House of Commons Hansard #114 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

12:35 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, the member has one thing right and that is that there is a high sense of recognition in terms of how important railway safety is to all Canadians. We understand and appreciate that this vital railway industry is the backbone in terms of the modes of transporting commodities, whether it is from British Columbia through our prairie provinces to Ontario, Quebec and to our Atlantic provinces. We in the Liberal Party have acknowledged how vital that industry truly is, which is one of the reasons we recognize the importance of railway safety and, therefore, in principle, are supporting and encouraging this bill to pass today.

My question for the member is in regard to making reference to the backbone of our economy. I want the member to reflect on the role that his government played in terms of the potential threat to the railway in the province of Manitoba, in particular from Winnipeg to Churchill, in a decision in regard to the Wheat Board. We need to look at the railway as an industry that provides life to many rural communities, not only in Manitoba but in Quebec, Ontario and throughout our country.

I would ask the member to provide a comment as to why the Conservatives do not see, as the Liberals see, that the railway can provide wonderful economic opportunities for all Canadian communities.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I represent an Ontario riding. We have grain and oilseed producers in this province. They all sell their grains on the open market without being compelled to participate in a central monopoly. Guess what? There is a successful rail line industry that operates in Ontario. I encourage the member to call CN or one of the other railways and ask for a little ride so he can see how well our system functions right here in Ontario without the presence of the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly.

One of the best decisions that any government has made in transportation policy was made when both the Conservatives and the Liberals supported the privatization of the industry. Because of that privatization, we now have profit-generating businesses that employ people, pay into pension funds, create jobs, support communities and move goods from where they are to where they need to go. That is proof of the power of the free market economy. It works in railways and it also works in agriculture.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:35 p.m.

Willowdale
Ontario

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Parliamentary Secretary for Multiculturalism

Mr. Speaker, the bill obviously represents a lot of hard work on both sides of the House, especially on our side, to put forward a bill that represents railroad safety. However, we need to look beyond that. We need to look at the pan-railroad economy in Canada. The railroad system in Canada embodies perhaps the soul of Canada in linking us from east to west.

My forefathers are among the Chinese who came here over 150 years ago to help build the railroad, representing our contribution to the building of this economy. In the last 20 years or so, I have been involved with the railroads of Canada in areas of innovation such as the development of the steerable bogie, the double deck of the GO Transit and the long-haul trains that make it so efficient for us to move containers from the west coast to the east coast at a fraction of the cost of going around by the Panama Canal. The contributions that the railroad brings to us are safety for Canadians, the innovations and contributions to our economy and today a better and cleaner environment.

I would like to know from the opposition members what suggestions they would have to improve on this bill.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

Conservative

Pierre Poilievre Nepean—Carleton, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am sure the opposition members will not mind me answering on their behalf, but I would rather start by thanking the hon. member whose expertise in the area of railway transportation has been sought by governments and businesses all around the world. This House could learn a lot from that expertise.

The member mentioned the importance of container shipping. It is interesting that in the late 1950s international trade, as a percentage of the global economy, was in decline. In other words, there was something called reverse globalization. That changed with the invention and mass application of the container shipping box, which effectively allowed massive quantities of goods to move through ports with minimum handling costs. As a result, a container can be filled in Beijing, transported to Vancouver, lifted off, put on a railway, transported to a warehouse in Calgary and then delivered to a retail outlet without ever being opened and at an extremely low cost. That has given Canadians and others access to lower cost goods, which helps raise our standard of living and allows us to get our goods to hungry foreign markets at minimal transportation costs.

We need to build upon this wonderful free enterprise creation that has improved the quality of life for so many people around the world.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

12:40 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, having a safe and reliable rail network is essential to Canada's mobility and economy. Seventy percent of all service goods are shipped by train. Passenger and commuter trains transport more than 70 million people a year. Our railways also have an environmental edge over road bound traffic as they only contributes 3% of Canada's transportation related greenhouse gas emissions.

By choosing rail, passengers and shippers also choose one of the safest modes of transport in Canada. However, although modest gains have been made in reducing accidents over the past few years, we are not where we want to be in terms of rail safety. The tragic VIA Rail collisions in Burlington in February of this year and the recent derailment in Alberta show that more needs to be done. Bill S-4, the safer railways act, is a step in the right direction.

Members know that the bill has been in front of the House of Commons several times. In fact, the history of it is quite extensive. It started in February 2007 with the department telling the minister of transport that there should be a full review of the operation and efficiency of the Railway Safety Act.

An advisory panel was established and came out with a final report entitled: “Stronger Ties: A Shared Commitment to Railway Safety”, which was published in November 2007. That was five years ago. It included 56 recommendations for improvement of rail safety, some of which are included in the legislative changes in front of us today.

Throughout the past five years, the bill came before the House in many forms. In May 2008 the standing committee tabled 14 recommendations after it studied the Rail Safety Act. In June 2010 Bill C-33 was introduced by the government in the House of Commons, but unfortunately it did not pass. We now have Bill S-4 in front of us.

However, Bill S-4 is only a step, not a leap. Depending on whom one talks to, it is more of a baby step. It is long overdue, but it is certainly not universal in addressing ongoing rail safety challenges.

Rail accidents have decreased over the last five years, but only in a very limited way. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada, an independent government agency responsible for advancing transportation safety through investigations and recommendations, has some insightful statistics, some of which I will list.

The number of railway accidents went down by a meagre 5% from 2010 to 2011. We still have more than 1,000 train accidents a year. That is almost three a day. Slightly more than 100 train collisions and derailments happen on the main tracks and not tucked away in some slow-moving marshalling yard.

Off the main tracks, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada reported 573 collisions and derailments. There were 33 accidents in which the culprit was not due to human error or rolling stock, but because the rails themselves were unsafe.

Every other week, somewhere in our country, there is a rail accident that involves fire or an explosion. VIA Rail unfortunately does not own its own rails but leases them from CN/CP. This makes it hard for VIA Rail to have much control over the rails.

Needless to say, a rail accident's harmful potential is compounded when dangerous goods are involved.

In 2011 there were 118 accidents involving toxic cargo, most of them were derailments. In three of those accidents harmful contents were spilled, damaging the environment and threatening the health of residents and workers.

Even without collisions, once a week there is an incident somewhere in Canada in which dangerous goods are leaked.

The Transportation Safety Board reported 51 incidents in which harmful and toxic substances were inadvertently released into the environment, and things do not look much better this year. From January to March, there were 16 dangerous goods leakages. During the same time frame last year, there were 11. We actually had five more incidents of dangerous goods that leaked into the environment than last year.

While the number of overall accidents has slightly decreased, 5%, the number of serious accidents, those that have to be reported to the Transportation Safety Board, has increased by a dramatic 27% from 2010 to 2011. The number of mandatory reported rail incidents rose from 160 to 204. That means we are on par with the numbers again in 2005, 2,004 rail incidents. That is a big number. It makes one wonder about significant and sustainable safety gains that were supposedly to be achieved under the Conservative government.

In 2011 there were 68 accidents involving passenger trains. Just to keep the record straight, travelling by rail is still several times safer than taking a car, but 68 accidents involved passenger trains last year.

In addition to the potential damage to passengers and working crews, passenger train accidents have a corrosive effect on public perception. Right after the Burlington accident, VIA Rail suffered a slump in passenger numbers. The solution is not to talk about it, but to really tackle our rail safety deficit head on. It is timely that this bill is in front of us at third reading. Hopefully it will be law in a few days.

There was a train accident on February 26 of this year in Burlington and one in Montreal a few years ago. Rail accidents not only impact workers and passengers who are hurt or fatally injured, but the damage and the grief goes beyond those immediately affected such as local communities and residents and businesses. Whenever these accidents happen, emergency personnel and local residents show valour and compassion beyond the ordinary. The five heroes who were honoured by Burlington city council yesterday are prime examples of just that.

Tragic accidents also leave deep scars in local communities. Almost two years after the fatal accident in Montreal, the parents of three teenagers who were killed are still looking for answers as to why their children were run over in the dark by a train with dimmed headlights.

The Transportation Safety Board has investigated more than 170 rail accidents in recent years. Based on the insights from its investigation, the Transportation Safety Board has made a whole host of demands for improving rail safety. For the particularly urgent and important ones, it files a formal recommendation with Transport Canada and tracks the ministry's response and action.

Since 2005, the Transportation Safety Board has issued more than 50 of those formal recommendations. Unfortunately, under the Conservative leadership, Transport Canada has not been very proactive or eager to follow those recommendations. Less than 60%, that is 6 out of 10, of the Transportation Safety Board's file demands have been completely addressed in the eyes of the independent agency. Why have not 100% of the recommendations from the safety board been addressed and implemented?

Fifteen per cent of the expert's recommendations were partially addressed. One-quarter of the Transportation Safety Board's recommendations were essentially left unaddressed, with no meaningful action taken. I will take some time later on to go through them.

The TSB, in its very charming wording, said that it was “satisfactory intent”. There is intent, but no action has been taken. In some of these cases, the ministry has been sitting on its hands for seven years, so it is very subtle to call that intent.

The first of the recommendations is the voice recorders. We will recall, in all of these accidents, whether the one in Quebec or the one still under investigation from Burlington, that the investigators have not been able to get to the bottom of the accidents because there are no voice recorders in the locomotive cabs. Therefore, unlike planes, we do not know precisely what happens in the locomotive cab.

Even before 2007, close to 10 years, the safety board has said that Transport Canada must mandate these voice recorders to be installed in the locomotive cabs. For six years nothing happened. Recently we heard from the minister that some discussion had taken place, that there was some negotiation with the unions. The unions have said that they are not opposed to them, so there is absolutely no reason why it is not mandated. Apparently there are more discussions. There is a lot of talk, but at the end of the day there are still no voice recorders in locomotive cabs. That is just not acceptable.

The second area the Transportation Safety Board has talked about is the need for an alternative mechanism to slow down the trains if the trains go too fast. In these times of modern technologies, certainly the switches and tracks can be connected with the braking system. Such technology exists. It is called a positive train control system. It is a system that is being installed across the states. Amtrak, for example, has them now. As of 2005, it is mandatory that every train in the U.S. has such a control system. Therefore, as in the case of Burlington, the train would have automatically slowed down to the appropriate speed and not jumped the track because it was going too fast.

Another area we need to look at occasionally is driver fatigue. What happens is a driver might report to work at 8 a.m. If the train is late, or for some reason there is a breakdown or mechanical problems, the driver waits and waits, then starts work. In this case, by the time drivers start their work, they have waited for many hours and some of them are in fact very tired.

We need to look at the whole area of rail crossing in the future. We did not make any amendments to that, because rail crossing is fairly complex. A lot of developments have built condominiums and shopping malls around railway tracks. Some of the railway companies say that if municipalities want to go ahead and build such developments in areas served by trains, then at least the railway companies should be advised.

Local municipalities, local government is a provincial matter. In many ways it does not necessarily come under federal jurisdiction. However, this is an area we need to look at. We do not want a developer building a series of high-rises, an entire neighbourhood on one side of the track, and then a school or a shopping mall being built on the other side of the track. People are then tempted to cross the track, even though there might be barriers. They might take shortcuts and put themselves in danger. Urban planning needs to recognize rail safety as a very important issue.

In European countries and in Asia, railway crossings are increasingly separated by grade. The train either goes into a tunnel or it goes up on a bridge so that the pedestrian can walk across directly. It is not a shortcut. In some cases, pedestrians go across a bridge to cross railway tracks. It costs a bit more money, but it is infinitely safer than asking people to go around railway tracks and not take a shortcut.

Railway associations are quite concerned about those areas, but given how long Bill S-4, the safer railways act, has been before the House, the committee and other members of Parliament and the NDP did not want to slow down the bill. It was fast-tracked through the committee, which is why I did not move any amendments on voice recorders, positive train control, rail crossing or driver fatigue. Those issues, important as they are, need to be investigated and considered in a future study, maybe in future recommendations.

I was assured by the minister that voice recorders are coming soon. After all these years of waiting, they will come and we do not need to mandate them. I will not quite believe this until I see it, but let us see what happens.

I want to turn the rest of the few minutes I have to talk quickly about the rest of the Transportation Safety Board's recommendations. They were left unaddressed by Transport Canada. Let me list some of them.

The department of transport, in conjunction with the railway industry and other North American regulators, should establish a protocol for reporting and analyzing tank car stub sill failures, so that unsafe cars are repaired or removed from service.

Another recommendation where no action has been taken is that Transport Canada work with the provincial government to expedite the implementation of a national standard for low ground clearance advance warning signs at railway crossings. Railway crossings are very important, and we need advance warning signs.

CN should take effective action to identify and mitigate risk to safety as required by its safety management system. We should require CN to do so, not just ask politely. We should implement Transport Canada standards to improve the visibility of emergency contact signage at railways crossings, again, it is about railways crossings, and then conduct assessments of level crossings on the high-speed passenger rail Quebec-Windsor corridor and ensure that defences are adequate to mitigate the risk of truck-train collisions.

There are many more recommendations that I want to go into, but I am running out of time. I know that when we work together we can get the job done and make train service in Canada even safer than it is today.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

1 p.m.

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the comments made by the member. A couple of thoughts came to mind.

When we look at the railway industry, we see this growing need for rapid transit in our urban centres. Quite often it is overlooked in terms of its importance today when we talk about rail line safety because, more and more, we are looking at different forms of rapid transit for urban centres. I am wondering if the member would provide some comment on that.

I would also be interested in knowing if the New Democratic Party has a recent position in regard to the whole nationalization issue. Is it still in favour of nationalizing a rail line?

Safer Railways Act
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1 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I am thankful that the Liberal member reminded me that CN was privatized by the Liberal government in the 1990s. As a result, a large number of tracks and passenger services were eliminated. The tracks were ripped up.

Thanks to the Liberal government, as a result of losing those services, through the years we have lost 10,000 kilometres of railway tracks in Canada. That is a huge number. Think of all the cities and towns that are left without rail and freight delivery services. There are now many trucks that do not need to be on the highway because any number of goods can be shipped by train. It is that much better for the environment, and that much safer. I wish that had not occurred.

Safer Railways Act
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1:05 p.m.

NDP

Linda Duncan Edmonton—Strathcona, AB

Mr. Speaker, the member for Trinity—Spadina does a phenomenal job on this portfolio. I know that all of my constituents appreciate her important work.

As I have mentioned in the House previously, I was a direct victim of a major derailment on the CN line in the largest freshwater spill of bunker C fuel oil in the history of North America, into Lake Wabamun. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada wrote a report. I have seen some changes come forward, but I have a deep concern with its recommendation with respect to inadequate emergency response planning. In this past budget, the government removed all emergency response capabilities of the federal government yet we have had the largest spill in history. In Alberta, we are still having very serious incidents occur. We have a lot of movement of petroleum and chemicals, including right into the centre of my riding.

I wonder if the member could speak to this issue. Unfortunately, these rail companies own a lot of real estate in our country. There are major chemical cars coming into my riding. However, the city cannot do anything about it because the rail companies hold the lands. We have rail lines running along all of our major rivers in the country.

Can the member speak to the matter of whether or not the federal government should step up to the plate and start dealing with this issue and maybe help the municipalities and other areas buy up these lands?

Safer Railways Act
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1:05 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, the Transportation Safety Board was quite concerned about what my friend said. It recommended that the department of transport extend the safety provisions of construction standards applicable to 286,000 pound cars to all new non-pressured tank cars carrying dangerous goods.

It also asked that the department conduct in-depth studies on the behaviour of saturated organic materials under cyclic loading. It talked about ensuring that maintenance standards and practices address the level of risk in heavy tonnage other than on the main tracks. It also said that the department of transport needs to make sure an assessment is conducted of the suitability of current Canadian rail operating rules and railway instructions concerning the immediate reporting of operating delays to all concerned where there is a safety risk.

Lastly, it called upon the department of transport to establish minimum standards for the type, location and requirement for fencing along railway rights-of-way approaching railway bridges and any other areas where frequent pedestrian incursions are known.

We can tell from these recommendations that the Transportation Safety Board wants to make sure that Transport Canada, local municipalities and the railway companies work together to keep everything safe.

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1:05 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I want to thank my colleague for Trinity—Spadina for invoking, for me, the memory of the Hon. Rev. Bill Blaikie, the former member for Elmwood—Transcona, and his regular and frequent admonitions to the House of Commons that we need to get the freight off the trucks and back onto the rail where it belongs. That should be our number one job for the environment, for rail safety, for any number of compelling reasons.

There is one thing I would like my colleague to comment on. We are dealing with the Railway Safety Act today. There has been a call for a rail service review, and there has been a further call for a rail costing review. Prairie farmers are being gouged as badly as they were gouged in the 1930s, because nobody has reviewed whether what they are being charged to move their grain is in any way related to the actual cost of moving that grain.

Will the member comment on the need for a rail costing review as the next initiative for this chamber?

Safer Railways Act
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May 1st, 2012 / 1:10 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, the prairie farmers have waited for years and years for regulations that would govern CN and CP service standards.

Right now there are no service standards. There was a review. The review recommended mediation and regulation. Before the last election, in March, the Conservatives promised regulations. They promised that CN and CP would be regulated, so they would have to have performance standards and service standards. Right now, it is completely unfair as all the power lies with CN and CP, and none with the prairie farmers, whether they grow soybeans, grain or lentils.

The farmers do not have the power. They are not given adequate notice. They are not given any information. They have been waiting. We have not seen regulations, which is quite unfortunate. If CN and CP were regulated, then there would be much higher service standards and much safer transport. We certainly hope the service would expand even more, because the farmers would feel secure in being able to deliver their grains to port by rail. They would not have to look at alternatives, such as trucking.

Safer Railways Act
Government Orders

1:10 p.m.

NDP

Pat Martin Winnipeg Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, once again, more specifically, we have heard about a rail safety review. Even this legislation refers to a rail service review and the promised regulations. However, the rail costing review is what I want further information on.

It seems the robber barons are once again gouging prairie farmers with impunity. The last time we did a rail costing review was 15 years ago. The Canadian Wheat Board estimates they are paying 30% more than a reasonable cost of transporting their grain.

Does the House not have an obligation to do a rail costing review to make sure that prairie farmers are not being gouged by robber barons?

Safer Railways Act
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1:10 p.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow Trinity—Spadina, ON

Mr. Speaker, I agree. We do need a rail costing review.

CN is doing very well. I saw two days ago that its profit went up by 13%. Billions are being made while prairie farmers are not getting the services they need, are being gouged and are losing millions of dollars because their grains are not showing up at the port on time.

Safer Railways Act
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1:10 p.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Bourassa, QC

Mr. Speaker, I should start by saying that I am going to share my time with the member for Winnipeg North. We like to keep things collegial, and I know that my colleague works hard on this issue, because we know the importance of the railways in the Prairies, just like elsewhere in Canada.

I must admit that I am not inclined to rehash the statistics because we have talked about them at length.

Safer Railways Act
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1:10 p.m.

Conservative

The Acting Speaker Bruce Stanton

I realize the hon. member for Bourassa has indicated that he may wish to split his time. This being the third round, I assume the member is seeking unanimous consent to split his time in this particular slot. Is there unanimous consent for the member to split his time?