CN Rail reaffirmed its commitment to maintaining a strong, long-term presence in Winnipeg with the announcement Friday that a new national training centre for its Canadian employees will be built here.
The 100,000-square-foot, "multi-multimillion-dollar" facility will open in early 2014 at the railway's Transcona shops at 550 Pandora Ave. E, and will be equipped to handle 250 to 300 trainees a week.
It is one of two new national training centres the railway will be building over the next two years. The other will open in Chicago later in 2014, will be about 75,000 square feet, and will handle 100 to 125 U.S. trainees a week.
Senior CN officials said at a news conference and groundbreaking ceremony in Winnipeg the two facilities will be the centrepiece of its enhanced employee-training program for new and existing employees.
They said every new worker hired in Canada after the Winnipeg facility opens will receive training here. And that means a lot of long-term, spinoff benefits for local businesses and the local economy.
Manitoba Premier Greg Selinger cited the addition of several dozen new full-time, high-paying trainer positions to the Manitoba economy. Elmwood-Transcona MP Lawrence Toet and Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz talked about the money trainees will be spending here on things such as hotel rooms, taxis, restaurant meals and entertainment.
"But most important of all, it makes us a national training centre for CN," Selinger said.
Diane Gray, president and chief executive officer of CentrePort Canada Inc., Canada's only tri-modal inland port and foreign trade zone, said the announcement shows the confidence CN has in Winnipeg as a major North American transportation hub.
"It reinforces... that Winnipeg is indeed not only a hub for trucking and air (transportation), but also for rail," Gray said.
John Orr, CN's vice-president and chief safety and sustainability officer, told reporters Winnipeg was an ideal spot for a national training centre because CN's main heavy-repair shops for Canada are here, it's in the middle of the country, and it's a bilingual community.
Also, "the whole health and vibrancy of Winnipeg and Manitoba lends itself to this," he said. "It's a multitude of positive things that are happening here."
Jim Feeney, CN's director of public and government affairs, said having a national training centre for all employees is a new approach for CN. In the past, training was done on a regional and local basis, and while there will still be some of that, this will ensure all employees are trained under a uniform curriculum and with the latest in equipment, technologies and teaching methods.
He said the only other national training centre CN ever had was for locomotive engineers only. It was located in Gimli and closed in the early 1990s.
The new centre, on the other hand, will train everyone from locomotive engineers to conductors, mechanics to track supervisors.
"So it's a major undertaking and a big deal for us."
Feeney said CN is revamping and enhancing its training programs because it's facing a huge wave of worker retirements as more of its baby boomer workers reach retirement.
He said in the last four years alone, the railway has hired about 8,000 new workers for its Canadian and U.S. operations, including about 750 in Manitoba. Most of them were replacements for retiring workers.