Evidence of meeting #43 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 rail.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Michael Bourque  President and Chief Executive Officer, Railway Association of Canada
  • Mike Roney  General Manager, Technical Standards, Canadian Pacific Railway
  • Dwight Tays  Chief, Engineering Technology, Canadian National Railway Company
  • Mike Lowenger  Vice-President, Railway Association of Canada
  • Gregory Aziz  Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, National Steel Car Limited
  • Michael Hugh Nicholson  Executive Vice-President, Marketing, Sales and Quality, National Steel Car Limited
  • Peter Leigh Scott  Regional Vice-President, Marketing and Sales, National Steel Car Limited

9:35 a.m.

General Manager, Technical Standards, Canadian Pacific Railway

Mike Roney

I'll just add a bit to that.

We have been fairly successful in intermodal business. I know that over the past five years Canadian Pacific's intermodal business has been growing by 6% per year, so there has been some modal shift.

I think that would all change if we lost a big chunk of our traffic, because we're very capital intensive, and that would up our unit cost of everything we do, and it would probably put us out of being competitive on things like intermodal.

9:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

Thank you.

Monsieur Aubin.

June 12th, 2012 / 9:35 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Because time is of the essence, I will be splitting my time with my colleagues.

I want to start by reassuring our guests. If natural resource extraction in Canada leads to more secondary processing, they are going to have even more clients. They can rest easy.

In your introduction, you talked about rail renewal. Perhaps I was mistaken but I had imagined it could also be a source of development. When you look at the rail map included in your presentation, it gives a pretty clear picture of development in the southern part of the country. However, I would have liked to have seen a dotted line indicating routes to the north, particularly in Quebec. In the context of the development of the proposed Plan Nord, we will be needing your services.

Will private companies be responsible for building their own rail lines to connect to your network or are there development plans in place for the Canadian north?

9:35 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Railway Association of Canada

Michael Bourque

Thank you very much. I am pleased that you mentioned the Plan Nord. Canadian National has already announced that it is prepared to build a rail line to support mines in the north. This is indeed a private sector investment, with financial support from the Government of Quebec.

I also want to touch on your question of value-added, because I come from the chemical industry, and the chemical industry feels very strongly that we need to add value to our natural resources. I think if you look at the success of Canada, we have always had a combination of resource extraction, development, and manufacturing, in terms of the supply chain, to the extent that we can invest in an integrated, advanced supply chain infrastructure—that's going to help us move goods, whether they are canned lentils going to a specific market halfway across the world or they're in a very large container in their rawest form.

In fact, there are many stories—I mentioned this at the outset—of our 40-plus short-line members, and each one of them represents.... If you look at this network, you see predominantly my colleagues in CN and CP represented, but in fact there are a number of short-line operators who link to customers in the north, in the prairies, all across this country, who provide valuable service to customers, whether it's manufactured goods or other resources.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin Trois-Rivières, QC

Thank you.

9:40 a.m.

NDP

Fin Donnelly New Westminster—Coquitlam, BC

I just wanted to get back to the discussion about electrification. I'm wondering if any of the companies have done a cost-benefit analysis over a significant period looking forward, say, 30 years plus, with regard to the fuel costs and alternatives and comparing those. Initially, the barrier was the capital costs in terms of electrification, but if you look at the fuel costs going forward—I know it's hard to predict—has there been any kind of cost-benefit analysis or studies done on those?

9:40 a.m.

Chief, Engineering Technology, Canadian National Railway Company

Dwight Tays

I'll speak from the CN side. I'm not aware of any specific cost-benefit analysis using that long a timeframe and focusing on electrification versus the continued use of the diesel fuel alternative. As we mentioned before, we are focusing on alternative fuel technologies, and we are focusing very hard on fuel conservation efforts, recognizing the cost of the fuel. We have not done—that I am aware of—a long-term study that would include a significant portion of our network for electrification.

9:40 a.m.

General Manager, Technical Standards, Canadian Pacific Railway

Mike Roney

At Canadian Pacific, I'd say it was probably 10 years ago that we did that sort of a forward look. We projected at that time that the electricity costs would be below the trend line for fossil fuels, so that there would be a benefit, but it would tend to track that trend line. Really the problem we ran into was that it was going to take too long for our shareholders to get the benefit of the investment we were going to ask of them. As you probably know from the news, our shareholders have been very anxious, and we lost our president recently because we are not showing those results fast enough. It's difficult in that sort of environment to make that sort of a big capital investment for a 30-year gain, for example.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

Thank you.

Mr. Richards.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Wild Rose, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I appreciate you all being here today.

My first question is for Mr. Roney from CP.

Often, the railways are criticized a lot. It's only because, of course, you are such a huge part of the shipping in this country, and you serve many industries. So to use an example from my riding, when the green cars don't show up on time, the railways are criticized. Given the fact that you are so critical to the economy in terms of the shipping you provide, you are criticized from time to time. Sometimes it's deserved.

But today I would like to focus on our topic here, which is transportation technologies, and I want to give some credit where it's due as well. Certainly, the railways do a lot of important work and do a lot of great things. One of those things is very important in my riding.

I noticed the slide with the mountain scene, and I believe it was one of your trains going through my beautiful riding in Banff National Park. Something people, both residents and tourists alike, are concerned about there is collisions with wildlife, and in particular with bears. I know that CP has done a lot of great work to try to mitigate those collisions. I know, for example, that there are the vacuum cars, and there is also the partnership with Parks Canada, for which I believe millions of dollars have been spent to look at technologies that can be utilized in such ways that we can mitigate those collisions. I just wanted to give you an opportunity to highlight and share with us some of the details of that, because I think it would be useful for the committee to know about those technologies being advanced.

9:45 a.m.

General Manager, Technical Standards, Canadian Pacific Railway

Mike Roney

Thank you for that question. We'd be very pleased to talk about it, and yes, we do get it. We can't be doing this. That is why we're putting the money forward now; we started about a year ago. Of course, it started by fact-finding, as every good project does. So we started tracking bears that had transponders on their collars. We instituted a procedure whereby any train crew who mad a bear sighting had to report where that sighting was, because the first thing was to determine why the bears are on our tracks and the second thing was to determine where they are entering the tracks.

So yes, we do have, as you said, a vacuum truck working continuously to clean up any spilled grain, but more recently we determined, based on these studies, that bears find the track is a neat way to get from A to B. It's the path of least resistance, so they use it as transportation, and we have to stop that.

We've now mapped all the locations where bears tend to access the tracks. First, we make sure there's fencing, but also, where they are able to get on the tracks, we are now putting down studded mats around the tracks that are uncomfortable for them to step on to access the tracks at that location. We have also been experimenting with a device on locomotives that gives them an advance warning that something is coming at them. We've had to do quite a bit of research on that because they have to feel it's a scary thing. If it's just a threat, they just get their hackles up, but if they feel something scary is coming at them, there's a chance they will stay away from the tracks.

We're also looking at sending drone aircraft ahead of trains, or possibly our track inspectors having a device that produces a signal that scares the bears.

So lots of things are going on. As I've said, we're one year into a very serious attempt at solving this problem.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Merv Tweed

Thank you.

Ms. Morin, and then I'm going to go to Mr. Watson to finish questioning.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Isabelle Morin Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I would like to get back to the issue of level crossings. In my riding, there are a lot of trains, both CP and CN, which is important for employment and transportation. We are quite pleased about that.

A commuter train travels through Montreal West. There is a rather complex level crossing there, and a school nearby. That is why almost every morning and every afternoon, the municipal police are on the scene to ensure there are no problems.

At downtown railway crossings, where there are a lot of vehicles, traffic is stopped for several minutes. At what point could you consider building a tunnel, which would be safer? We know there are costs related to that, but when could you begin to consider that type of project?

9:45 a.m.

Chief, Engineering Technology, Canadian National Railway Company

Dwight Tays

Thank you for the question. I'd like to talk a little about crossing safety.

My previous role at CN was as chief signal engineer. I'm intimately familiar with crossings, and they are one of the areas where we have substantial opportunity to improve safety, so I appreciate the opportunity to talk about it.

Your question is when would we build a grade separation, either a tunnel or an overpass. Certainly there are significant economic considerations there, especially when you try to build infrastructure in an urban environment; the costs become prohibitive very quickly.

On the crossing side, there are a number of alternatives. Eliminating a crossing is always the safest way to prevent crossing accidents. The Railway Research Advisory Board has done a lot of work and has sponsored a lot of research on crossing protection and improving crossing safety, considering whether cheaper crossing technology exists, not for urban areas but for rural areas. Driver behaviour is certainly one of the key considerations, as is pedestrian behaviour. Device conspicuity—how easy is it to see the crossing devices?

In addition, on that same CN line we installed some second train warning signs to see if that would be an effective warning to people that a second train is coming. We've had incidents when the first train goes by and people make the assumption that they're okay to go. It's a multi-track territory and there could be a train coming on the second track.

So I think there are a number of things we can do to improve crossing safety before we take the fundamental step of investing the significant dollars to do a crossing elimination, although speaking as a railway person, the safest crossing is the one that's not there.

9:50 a.m.

President and Chief Executive Officer, Railway Association of Canada

Michael Bourque

I'll just add a short piece to that, Mr. Chairman.

During the passing of the Railway Safety Act we had asked for a small amendment to the act that would have required municipalities to provide notification to the railways if there was going to be construction within 300 metres of the rail line. We asked for that because we've got a number of case studies from across the country where development is taking place. For example, like the one that you've given where there's a school close to the tracks and a development on the other side of the tracks—a fast-food restaurant or some other attraction for kids—we're seeing a lot of trespassing there, with holes cut in the fence and those kinds of things.

Even if there isn't a crossing, it's a simple case of urban planning, where if we had notification we'd be able to work with municipalities to prevent those instances. What we're instead having to do, at tremendous cost to the railway, is to work with individual provinces and municipalities. It's almost like the reverse of eliminating red tape: it's creating a whole bunch of red tape for us in having to negotiate agreements with specific municipalities and provinces to have that kind of notification in place.