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Women In Rail: Toni Nicolas

Locomotive Engineer, Cando Rail & Terminals and former student at SAIT college

Toni Nicolas was pursuing her undergraduate arts degree when she learned she was pregnant. Knowing she would soon have to support herself and her son, she looked to the trades and – for the first time – she looked at rail.

“I thought: ‘Don’t you need to know someone? It seemed to me that rail jobs used to be generational,’” she recalls.

To prove she was serious about a future in the industry, she enrolled in the rail conductor program at Southern Alberta Institute of Technology. Three months later, she was hired by Cando Rail and Terminals. And she hasn’t looked back.

“No matter what goes on during the day, I know I’m going to feel accomplished when I get home,” Toni says. “It’s physically demanding. And lining things up to build giant trains, it’s like a giant game of Tetris – you’re trying to get the most impact with the fewest moves.”

In just over three years, Toni has progressed from conductor to locomotive operator to supervisor.

And her role at Cando properties near Saskatoon allows her to work weekday shifts so she can care for her son, Mason (who’s “obsessed with trains.”)

Toni says the job she loves allows her to spend time camping, trail walking, and enjoying time with Mason, her boyfriend, sister, and mom.

“Eighteen-year-old me would’ve probably laughed if you told me this would be doing; I expected to be doing a desk job,” Toni says. “Some friends and family are still shocked. Like many people, they thought this was a role for someone big, rugged, and bearded.”

She now boasts to her network about the types of job opportunities available in the rail industry.

And while she “stumbled” into rail, she hopes companies will be more deliberate in recruiting more women to the fold through school visits and career fairs.

“It’s not just an old boys club anymore. It’s a huge industry that needs good men and women to get the things we use everyday to the Walmarts and the Canadian Tires of the world.”

She adds: “I really hope people see there are tons of opportunities for them – no matter who they are.”

Get to know all of our panelist for the Women In Rail event here.