WATCO
Chris Miller, Senior Director, Services Product Management, Wabtec
Ballroom C, Lobby level
 14:20 – 15:20Safety in Operations
Hear about how Canada’s railways demonstrate their safety leadership through their day-to-day operations.

Moderator : Michael Barfoot, Senior Director, Operations and Regulatory Affairs, Railway Association of Canada
Scott McDade, Enhanced Train Control Consultant
Michael Kwadrans, Head of Expansion for Ontario, Tatras Industrial
Wesley Logan, Director of Operations, Agawa Canyon Railway
Ballroom C, Lobby level
15:20 – 15:45Break
15:45 – 16:15Labour and Retention – Skilled Trades
In this session, we’ll discuss the challenges that employers in the transportation industry are facing with recruitment and retention and will provide strategies to not only increase, but to maintain a diverse workforce.

France Daviault, CEO, Canadian Apprenticeship Forum
Ballroom C, Lobby level
16:15 – 16:45Safety Culture
Moderator: Ben Chursinoff, Manager, Policy, Environment and Programs, Railway Association of Canada
Daniel Goodfellow, Manager of Safety, Toronto Terminals Railway
Ballroom C, Lobby level
16:45Closing Remarks Ballroom C, Lobby level
17:00 – 19:00Cocktail ReceptionLeBreton Room, 2nd floor


Ben ChursinoffManager, Policy, Environment and Programs, Railway Association of Canada 

Since joining the RAC in October 2019, Ben Chursinoff has worked to advance RAC members’ needs and concerns with officials at all levels and across departments. He leads the RAC’s environment committee, safety culture improvement initiative and works on the Proximity Initiative. 

Chris MillerSenior Director, Services Product Management, Wabtec

Chris Miller is the Senior Director of Services Product Management at Wabtec. His products push the existing diesel-burning locomotive fleet to be more reliable and fuel-efficient while growing to include energy sources such as alternative fuels, batteries, and hydrogen that are needed to support the industry’s transition to carbon neutrality.

Daniel GoodfellowManager of Safety, Toronto Terminals Railway

Daniel is a Manager for Toronto Terminals Railway, overseeing the Safety & Quality Management Programs in downtown Toronto’s Union Station Rail Corridor. With a diverse background leading teams in the manufacturing, concrete, and renewable energy sectors, Daniel draws from his experience when designing corporate initiatives aimed at enhancing safety culture within the organization. 

Derek PaceLegal Counsel, Fund for Railway Accidents Involving Designated Goods

Derek Pace is a legal counsel of the Fund for Railway Accidents Involving Designated Goods (Rail Fund) since 2022. He has been actively involved in developing the Rail Fund’s legal readiness plan. In this capacity, Derek works closely with government partners and the railway industry to ensure efficient access to justice for anyone affected by major rail accidents involving crude oil.

Emily MakDirector, Corporate Affairs and General Counsel, Southern Railway of British Columbia Limited

 Since joining the Senior Team in 2017, Emily has been involved in shaping the strategic direction of Southern Railway of British Columbia and its sister companies, Blue Water Rail Services and Southern Railway of Vancouver Island. Emily advises the companies on all commercial, environmental, litigation, and real estate matters.

France Daviault CEO, Canadian Apprenticeship Forum

France (pronouns she/her) is the CEO of the Canadian Apprenticeship Forum, the only organization in Canada that brings together apprenticeship stakeholders from all trades, all sectors and from across Canada to share information and promising practices, identify challenges and propose joint solutions.

Gerry Gionet President, GIO Rail Holdings

With over five decades of experience, GIO Rail Owner and Chief Officer, Gerald Gionet has worked at every level of the railway industry. Starting his career as a Train Crew Caller, he was responsible for making sure all trains were manned in a timely fashion.

Laura McNichol Senior Vice President & Chief Sustainability Officer, WATCO

Laura McNichol is Senior Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer at Watco where she leads the company’s government relations, grant-writing, sustainability, Indigenous relations and stakeholder engagement work.

Lisa Tuningley Founder and CEO, T-RAIL Products

Lisa Tuningley is Founder and CEO at T-Rail Products Inc. She is a disruptive entrepreneur in the Railway Industry determined to bring together the necessary innovations to support the growth of Canada’s economy through.

Michael Kwadrans Head of Expansion for Ontario, Tatras Industrial

Michael Kwadrans is an energetic and exceptionally successful sales and marketing professional with over 12 years of experience working for global Enterprise technology leaders such as IBM, Nuvei and Global Payments. He lives and works by the following motto, “Honesty, Transparency and Delivery”.

Mike BarfootSenior Director, Operations and Regulatory Affairs, Railway Association of Canada 

Mike Barfoot is the general liaison with various federal and provincial safety and economic regulators. Among other responsibilities, he oversees RAC Rules, Standards and Circulars.

Ryan PiddeDirector, Mickelson & Company

Ryan Pidde joined Mickelson & Co in 2008 and has 16 years of experience assisting short line railroads in the United States with funding railroad track improvements with state and federal tax credits, grant programs, and other incentive funding.  

Sarah McVanelInternational Recognition, Culture, and Retention expert

Sarah McVanel is passionate about guiding people to discover their own greatness and recognize the greatness in others. Her curated, customized talks explore why recognizing greatness is a fundamental key to improving morale, increasing top talent retention, and generating a positive corporate culture — all of which lead to sustained business success and a stronger bottom line.

Scott McDadeEnhanced Train Control Consultant

Scott is a consultant and has led the RAC’s ETC Program since 2018. In this role, he supports the participating railways in developing standards to allow ETC systems to be interoperable and engages with Transport Canada regarding planned ETC regulations.

Sean CrickAVP, Service Delivery, Cando Rail & Terminals

Sean oversees Cando’s operations, terminals, and contracts in Alberta and British Columbia. He leads the development of an extensive suite of tools for the company’s service delivery teams, including risk assessments, procedures, and custom training.

Sean StrongVice President of Environmental, Watco

Sean Strong, CHMM, QISP, is Vice President of Environmental for Watco, a single source transportation and supply chain services company.  He has extensive experience in compliance, remediation, sustainability, and environmental due diligence for industrial properties.

Shawn SmithChief Transportation Officer, Boundary Trail Railway

With over 40 years of experience in the North American industry, Mr. Shawn I. Smith is a rail business leader and network development consultant.  Specifically, Mr. Smith holds “shared” executive roles with both the Boundary Trail Railway (headquartered in Manitou, Manitoba), and the Northern Plains Railroad (operating in the upper US Midwest with operational interests in Alberta and Saskatchewan).

Thierry LysiakVice-President Business Development, Genesee & Wyoming Canada

Thierry began his railroad career with Canadian National in 1987. From Intermodal to Marketing & Sales, he held various leadership positions in CN, including Director of Sales and Senior Director of Marketing. In 2023, Thierry joined GWCI as Vice-President Business Development based in Montreal, QC.

Tony De ThomasisPresident and CEO, Essex Terminal Railway

Tony De Thomasis was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Essex Morterm Holdings Ltd. (EMH) on April 1, 2020. EMH owns and operates the Essex Terminal Railway, a long-established local short-line railway; Morterm Limited, a stevedoring and material handling company; and Motipark Limited, a vehicle storage and multi-modal logistics solution. Tony is responsible for all business activities of the three companies.

Wesley LoganDirector of Operations, Agawa Canyon Railway

Wesley Logan’s tenure at Watco began in April 2021 to lead the startup of the company’s first railway in Canada – Agawa Canyon Railroad based in Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. Wes currently serves as Director of Operations for the ACR, which includes the Agawa Canyon Tour Train. Prior to Watco, Wes served in roles such as Director of Operations for J.D.

Jim Gunther

Jim GuntherDirector of Network Strategy and Partnerships at CN.

Jim has over 20 years of experience in various transportation modes and commodities, and he is the Director of Network Strategy and Partnerships at CN. He is responsible for managing the relationships between CN and its supply chain partners, such as Short Lines, Class 1s and Ports.