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Sarah Mayes

Employee Profile: Sarah Mayes
National Director, Operation Lifesaver

She jokes that she’s a “glutton for punishment,” but when it comes to education – and specifically health psychology, science, and communications – Sarah Mayes is all business.

Sarah is working on her second master’s degree, this one in public health, after completing a Master of Journalism in 2018.

Remarkably, she’s done both while also working in her busy full-time job as National Director of Operation Lifesaver.

“I’m naturally curious and love when my brain is firing on all pistons,” Sarah says. “I’m fascinated by why people behave in certain ways and not others, and how social marketing can create behaviour change.”

Sarah has been driving change since joining the RAC in May 2014.

She served first as Director of Public Affairs, where she oversaw all aspects of the association’s communications.

In August 2016, she took over leadership of Operation Lifesaver (OL) – a rail-safety program funded by the RAC and Transport Canada. In the years since, she has modernized how and where OL does its outreach and education campaigns.

“We’ve introduced virtual reality (VR) campaigns to sensitize the public to how quickly and quietly trains can sneak up on someone trespassing on the tracks. We’ve also created VR driver training programs for bus and truck drivers, agricultural workers, first responders, and others — to test whether they know how to make safe choices in a rail environment.”

Combining her knowledge of behaviour change best practices and storytelling techniques, Sarah has focused on telling the stories of people who’ve been affected by rail crossing and trespassing tragedies, in the hopes of preventing others.

She says exposing the deep personal toll behind incident statistics can save victims, families, rail employees, and first responders lifetimes of pain and anguish.

Sarah has also focused OL’s efforts on suicide prevention, social equity, and reconciliation – in part by translating materials into Indigenous languages to empower communities to prevent incidents.

An enthusiastic home cook, Sarah is “constantly looking out for new recipes,” though she admits she is “still on the fence” about her recently acquired Instant Pot.

She and her partner Noel love to hike. They’ve done trips to the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Gros Morne, and the West Coast Trail. And they are actively considering destinations for post-pandemic excursions.

Sarah likes to read. But she is truly passionate about podcasts, especially ones that deal with forensic science and have great storytelling.

Stories stick with Sarah, and she believes they resonate with others.

“In my work, I’m always thinking about the people who’ve been impacted by rail crossing and trespassing incidents, and what they (and their loved ones) wish they’d done differently,” she says. “We owe it to our ourselves – and to our friends, families, and communities – to act safely, especially around tracks and trains. Because our lives can change in an instant.”

It’s people and an appreciation for what railroaders encounter day-to-day that fuel Sarah to keep pushing for increased public awareness about rail safety, and continuous improvement at OL.

Find out more about other RAC Staff Members.