CN opens new training facility in Homewood

CN President and CEO Claude Mongeau and Illinois Gov. Pat
Quinn cut the ribbon officially marking the opening of CN's
new training center in Homewood while Homewood Mayor
Richard Hofeld, left, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly, right, state Rep.
Napoleon Harris, far right, and other dignitaries look on.

(Photo by Eric Crump/The Chronicle)

The new Canadian National Railway Company training center in Homewood is officially open.

Training sessions started several months ago, but the ribbon-cutting ceremony held Tuesday, Oct. 14, made it official, with CN President and CEO Claude Mongeau and Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn wielding the scissors while Homewood Mayor Richard Hofeld, U.S. Rep. Robin Kelly and other dignitaries looked on. 

About 135 local, state and federal government officials along with representatives of local academic institutions and economic development organizations gathered for the event, which included tours showing off the facility's state-of-the-art learning tools.

Safety was the theme of the day, with several speakers stressing its importance to the company and their confidence that the new center would help new generations of rail workers achieve it.

Michael Farkouh, vice-president of safety and sustainability, served as emcee for the event. He introduced Mongeau as the first speaker. 

“Under his leadership CN maintains an unwavering commitment to safety,” Farkouh said. “This Homewood training center is the latest example of that commitment.”

Mongeau mentioned the company recently opened a similar but larger training facility in Winipeg, Canada, and said the two training centers are examples of the company's focus on safety.

“If I have a chance to have my legacy staked on one building, it would be a training building,” he said. 

The programs at the centers will introduce workers “to our culture and first and foremost to our culture of safety.”

He described the educational approach as “immersive,” and during tours following the ribbon-cutting, CN officials showed how trainees would move from high-tech classrooms to realistic simulators to field work, all within the confines of the Homewood campus.

CN officials said the proximity of theory to practice would make their workers better prepared when emerge from the program.

Currently, about 150 trainees are in classes every week at the center, but the number will soon increase to about 250, Mongeau said. 

Training covers nearly all aspects of rail work, from track maintenance, conducting and welding to management and sales, Mongeau said.

“This facility is an essential part of our future. Everyone of our employees in the us will at some point  their career will have started here or come back here to get recertified,” he said. “You should think about this as a mini-convention that's all the time in Homewood.”

Hofeld was the final speaker prior to the ribbon cutting. He first thanked all the Village of Homewood staff members who worked hard to help the project succeed.

“As proud as I am of CN being here, I'm equally proud of our staff and elected officials who made this possible,” he said, getting a round of applause from the crowd for the home team.

And he welcomed the “mini-convention” idea with the boost to the local economy it implied.

“On behalf of Homewood, I would like to thank CN for this investment in our community,” he said. “The jobs created and the spill-over benefits that will be felt by our restaurants, shops and lodging accommodations – even though they may be in Matteson – will be with us for years to come.” 

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