House of Commons Hansard #107 of the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament's site.) The word of the day was general.

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The House resumed from March 13 consideration of the motion that Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee, and of the motion that this question be now put.

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10:05 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Drummond has seven minutes to finish his speech.

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10:05 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House today to continue my speech on Bill S-4, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act and to make consequential amendments to the Canada Transportation Act.

As I mentioned before, the railway passes through Drummondville and the riding of Drummond. It is not just freight that is transported by train in the riding of Drummond. There is also a stop where people can take the VIA Rail passenger train. We are very happy and proud to have this service.

VIA Rail needs to further improve service in our riding in terms of train schedules and frequency of service. We need the train to pass through more often. It is a very popular area. The services that VIA Rail provides are well used by people in the riding, and we are very proud to have these services.

Nevertheless, not enough money is being invested in the railway in Drummondville. Freight and passenger trains pass through the downtown core, and each time they do, three streets are blocked. The entire downtown is blocked since there is no bypass, overpass or bridge over the railway track. We have to think about this. Investments must be made in the railway to improve safety.

This Senate bill has already been introduced in the House of Commons. The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities of the House of Commons examined this bill and reported it back to the House with amendments, but unfortunately, the bill died on the order paper on March 26, 2011.

We are very pleased that this important bill on railway safety is back before the House, particularly given the fatal train accident several months ago, which hit close to home for everyone. We definitely do not want anything like that to happen again.

However, railway transportation in Canada is the safest means of transportation. It is very safe and we should encourage people to use it. It is truly important.

In the backgrounder accompanying its press release on Bill S-4, Transport Canada points out that the Canadian rail industry has changed significantly since 1999. Rail operations have become increasingly complex, and rail traffic is growing rapidly.

The department notes that, in February 2007, the Minister of Transport, Infrastructure and Communities tasked an independent advisory panel with a full review of the operation and efficiency of the Railway Safety Act. According to the department, the findings indicated that the legislative framework is fundamentally sound and that efforts have been made to improve rail safety, but much more needs to be done.

The final report of the panel, entitled Stronger Ties: A Shared Commitment to Railway Safety, was released in November 2007 and included 56 recommendations for improving rail safety, some of which require legislative changes to the Railway Safety Act.

The Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities also studied rail safety and issued its own report in 2008. The report included 14 additional recommendations, many building on the recommendations from the review of the act.

The department's backgrounder noted:

The Government of Canada agrees with the findings of both reports, and is implementing the recommendations and amending the Railway Safety Act to further improve rail safety in Canada.

Efforts have been made to improve safety. It is truly important to continue working very hard in order to improve this legislation, which has been in place for many years but has not changed much. The number of trips per train is increasing, and it is important to continue in this direction.

The NDP has proposed a national public transit strategy. I hope that one day the Conservatives will realize how very important it is to develop a national public transit strategy that includes the railway as a key element. We should have a comprehensive vision, a much more progressive and proactive vision in this area. I am disappointed that the Conservative government has not invested more in increasing the number of tracks. The number of tracks has not increased in years.

A report by the Railway Association of Canada states that train tracks are green. The report reads:

Railways can play a big role in enabling Canada to meet commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without sacrificing economic growth.

I am sure that is music to the Conservatives' ears. They will be pleased to learn that they can invest in railways and fight climate change without hurting our economy. In fact, this will help the economy.

I hope that the Conservatives will support this very important bill and move toward a national public transit policy in order to fight climate change and improve our economy.

I urge the Conservatives to look further than this bill to make railways safer, to go further than Bill C-4 and lead us toward a national public transit policy.

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April 5th, 2012 / 10:10 a.m.

NDP

Claude Patry Jonquière—Alma, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for his speech.

He talked about a level crossing in a downtown area. There is one in my riding. There have been some very serious accidents involving young people beside the railway tracks. I am wondering if the recommendations include anything about pedestrians using intersections where there is a level crossing. Is there anything in the recommendations that goes even further to protect pedestrians who use these areas?

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10:10 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague from Jonquière—Alma for his very relevant question. We have the same problem in my riding.

Indeed, we need to think about the safety not only of passengers and the people who work on the railway, but also of the pedestrians and motorists who cross railway tracks, because we want to improve the railway system so we can have faster trains. I think the Conservatives will consider that.

That is why I said that we absolutely must invest in our rail infrastructure, in order to ensure that our level crossings are safe for both pedestrians and motorists. We need to invest in order to build either overpasses or foot bridges, to encourage public transit and to ensure that people are happy to have trains travelling through their neighbourhoods.

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10:10 a.m.

NDP

Jean Rousseau Compton—Stanstead, QC

Mr. Speaker, I wish to congratulate the hon. member for Drummond on his excellent speech and the great work he does in his riding, as well as all the environmental and transportation proposals he brings to our caucus table.

We are looking at a bill to amend railway safety and transportation in Canada, but this bill does not have any long-term vision or include any regional development, as my colleague indicated. There are many danger zones in urban environments, just as there are in rural and agricultural settings. In my riding, for instance, there are still many rather problematic areas.

Does the bill currently address any of those aspects? How could the NDP fix those problems with its long-term vision?

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10:10 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to thank my hon. colleague from Compton—Stanstead for his excellent question and his excellent work. I have the distinct pleasure of working with my colleague on various files, including public transit.

We have to look to the future. Bill S-4 on rail safety is a step in the right direction, but we have to look further down the line. My hon. colleague was right when he said that we need a national public transit policy. We need a comprehensive approach that takes environmental issues into account.

As I mentioned, rail transport associations and organizations say that this is one way to fight climate change. We know that the Conservatives are not doing much to fight climate change at the moment. Investing in rail-based public transit would be another step in the right direction.

The government must also invest in infrastructure. That is another Conservative shortcoming: failure to invest enough money in infrastructure. We need rail transportation infrastructure. We cannot leave everything up to the private sector. Unfortunately, the private sector only considers the short term; it has no long-term vision. The government must get more involved in infrastructure, as my colleague rightly pointed out.

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10:10 a.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

The hon. member for Saint-Lambert with a brief question.

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10:10 a.m.

NDP

Sadia Groguhé Saint-Lambert, QC

Mr. Speaker, first, I would like to commend and thank the hon. member for his speech. He emphasized the need to pass this bill in order to implement rail safety measures.

Can the hon. member tell us how this bill also supports sustainable development?

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10:15 a.m.

NDP

François Choquette Drummond, QC

Mr. Speaker, I would like to again thank the hon. member for Saint-Lambert for her excellent question.

As I mentioned earlier, economic development is vital. I cited the Railway Association of Canada, which explained in a recent report that railways can play a big role in enabling Canada to meet commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions without sacrificing economic growth. Investing in rail will not only help to combat climate change and improve our environment, but it will also promote sustainable development, as the hon. member just mentioned. It will allow us to foster a strong economy, a strong Canada.

That is why, I do not understand why the Conservative Minister of Finance did not take this factor into account in his budget, which seeks to build a stronger economy for the long term.

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10:15 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, it is with pleasure that I am able to add a few words today on Bill S-4, which has come from the Senate. I have always wondered why some bills come from the Senate versus the House of Commons, but I will leave that particular discussion for another time. I believe that the bill has the support of both opposition parties to go to committee.

The railway industry has had a profound impact on our nation, even prior to Confederation. From an historical perspective, in good part, the railway has made Canada the nation it is today. I would suggest that it is only relatively recently, in the 1980s, that we started to look at issues of safety and security and our environment, and the impact of the railways on our communities.

The last real change to the act would have been in 1999, under the Chrétien administration. Even then, we within the Liberal Party acknowledged the degree in advancement of technology and the impact of technology on our railways. We need to be constantly looking at ways to improve the circumstances and the environment for railways across Canada. It is good to see the government has seen the wisdom to reassess the issue and bring forward other aspects that would help us modernize the legislation. One could argue that we have been waiting for that for a while. We welcome that.

I want to share some personal opinions about the city of Winnipeg. In Winnipeg, in the area that I represent, there is a great divide and in that divide we have CP Rail. It has been a distinguishing characteristic of the city: those who live on the north side of the track versus those on the south side of the track. However, Winnipeg is not unique in that. We would find jurisdictions all over Canada that have developed around our railway tracks.

If we take a look at how Winnipeg North is able to connect to the city, there are three underpasses, King Edward Street, Keewatin Street and McPhillips Street, and two bridges, the Salter Bridge and the truly unique Arlington Bridge. Many people will walk over the Arlington Bridge just to see the heart of the CP tracks. They get a better appreciation of just how much traffic goes through Winnipeg, in terms of CP's perspective.

Years ago, the CP expanded into the CP trucking terminal. There are many ways in which the railway industry has led and fed other industries; in particular, in Winnipeg, the trucking industry. At one time Winnipeg was the hub of eight of the ten major trucking industries. CP or CN fed into the development of that industry.

Anyone standing on the Arlington Bridge would get an appreciation of the type of train traffic occurring there. We need to be aware of that and why bills such as this are so important.

If we stopped at a track and watched what kind of cargo is on our trains, we would find that it varies from lumber from British Columbia to chemicals from Alberta, to wheat from the Prairies, whether Saskatchewan or Manitoba. There are many commercial goods from provinces like Ontario and Quebec and commodities from our Atlantic provinces. Many of those commodities are absolutely safe. If there were an accident, other commodities are not safe. One of the reasons we have a system in place is to ensure that we know what is on the trains.

I will go back to the example of the Arlington Bridge. It is important to go over legislation of this nature and look at ways to improve upon it. Suggestions have been made for amendments. Stakeholders have made presentations to the government dealing with issues of safety, security and the environment. When we go to committee, it is nice to have experts share what we could be doing to enhance the legislation. By enhancing the legislation, we would ultimately make our railway system that much more healthy.

There are other issues that I think the House needs to give more attention to when we talk about our rail lines. One is in regard to rail line abandonment. A former speaker was talking about the importance of looking at other opportunities for rail lines or expanding rail lines. If the government had an interest in looking at those two issues, I think the industry would be doing that much better as a whole.

From Manitoba's perspective, many people are concerned about the community of Churchill. Now that the Canadian Wheat Board has been brought to its knees by the government, there is a real threat. We will have to agree to disagree on that particular point. Many individuals in Manitoba and well beyond are concerned about the port of Churchill, which is very much dependent on rail line services. With the threat of wheat no longer going through that particular port, because we need certain quantities in order to make it economical, that is now in question. As a result, there is a great deal of concern about the rail line and what the future may hold for it, and the profound impact that would have on the community. If we do not have an active rail line, it could ultimately lead to the closing of that port. Therefore, we look to the government. It is great that we have this particular bill before us today, but we need to think in terms of the potential that is there, the economics of our rail lines and how they have such a profound impact on our communities.

Over the last number of years, rail lines have been abandoned. In some situations a rail line will disappear and a walking or ATV track will be put in to replace it. It causes a great deal of concern for many individuals who have relied on the tracks in the past. There is a great deal of merit for having some sort of overall rail line strategy. It would be great to have a debate in the House as to what direction the government would like to take Canada into the next number of years with regard to rail lines. The future could be wonderful within that industry. The potential demand for railway services is increasing. If we fed on that increasing demand, it would increase job opportunities and would be better for our environment. There are many positives to ensure growth within the rail line industry.

I made reference to the CP tracks, the north-south divide in Winnipeg. CN also has a huge history in the city of Winnipeg: Symington Yard and Transcona shops. In fact, my grandfather and other family members used to work in the Transcona shops. The Transcona shops, in part, are what built the Transcona community. In some of the older homes, a good portion of the lumber that was used to build those homes came from the CN railway. People will see the odd stamp on the lumber. There was a great dependency on CN as that community developed. When we look at the expansion of Symington Yard, we again see the real potential.

There is also VIA Rail, which has had a lot of changes over the years. In some areas, people get pretty good service. There is a nostalgic value that is tangible for many individuals out west who, on a per capita percentage basis, do not take the train as often as perhaps people in the Montreal-Toronto-Ottawa corridor. Yet the desire for train travel still exists. I know that individuals would welcome the opportunity to travel from Winnipeg to Regina, for example, by train. My understanding today is that people have to go through Saskatoon. At one time, they could go straight to Regina. Hopefully something will happen in the future that will allow train traffic to ultimately go through Regina.

People recognize how important the railway industry is in Manitoba, whether it is the city of Winnipeg, rural communities, Churchill or Carman. Many of the communities are very dependent on our railways. Having said all of that, we need to be aware of the fact that there are a great deal of safety-related issues.

A number of years ago, we had an organized, planned train crash in which we had a train run into a vehicle crossing a street. I was able to be at that demonstration and it was quite interesting to watch the locomotive coming down the track in Inkster industrial park. They had a vehicle parked on the road and they had a locomotive coming at about 15 to 20 kilometres an hour. The impact did not seem to affect the train whatsoever, but what it did to the vehicle was truly amazing, even at that speed. The train does not stop right away. It took a while before the train came to a stop and we could go down and see the type of damage that was caused.

One very important aspect of our railways is the issue of safety and the interaction with our highways and streets with regard to train traffic. That is one of the reasons we see this push for bridges or underpasses in our larger centres. It is to try to prevent those types of things from occurring in the real world.

Unfortunately, every year we see collisions between trains and vehicles, and it saddens all of us. That is one of the reasons it is important that we look at ways to improve upon the system. We have many different forms of crossings and we need to look at how we might improve them, whether it be the flashing lights in some of our rural communities, the control arms that go down, or where they are warranted, underpasses and bridges, which are so very important. This needs to be considered when we talk about safety.

I alluded to another issue when I referred to the Arlington Bridge and the amount of traffic and the type of cargo that is on these trains. If today we have a derailment of any sort, whether it be in the city of Winnipeg, in small communities or anywhere in Canada, one of the first questions we have to ask is: What is on that train and are there chemicals that could endanger the immediate neighbourhood or communities in which the derailment occurred?

That is why we need to have regulations in place to ensure we have a fairly quick assessment of what cargo is on a train as it is travelling through our communities, because we have seen a buildup of communities. Over the last couple of years, we have witnessed train derailments where communities in and around the area have been asked to disperse while an assessment was done.

There are issues that cause these train derailments. This legislation attempts to deal with part of that; for example, when we talk about human fatigue and the role it plays. Expanding and providing definitions of what human fatigue means and what it can result in, I think, is a positive thing. That is the reason we have the legislation before us now. We recognize it is important.

However, that is not all. We see more and more trains and the potential of traffic increasing in the years ahead. If we had a progressive government that saw the value of providing commodities across the country for world trade, it would see that the train is the way to go. I see it as one of those cornerstones, and our trucking industry supports it in many different ways. I suspect as time goes by, we will need to periodically modernize the safety regulations and our laws to make sure we are keeping our communities healthy and our citizens safe from what is travelling on our tracks.

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10:35 a.m.

NDP

Jamie Nicholls Vaudreuil-Soulanges, QC

Mr. Speaker, the hon. member mentioned rail accidents quite a few times. In the 1960s, my riding had a very tragic rail accident where a bus was hit by a train and many children died.

Would it not be good if in this bill there were a mechanism that allowed the federal government to get together with the rail companies, the municipalities and the province to sort out safety issues and other nuisance issues that exist? Could the member speak to this question?

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10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, there is a great deal of merit to the member's question. We have to acknowledge that the federal government plays one role in the overall safety element of our railway lines. There are many municipalities, local governments, cities, provincial governments and even other stakeholders I have not listed that all have a vested role. In this particular case, it could be school divisions.

In some areas we need to be putting more of a focus on the arms. Today every bus, as it approaches a rail line, has to come to a complete stop. I could not say for sure if that is a principle that applies across this country, but if it does not maybe that is what we should be doing. By bringing the stakeholders together, we can develop a more standard policy so that all Canadians would benefit by it. The key is getting the stakeholders together and the best agency to do that would be the Government of Canada, to say it is taking the issue of safety seriously and wants to hear from the different stakeholders so we can make our rail lines as safe as possible.

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10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Mike Wallace Burlington, ON

Mr. Speaker, people from my riding of Burlington, which has just experienced a very tragic derailment in our community, understand the need for good rail safety. This act has been around the House for a number of years in terms of its upgrade.

I had an opportunity to meet with the rail company leadership. CP, CN and VIA were all at a meeting yesterday that I attended. They were talking about getting this through.

I am not sure there would be an answer to my question from the Liberal Party. However, based on the legislation that is there now and has been around for awhile, are there amendments the Liberal Party is looking for in the committee process? That is assuming that we are supportive of getting it to committee, which we certainly are.

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10:35 a.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, as I said at the beginning of my opening remarks, the Liberal Party supports the bill in principle. We recognize how important it is to improve rail safety and to that end, in opposition, as in other pieces of legislation, members will find that in all likelihood it is the Liberal Party that has the greatest open mind toward looking at the possibility of amendments. We do not want to say we own all the good ideas. If there are good amendments, we will support them. At the end of the day, we have one goal and that is to achieve better rail line safety, to improve the system so that the environments of our communities are better.

The accident the member refers to was horrific and it is sad to see the human cost of that. I would ask the member to pass on my thoughts and prayers for all those who were involved in that incident.

It is worth the fight and I appreciate the question.