Evidence of meeting #32 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was s-4.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

9:40 a.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

Luc Bourdon

Definitely. I think it was a real eye-opener for many in the railway. I think the panel did some very good work. They consulted extensively. They had 15 public consultations. More than 70 people showed up to make their own presentations. I think 185 papers were tabled. They had 83 bilateral meetings with stakeholders. So I think whatever they had in that report was pretty accurate, pretty reflective of what's out there in the rail industry. I think some of these railways really needed to get their act together. We saw some of the major railways really turn around after the report.

There was a bit of apprehension at the beginning when we recommended that the recommendations be addressed by unions and the companies together. I think everybody right now will unanimously say that it worked extremely well. I think it really changed some of the railways that needed to improve. We see a real cultural shift right now, and the stats show that.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Elmwood—Transcona, MB

I guess my point is that we can have regulations, and regulations are good in and of themselves. They're required and necessary, but a true safety environment only occurs when we have a cultural shift.

Are we seeing that same shift also being brought out to the public? You talked about a decrease in incidents at crossings. We talked about a decrease in trespassing incidents. Do you see the companies reaching out to the public to have better education there?

9:40 a.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

Luc Bourdon

We've increased our resources for outreach. We now have five more people than we had, just to deal with education on crossing and trespassing. The government added some money with Operation Lifesaver as well, which focuses on crossing and trespassing prevention. They do about 2,000 presentations a year and have over 500 volunteers. That has an impact. We have more people on the ground as well. We got more money for the crossing improvement program. So obviously it really pays.

Just to give you statistics, for the crossings that were upgraded using the grade crossing improvement program, fatalities have decreased by 81%, so it's really paying.

We also commissioned a study on trespassing fatalities. The Université du Québec à Montréal looked at over 800 coroners' reports in the past 10 years. They've been able to determine that 48% of all trespassing fatalities were actually suicides. It's unfortunate that these things are happening, but about one out of two was actually a suicide. The same thing occurs in the States. These are probably a bit harder to prevent, but by relying on education, I think we've done a better job.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Elmwood—Transcona, MB

The most likely cause of death involving real accidents, I understand, would be trespassing issues.

9:45 a.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Going back very briefly—I don't want to dwell on it—would positive train control have any impact on those particular incidents?

9:45 a.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Elmwood—Transcona, MB

So....

9:45 a.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

Luc Bourdon

Positive train control will basically prevent four things: it would prevent over-speed, if a crew is going over the speed limit; it would prevent a collision between two trains; it would detect if a switch is left in the reverse position and would slow down the train; and if there's a work zone ahead of the train and the train is not slowing down because they did not get permission from the foreman to go through, it would slow down the train.

What you would need in order to prevent what you're talking about—trespassing—would be some sort of detection on the track. With 72,000 kilometres of track in Canada, it would be almost impossible. Many of those systems are being tried out throughout the world right now, but an animal will trigger it. There are all sorts of things that may...someone who just goes through very quickly will trigger the system. They are not up-to-date right now.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

Thank you.

I'll turn it over to our newest member, Monsieur Aubin. Welcome.

April 24th, 2012 / 9:45 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the members of the committee for their warm welcome this morning. I greatly appreciate it.

Mr. Bourdon, thank you for sharing your expertise with us.

You have before you probably the most junior member of the committee this morning. But I still have some questions. Perhaps you can give me the big picture.

Air and rail disasters are always the most spectacular. Despite the catastrophic nature of air accidents, we believe that air travel is still the safest mode of transportation. With this new bill, S-4, could we say that rail transportation will edge closer to air transportation in terms of safety?

9:45 a.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

Luc Bourdon

I believe that rail transportation is just as safe as air transportation. Our data show a constant improvement in safety. Under Bill S-4, safety will be enhanced even further. For example, railway undertakings have to apply for a safety certificate. The fact that all railway companies must show that they have implemented all measures to guarantee safety before they can even start up operations is a good thing. The same goes for existing railroads. And we will add monetary sanctions which will motivate companies to comply with regulations.

As for the environment, there is a section stating that railway companies will have to file an environmental protection plan with our department. This bill covers a lot of ground, including legal penalties.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Without minimizing the impact of these new developments, which are significant, it remains that these new measures are mainly administrative in nature. It seems to me that transportation safety must also be achieved through improving and updating technology, which is constantly evolving. Does the department have a budget for research and development?

9:45 a.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

Luc Bourdon

Yes, absolutely. We have set up a joint committee with representatives from railway companies and the University of Calgary, with whom we have set up a railroad studies laboratory. We also cooperate with the Association of American Railroads, the AAR, which has a testing site in Pueblo, Colorado, called the TTCI. We help fund some of their projects. We look very closely at what the Americans are doing, as they have a budget of $35 million per year. We do not have that kind of money, but their research applies to us in our context because we use the same equipment.

As regards safety, it is important to note that in over 51% of derailments, only one car actually derailed. You cannot see a train with just one car upside down. If it is just one car, that means it is one pair of wheels that left the track. Almost 85% of derailments involve less than four cars. This means that there are actually very few disasters as such.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Does Bill S-4 compel the transportation department to research new technologies? Is there any way to put this money aside to shelter it from future budget cuts?