House of Commons Hansard #95 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was rail.

Topics

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Elmwood—Transcona, MB

Mr. Speaker, I can assure the member that I will never speak as many words as my predecessor. I will allow the rest of the members of the House to have an opportunity to also speak once in a while.

In regard to her question, it is important that we look at the railway safety aspect of things. The bottom line is safety for passengers, safety for residential neighbourhoods and safety and protection of our environment. The bill addresses that.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:55 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the hon. member for Notre-Dame-de-Grâce—Lachine.

It is a pleasure to speak to Bill S-4, the safer railways act. I would like to reiterate the comments I made this morning. Very often the opposition stands in the House and criticizes the government, as is our job to do and as is very often necessary in this place. However, it is also important to give credit where credit is due. I want to congratulate the government and the minister in particular on bringing forward a piece of legislation which is much needed, well crafted and will accomplish a great deal on railway safety in this country.

Our party's late leader, Jack Layton, used to talk about it being necessary to propose as often as oppose. The corollary to that is it is important to compliment and criticize when each is due.

The bill has been 20 years in the making. The reason the bill is in as good a shape as it is the approach that was used on this legislation. All Canadians would like to see more of that approach. The government sat down and consulted with industry, labour, and stakeholders of many different stripes. Government members sat in committee, listened to expert testimony and worked with the official opposition and all parties to make improvements to the legislation. Once again I want to thank the government and point out that its good work has resulted in a piece of legislation that is improved because of that approach. I might suggest that the government follow this procedure more often. I think it is something Canadians want to see.

The bill seeks to modify the Railway Safety Act to do a number of things. It improves the oversight capacity of the Department of Transport. It requires railway companies to obtain the safety-based railway operating certificate that indicates compliance with regulatory requirements.

The bill strengthens the department's enforcement powers by introducing administrative monetary penalties and increasing court-enforced penalties. It enhances the role of safety management systems by including a provision for the identification of a railway executive who would be legally responsible for safety, and a whistleblower protection system for employees of railway companies who raise safety concerns. I will talk about that very important aspect in a moment.

The bill clarifies the authority and responsibilities of the Minister of Transport with respect to railway matters. It expands regulation-making authorities and clarifies the process for rule making by railway companies.

By way of background, Bill S-4 was introduced on October 6, 2011 in the Senate by the leader of the government there. Bill S-4 is virtually identical to former Bill C-33, which was introduced in the House of Commons during the third session of the 40th Parliament.

Bill C-33 was studied by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, and was reported back to the House of Commons with amendments in March 2011. Unfortunately, the bill died on the order paper when the general election was called later that month.

The text of Bill S-4 incorporates the amendments adopted by the standing committee and otherwise differs from Bill C-33 only by the addition of one new paragraph and some minor changes in wording.

The bill was reported back to the Senate by the Senate Standing Committee on Transport and Communications with that one amendment in November 2011. The bill was sent back to this House where it received first reading in December of last year.

The Railway Safety Act was implemented in 1989. The act sets out a regulatory framework for railways under federal jurisdiction to address matters of safety, security and environmental impact. Transport Canada notes that the Canadian rail industry has changed significantly since the act was amended in 1999 and operations have become increasingly complex and traffic is growing rapidly. Therefore, this bill is timely.

I mentioned earlier that labour supports the bill. I want to mention a couple of things which I think labour was instrumental in achieving.

Labour made several key important points.

It wanted to see better fatigue management. That aspect is addressed in the bill.

It wanted to see greater whistleblower protection. In particular, it wanted to see a process of non-punitive reporting whereby railway employees could report their safety concerns directly to Transport Canada and not to a company manager. If workers identified any defects or safety problems, they could without fear go directly to Transport Canada. There had been a problem. Some railway workers feared being disciplined. Some had been disciplined by companies for nothing more than reporting their safety concerns. This is a positive legislative change.

Some railway workers say that they do not want to rely on good luck and gravity for railway safety. They want to rely on careful attention to detail, and swift and accurate reporting of problems so that accidents do not occur and problems can be identified before something happens.

Bill Brehl, the president of Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, maintenance of way employees division, did stand-up work in pushing for the amendments to this bill and for the overall concept of railway safety to be included in the legislation. Rex Beatty, president of the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, locomotive engineers, and Rob Smith, the national legislative director of that same body, also played pivotal roles in this piece of legislation.

This also shows how important it is to involve experts and Canadians from coast to coast, to bring to bear in this House their experience, knowledge and expertise. It helps make better legislation. This will make life safer not only for all Canadians, but for the thousands of women and men who work every day on the trains, tracks and rolling stock to keep them in shape.

There are some areas that need improvement. At-grade crossings are a problem in this country. Greater control of trespassing is still a problem which I do not think this bill fully addresses. The issue of track and metal fatigue is not fully addressed by the bill.

In terms of at-grade crossings, approximately 100 people per year are killed in railway accidents. Accidents happen frequently at the at-grade crossings. There are several ways to address this. We could raise the crossings, which is an expensive but effective way to go. We could bring in an automatic train stopping mechanism, as Sweden has done. There are automatic metal detectors and if a vehicle is on the tracks at an at-grade crossing, the train will automatically slow and stop in advance. That is something I would encourage the government to look at and implement as soon as possible.

With respect to trespassing, we need to fence off tracks especially in urban areas, which are places of death and injury. People trespass and get on the tracks, even though they should not.

Last, in terms of track maintenance and metal fatigue, there is no requirement to establish the fatigue life of rails. There are no common industry standards for rail life based on tonnage, defects or steel quality. For a country that relies so heavily on rail, we should be ensuring that we have state of the art world-class standards in this area. We can do more and better in this area.

In 2005 there was a derailment of a train near Wabamun Lake in Alberta. A report pointed out that the railway track safety rules do not provide any guidance on fatigue life, nor are there any common industry standards for rail life based on the state of the metal used on the tracks. A clear recommendation of the Transportation Safety Board was to establish those standards to ensure that the tracks upon which our trains roll are in the best shape possible.

I would like to conclude by thanking members of the committee on all sides of the House, and in particular the good work of our member for Western Arctic. He did such great work in pushing productively, proactively and in a non-partisan way for greater standards in the act.

I congratulate the government on bringing forward a piece of legislation that has the support of all parties of the House. It is a testament to a non-partisan, co-operative way of working together to get the job done which results in good legislation that every Canadian wants to see.

Safer Railways Act
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1:05 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, my colleague mentioned the need for positive train control. Positive train control would have avoided three deaths and a serious amount of damage in Burlington not too long ago where a train was going too fast for the tracks. No one knows exactly why because there was no voice recorder. There are two issues, the voice recorder and the positive train control, neither of which is part of this legislation.

The minister could make regulations enforcing positive train control and voice recorders mandatory. Would the member like to comment on whether the minister should or should not do that?

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

1:05 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, absolutely the minister should continue along the path he set which is a very analytical and studied way to improve rail safety. That would include positive train control.

I note that both Canadian National Railways and Canadian Pacific are very healthy financially. They routinely turn over $1 billion or more in profits a year. I think they have the economic strength to bring in the mechanisms and new technology that would result in saving lives. Positive train control cannot be introduced soon enough. I would hope that the minister would look at requiring such controls in the regulations. Industry can afford it. Safety demands it. The government should be committed to it.

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1:10 p.m.

NDP

François Choquette Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to thank my colleague for his excellent speech, for his very appropriate and pertinent comments. Indeed, safety is very important. When it comes to railways, safety definitely cannot be neglected.

My riding of Drummond is fortunate to have VIA Rail service, which goes right through downtown Drummondville. However, this comes with some disadvantages. Vehicular traffic has decreased because cars have to wait for the train to pass, which can take a long time when it is a freight train, or when it is a passenger train and passengers have to embark or disembark.

All that to say that safety must remain a top priority and the legislation must be strengthened. Everything must be done properly in committee. Does my colleague believe that, in committee, good reforms and good amendments to this bill can be proposed in order to create legislation that will improve the safety of Canadians, including those who take the train?

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1:10 p.m.

NDP

Don Davies Vancouver Kingsway, BC

Mr. Speaker, it is my understanding that the committee has been working very well because members from all parties are getting informed on the subject matter. They are making positive suggestions and the government is listening. Again I want to commend the government for listening and taking those amendments into account. It does not always happen in this place. There are a number of examples where we quite rightfully criticized the government for not taking into account positive suggestions that would make legislation stronger. It is important that we applaud the government when it does do so.

The recent tragedy in Burlington where three VIA Rail employees were killed and 42 passengers were injured is a stark reminder that more needs to be done, particularly with VIA Rail. That investigation is in its early stages, but early indications suggest that speed and a lack of signals inside the train may have played a role. This reinforces what the New Democrats have long said, that although railways in Canada are relatively safe, tragic accidents can and still do occur. These preventable accidents should be avoided at all costs. The federal government has a key role to play in the effort to make train travel safe.

Once again, I would like to see the bill passed. We need to continue to work in this area at the committee stage and with the regulations. Through working together we can ensure that Canada has the best and the safest rail transportation system in the world.

Safer Railways Act
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1:10 p.m.

NDP

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

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to rise here today to speak to Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act. My riding has an abundance of train tracks that are used by CP, CN and commuter trains. I think it is very important that we take the time to debate this bill, which is a very good bill, as my colleague said. I would like to talk about it a little more, so that the people of my riding really understand what it is all about.

The purpose of the bill is to improve the oversight capacity of the Department of Transport by, for example, requiring railway companies to obtain a safety-based railway operating certificate indicating compliance with regulatory requirements; strengthen the Department of Transport’s enforcement powers by introducing administrative monetary penalties and increasing fines; enhance the role of safety management systems by including provisions for a railway executive who is accountable for safety and a non-punitive reporting system for employees of railway companies; clarify the authority and responsibilities of the Minister of Transport with respect to railway matters; and expand regulation-making powers, including in respect of environmental management, and clarify the process for rule making by railway companies.

Allow me to provide some context for what we are talking about today. In 1989, the Railway Safety Act was born. Seven years later, the Canada Transportation Act was passed. Consideration was subsequently given to re-examining the Railway Safety Act, but the idea was abandoned at the time. Then, in 2000, we started seeing many railway accidents. From 2000 to 2005, there was an increase in the number of incidents, deaths and damage caused by railway accidents. In 2006, the government decided to begin a review of the Railway Safety Act. In May 2008, the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities made a number of recommendations after studying the issue. In 2010, Bill C-33, which was more or less the same as this one, unfortunately died on the order paper. Finally, there was a Senate bill, which reproduced roughly everything that was in Bill C-33.

All members of our party support this bill. The NDP has often promoted railway safety. We are talking about lives and injured people. We will definitely support a bill that will improve rail safety.

The NDP fully supports the fact that the bill would provide additional powers to more closely regulate the rail system in Canada. However, we find that the bill does not contain concrete measures to achieve that. We are putting pressure on the government to make voice recorders in locomotive cabs and positive train control systems mandatory.

I will explain how a positive train control system works. If a train is going too fast, this system makes it possible to slow down the train remotely. On February 26, there was a train accident in Burlington, Ontario, that killed three people and injured 42. This should never have happened. We know that speed was a factor, but unfortunately we do not know much more than that. We do not know why or who decided this train was travelling too fast. An automatic safety system would have made it possible to control this train and reduce its speed. This accident killed three Canadians—VIA Rail employees—and could have been prevented.

Voice recorders are mandatory for planes and ships, but for some unknown reason they are not mandatory for trains.

Basically, if there had been a voice recorder in the locomotive, we would know what really happened on February 26 and we might be in a position to prevent this type of accident in the future.

In my riding, the train tracks are very close to the houses of my constituents, within a few metres. There are laws about that, and the houses are built at the minimum distance required by law. That worries me.

The railway system in Canada is very safe. We live in a very safe country and we are careful, but improvements have to be made. There are still some shortcomings that allow accidents like the one on February 26 to happen. That was a passenger train. In my riding, many trains that carry hazardous materials also pass through. A speed control system and a voice recording system would enable us to go even further.

I am not really going to say more about it. On this side of the House, we are definitely in favour of the bill, and all the parties involved agree that our country's safety is very important.

Let me reiterate that I am in favour of this bill and pleased that it was introduced. That could have been done earlier. We have gone through a number of stages and we have taken some time before considering the matter. I am really pleased now that the Senate has proposed a bill that will improve our country's railway safety. I also hope that we will be able to go further by perhaps including the two solutions suggested by the NDP.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

1:20 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, it is always a privilege to address the House, particularly so when important issues such as the safety of Canadians, the protection of our environment and the efficiency of our economic infrastructure are on the table, as they are today.

As my hon. colleagues have recently emphasized, the government is committed to the safety and security of Canadians and Canadian communities and to a safe, dependable and modern transportation system to support the continuing well-being and prosperity of this country.

We cannot claim to have instant solutions for every new challenge that arises. Nobody can. However, as we have demonstrated time and time again, we are always willing to work openly and transparently in consultation with stakeholders and Canadians to ensure that the solutions and initiatives we develop are those this country needs to safely flourish and grow.

I believe the Safer Railways Act, brought forward today, is a fitting testimony to the success of our approach.

When the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities launched the Railway Safety Act review in 2007, Canada had recently suffered a series of devastating trail derailments that had caused the death of loved ones, the disruption of businesses, and a serious pollution of track-side lakes, rivers and communities.

During the course of extensive inspections and audits undertaken by Transport Canada following these accidents, the regulator identified numerous deficiencies that contributed to decreased safety levels, including non-compliance by the railway companies with various safety requirements.

There was a general concern with the level of the railways' compliance with regulations. Accordingly, the terms of reference for this Railway Safety Act review specifically directed the independent panel to examine the adequacy of Transport Canada's enforcement powers and to consider whether administrative monetary penalties should be added to the range of enforcement powers available to the department.

The minister appointed an independent advisory panel in January of 2007 to lead the review of the Railway Safety Act. This panel was given the clear mandate to uncover gaps in the Railway Safety Act and make recommendations that would make the regulatory regime more robust and adaptable to the railway industry and its operations.

The panel conducted extensive consultations across the country with railway companies, all levels of government, labour, shippers and suppliers. This approach ensured that subsequent recommendations would take into account the appropriate range of perspectives on rail safety issues. Consultations and careful consideration of these issues were carried out during the year-long course of the review and resulted in the advisory panel making a series of recommendations.

It is important to note that our government took immediate action to implement many of these recommendations. At present, Transport Canada has implemented eight internal recommendations, industry has implemented three, and the final 21 recommendations involve the legislative changes that we are discussing today.

Furthermore, an advisory council on railway safety was created, as well as a Transport Canada-industry-union steering committee and six technical working groups. These groups successfully bring together relevant stakeholders to address rail safety issues in a collaborative manner.

I specifically wish to discuss a key recommendation by the advisory panel upon its examination of the Railway Safety Act. The panel uncovered that Transport Canada's enforcement powers under the Railway Safety Act need to be strengthened to encourage better regulatory compliance, increase safety, and help prevent further incidents like those that originally triggered this review.

The independent panel's final recommendation on the issue, as detailed in its report of March 2008, plainly stated that “an administrative monetary penalty scheme should be included in the Railway Safety Act as an additional compliance tool” to enhance safety in the rail industry.

The government fully agrees with the panel's assessment, and the introduction of a scheme for administrative monetary penalties has been included as an important and integral part of this comprehensive package of safety amendments to the Railway Safety Act.

Administrative monetary penalties are certainly not new in the transportation sector. They were successfully introduced in the air industry in 1986 and were subsequently introduced in the marine industry in 1991.

Penalties of this nature have been introduced in the transportation industry because they work. In simplest terms, administrative monetary penalties are similar to traffic tickets for car drivers. When a company or individual breaks a rule or does not comply with a regulation, the department can impose a pre-established administrative monetary penalty or fine to help encourage compliance in the future.

Administrative monetary penalties have other safety benefits as well. With an administrative monetary penalty scheme in place, there is the perception of fairness because the operator knows in advance the cost of non-compliance and it is applied uniformly. Penalties can also be applied more uniformly as there is less discretion for giving warnings and therefore less opportunity for inconsistency.

Under the current Railway Safety Act, Transport Canada's options for enforcing non-compliance are limited. When a violation is found during the course of an inspection or audit, an inspector will normally issue a letter of non-compliance and follow up in a given time frame to verify that corrective action has been taken. If the situation has not been corrected, the regulator has only one option, prosecution, which is both costly and time consuming and therefore ineffective for a large number of violations. This is a significant weakness in the current enforcement scheme of the act.

We believe that administrative monetary penalties should be implemented as an additional enforcement tool under the act to provide an efficient, effective and less costly alternative to prosecution, particularly in the case of persistent non-compliance with safety requirements established under the act. This is consistent with the principles of minimizing the regulatory burden for Canadians while, at the same time, promoting regulatory compliance.

Of course, in interests of fairness for all parties, the proposed administrative penalty scheme would allow for a review of the regulator's penalty decisions by the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada. The scheme would also include provisions related to the minister's decision to impose a penalty, the due process to be followed, the review of decisions by the appeal tribunal and the level of fines to be paid for non-compliance infractions. Maximum levels for administrative monetary penalties would be $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a corporation, which is consistent with similar schemes in other modes of transport.

In addition to the implementation of an administrative monetary penalty scheme to improve railway compliance, we propose, through these amendments, to raise existing judicial penalty levels, which were established 20 years ago and are no longer consistent with those in other modes of transport. Maximum judicial fines for convictions on indictment for a contravention of the act would increase from $200,000 to $1 million for corporations and from $10,000 to $50,000 for individuals. Maximum fines on summary conviction for contravention of the act would increase from $100,000 to $500,000 for corporations and from $5,000 to $25,000 for an individual. These levels are consistent with other modes of transport, including air and marine, and the transport of dangerous goods in all modes under federal jurisdiction and reflect our view of what constitutes an effective deterrent to safety violations.

Implementing administrative monetary penalties as proposed in the safer railways act is clearly an important step in the development of an effective railway safety regime with sufficient scope and strength to ensure that our railways are safe and that they remain safe for the long term, as the railway industry continues to evolve and grow.

Administrative monetary penalties are not a stopgap measure. They were recommended by the Railway Safety Act review panel because they are a proven solution for improved compliance and safety requirements in the transport industry. Improved compliance means better safety for all Canadians and Canadian communities and a stronger foundation for our national transport system and economy for years to come.

The time is now to adopt this bill and move forward with further strengthening of the safety of our railway system. This bill has been consulted on and analyzed for several years and has received widespread approval and applause by all key industry stakeholders as well as members of both this House and the other place. I urge my colleagues to recognize that the time for debate has passed and, in the name of the safety and security of Canadians, the timely passage of this legislation is vital.

Safer Railways Act
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1:30 p.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, we agree that the time for this bill to pass is right now. We believe it could have been sooner and hoped it would have been sooner and that it would have been priority number one of the government, the safety of Canadians.

In the submission to the Senate, five amendments were submitted. Three were taken off the table. One of those amendments is that for proximate land use consultation. Could the member across speak to why that would have been taken off the table when it was shown that municipalities want a way to communicate with railway companies to arrive at the best land use decisions? And does the federal government have a role to play in that?

Safer Railways Act
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1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, this government has many priorities. The number one priority, of course, is jobs and economic growth. However, we are passing this piece of legislation swiftly and with the support of all parties.

Now the opposition claims to support this bill, yet its members rise in this House and claim that it has certain deficiencies. Throughout committee they supported it, and all key stakeholders have supported it.

This bill protects the safety of Canadians and Canadian communities. This bill is the right piece of legislation at the right time and it deserves swift passage by all members of this House.

Safer Railways Act
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1:30 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments by the member, but I want to pick up on a point or two.

First, no one would question the importance of railway safety. We need to do what we can. This particular bill would have a positive impact. To that degree, I think people would be very pleased to see there is all-party support to get this measure put into place thereby making railway safety better in this country.

I also want to pick up on a point that was raised earlier by one of the member's colleagues. Today, more than ever before, we have these large rail yards in Winnipeg, the Symington Yard, the CN yard, or in Winnipeg north, the CP tracks, which have suburban areas building around them. There is always the need for us to review and look at ways in which we can do an even better job in providing comfort for those who live in this environment of large yards to make sure that all safety measures are taken.

We should also take a moment to applaud those who are the stakeholders and the employees, who do and have done a wonderful job of ensuring the track record we have had over the last number of years in providing good quality railway service.

The member might want to provide comment on that.

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1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, I would add that many of these rail yards that are now within residential neighbourhoods are a result of urban growth. The rail yards were built far before any of the urban sprawl occurred.

Having said that, I would add that we should be proud of our rail industry and those who oversee its safety, including the rail workers. They have taken great care in ensuring that these rail yards are good neighbours to the communities in which they find themselves at the current time and that all safety precautions are taken to ensure safety is paramount for our families and within our communities.

Safer Railways Act
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1:30 p.m.

Conservative

Costas Menegakis Richmond Hill, ON

Mr. Speaker, this bill has been exhaustively analyzed, consulted on and debated for several years. Not only has it been exhaustively analyzed, but it has also received widespread support from this House, the upper House, industry stakeholders, unions, shippers, suppliers and other interested parties.

Does my hon. colleague agree that after five years of consultation and support, it is now time to produce results for Canadians and strengthen the safety of our railways?

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1:35 p.m.

Conservative

Mark Adler York Centre, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member raises a good point. This bill has been debated ad nauseam. It is now time to act. This government has put the legislation forward, and I would expect every member of this House who has the safety of Canadians at heart as a major concern to make sure this bill passes swiftly.

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1:35 p.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, the parliamentary secretary in answering questions earlier ducked the question about whether or not the upcoming budget would contain cuts to the staff responsible for enforcing the legislation. Over the course of a number of speeches there has been an indication from the government side of the House that industry self-regulating is really where it wants to go with this.

I would remind the member opposite, since we were talking about land use, that his riding contains the Sunrise Propane station that blew up. It was the second largest explosion in the Toronto area after the Mississauga train derailment. There are several homes that are still unusable as a result of that explosion.

A number of comments have been made about the fact that the explosion was caused by industry self-regulation. The TSSA was given the responsibility by the government to regulate itself when it came to the handling of propane, and a number of clear deficiencies came to light, but only after the explosion. There was no oversight on the part of the government on how that regulation would take place.

I wonder if the member opposite would like to comment on whether the upcoming cuts to the budget would have an impact on the ability of rail agencies to be safe.