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Canadian Pacific Railway locomotives sit idle at the company's Port Coquitlam yard east of Vancouver, B.C., on May 23, 2012. A labour arbitrator has overturned the firing of a CP Rail conductor involved in the collision of two trains in midtown Toronto in 2016.Darryl Dyck/The Canadian Press

A labour arbitrator has overturned the firing of a Canadian Pacific Railway Ltd. conductor involved in the collision of two trains in midtown Toronto in 2016, saying the man's culpability was mitigated by the company's failure to provide adequate experience.

The inexperienced conductor had sought, but was refused, additional in-cab training to become familiar with the Toronto railway and its signals. He had worked just 15 months of his four years with CP due to frequent layoffs and had little experience outside a rail yard when he and an engineer drove the freight train through two signals and collided with four cars on another CP train on Aug. 21, 2016.

In an 11-page ruling, Andrew Sims of the Canadian Railway Office of Arbitration said Shayne Taylor deserved a "second chance," despite the seriousness of the rules he violated.

"The lack of familiarization that Mr. Taylor had actively sought is a significant mitigating factor in this case. It also had a direct impact on these events," wrote Mr. Sims, who upheld the firing of the more experienced engineer, Paul Jarvis.

"Mr. Taylor was far less familiar with the terrain and the signals than the locomotive engineer. As a result, in addition to the other distractions, he was having to consult his documentation," Mr. Sims said. "Also, his inexperience and anxiety over that fact goes some way to explaining his over-reliance on and overconfidence in the locomotive engineer's actions."

The train's engineer apparently disregarded a signal warning him to be prepared to stop ahead and was travelling too fast to halt at the next signal, which indicated stop. The train travelled for another 300 metres before colliding with the tail end of the other train, a Transportation Safety Board investigation into the incident found.

Mr. Taylor suffered a concussion and the locomotive struck the other trains and derailed, causing $675,000 in damage. About 2,500 litres of diesel fuel spilled and there were a number of small fires around the derailment, which occurred in the Annex neighbourhood of Toronto, according to the TSB investigation.

Mr. Taylor did not respond to a message.

"CP has a robust training program and has been the safest Class 1 railroad in North America for 12 years in a row, as measured by [U.S. Federal Railroad Administration]-reportable train accident frequency," a CP spokesman said by email.

CP declined to answer questions about Mr. Taylor's requests for additional experience, or if the company had made changes to its familiarization program as a result of the collision.

In response to the collision, the company reduced the speed limit for freight trains approaching a stop signal, the TSB said.

As engineer, Mr. Jarvis controlled the train's speed; as conductor, Mr. Taylor shared responsibilities for the train's operations, particularly in monitoring signals, wrote Mr. Sims, whose ruling quoted heavily from the TSB investigation.

The TSB report noted Mr. Taylor had encountered resistance to two earlier requests for additional familiarization trips in the Toronto network. CP granted the runs – in a yard not on the mainline – after Mr. Taylor's union became involved. He requested another after returning from a layoff just before the derailment, but was told by the CP's crew office it was not going to happen, according to the TSB.

The TSB does not assign blame, but says it investigates transportation incidents to advance safety. In the case of the Aug. 21 CP collision, it said the crew was ill prepared, distracted and possibly tired when they braked too late to stop the train.

"The conductor had been sleeping in a car for several consecutive nights, potentially affecting the quality and quantity of sleep," the TSB said.

The report also highlighted Mr. Taylor's lack of familiarity with the area, its signals and crossovers. "Following extended workplace absences, if additional familiarization trips are not made available to operating employees to ensure that they are fully comfortable with their designated territory, crew members may not be sufficiently prepared, increasing the risk of train accidents," the TSB report said.

"The incident itself is worrisome in that you have the highest profile track probably in Canada, so it's inspected [regularly], you would think. And yet you have a guy who's been sleeping in his car," said Henry Wiercinski, a member of Rail Safety First, a community group formed after a 2013 oil train explosion killed 47 people in Lac-Mégantic, Que.

Mr. Wiercinski said there have been a handful of derailments in the same Toronto area in the past 25 years, including one last summer. The group has called on the federal government to divert rail freight traffic north of Toronto – and away from the densely populated areas – in order to reduce the risk of a major derailment or explosion involving dangerous goods.