Safe and Accountable Rail Act

An Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act

This bill was last introduced in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session, which ended in August 2015.

Sponsor

Lisa Raitt  Conservative

Status

This bill has received Royal Assent and is now law.

Summary

This is from the published bill. The Library of Parliament often publishes better independent summaries.

This enactment amends the Canada Transportation Act to strengthen the liability and compensation regime for federally regulated railway companies by establishing minimum insurance levels for railway companies and a supplementary, shipper-financed compensation fund to cover damages resulting from railway accidents involving the transportation of certain dangerous goods.

Among other things, the amendments

(a) establish minimum insurance levels for freight railway operations based on the type and volume of goods that are transported;

(b) require the holder of a certificate of fitness to maintain the liability insurance coverage required by that Act, and to notify the Canadian Transportation Agency without delay if its insurance coverage is affected;

(c) establish that a railway company is liable, without proof of fault or negligence, subject to certain defences, for losses, damages, costs and expenses resulting from a railway accident involving crude oil or other designated goods, up to the level of the company’s minimum liability insurance coverage; and

(d) establish a compensation fund in the Accounts of Canada, financed by levies on shippers, to cover the losses, damages, costs and expenses resulting from a railway accident involving crude oil or other designated goods that exceed the minimum liability insurance coverage.

The enactment also amends the Railway Safety Act to, among other things,

(a) allow a province or municipality that incurs costs in responding to a fire that it is of the opinion was the result of a railway company’s railway operations to apply to the Canada Transportation Agency to have those costs reimbursed by the railway company;

(b) clarify the Governor in Council’s power to make regulations respecting the restriction and prevention of access to land on which a line of railway is situated, including by means of fences or signs on that land or on land adjoining it;

(c) authorize a railway safety inspector who is satisfied that there is an immediate threat to the safety or security of railway operations to order a person or company to take any measure that the inspector specifies to mitigate the threat;

(d) authorize the Minister to require, by order, a company, road authority or municipality to follow the procedures or take the corrective measures that the Minister specifies if the Minister considers it necessary in the interests of safe railway operations;

(e) provide the Governor in Council with a regulation-making power regarding the submission of information that is relevant to the safety of railway operations by any person, other than the Minister to any person;

(f) authorize the Minister to order a company that is implementing its safety management system in a manner that risks compromising railway safety to take the necessary corrective measures; and

(g) declare that certain regulations and orders that were made under the Railway Act are deemed to have had effect from the day on which they were made under that Act and that those regulations and orders continue to have effect from that day as if they were made under the Railway Safety Act.

Elsewhere

All sorts of information on this bill is available at LEGISinfo, provided by the Library of Parliament. You can also read the full text of the bill.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2015 / 5 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, we have grave concerns about the way the government is operating a variety of systems. I talked about what it has done in terms of real railway safety and the fact that it has cut funding. How can we have confidence in the government overseeing or regulating any system when it has cut the number of auditors and inspectors who are there to check whether these things are being run properly and in a safe manner? That is not happening. We should be very concerned about it.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2015 / 5 p.m.
See context

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I was dismayed that my hon. colleague from Halifax chose a bill that is primarily directed to liability in relation to rail safety to promote pipelines in his address. I certainly do not believe that pipelines carrying unprocessed bitumen to tide waters for refineries in other countries are in Canada's national interest.

It is also important to say that, as far as I know, the Green Party is the only party that opposes Keystone, energy east, Kinder Morgan, and Enbridge. I know he said that the NDP opposes all of them. I wish that were true, but I do not think that is the case at the moment.

Therefore, I want to give my hon. colleague an opportunity to perhaps rethink if that is the official position of the Liberal Party forever, regardless of the jobs that are lost. Unifor recently submitted evidence to the Kinder Morgan process about how many jobs are lost when raw bitumen has to be mixed with toxic diluent to even move through a pipeline, because it is a solid, to put it in a tanker to ship overseas for jobs elsewhere in refineries.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2015 / 5 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, what the member is suggesting is that this product should be moved by rail instead of pipeline. She is saying that she is opposed to pipelines, period, so let us move it by rail. She is maybe saying not to move it at all, to not have any petroleum products. The idea that we would move away from fossil fuels is appealing for people who are concerned about the environment, as we all should be, but that is not going to happen tomorrow.

If we go out to any major highway, we will find a lot of vehicles that are using petroleum products to operate. That is not likely to change in the next month or year. It may change over a longer period, but, for the time being, these products are important to our economy and we have to have ways of moving them.

However, we need to be very responsible in terms of how we assess pipelines, for example, and other natural resources projects. They have to be done in a responsible way, with rigorous environmental assessments and proper consultation with communities and first nations. That is very important. One does not just approve every one of them, the way that the government wants to do.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2015 / 5 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Kevin Lamoureux Liberal Winnipeg North, MB

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate the candour from the leader of the Green Party. It is a crystal clear position in regard to pipelines, which is that there be no pipelines. The NDP is a little wishy-washy. It tries to give the impression that it might possibly, some day, potentially be open to some sort of a pipeline, if in fact it could ultimately be proven. That is the position it seems to take in the province of Alberta; elsewhere its position seems to be closer to the Green Party's position.

We need to recognize that the amount of export of crude oil is increasing dramatically in Canada, and all Canadians are concerned with ensuring we have a safe rail line system. It would be irresponsible of a party that wants to govern to rule out the potential contributions that pipelines could make in the transportation of a product that is very important to our lifestyle, our economy, and our social fabric. It would be irresponsible to rule out pipelines.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2015 / 5:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I agree with my hon. colleague. What he said makes absolute sense. It would be irresponsible.

Let us do this in a responsible way. In fact, we have thousands and thousands of kilometres of pipelines across the country that are already transporting oil and natural gas. They provide an important service for our economy. It is important to recognize that these are things we use on daily basis.

Do we need to encourage other kinds of energy sources? Absolutely. Do we need to encourage renewables? Yes, and the government, in my view, is not doing nearly enough. It is not interested nearly enough in these issues.

Regarding the suggestion from my hon. colleague from British Columbia that government should decide where things are going to be refined or upgraded, I do not know if the Green Party has in mind that the government would own the refineries or upgraders, or what it has in mind. However, I do not see much economic basis for what she is talking about. I think its economic policy has to hold water, not just its environmental policy, which is also very important.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2015 / 5:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Mr. Speaker, I appreciate my colleague's comments. However, one of the things he talked about was this notion that somehow Bakken crude can be delivered in pipelines. It cannot, without the Reid vapour pressure of the materials being reduced significantly, which is an expensive process. They do not reduce the Reid vapour pressures unless they have to transport it in a pipeline because it is a big expense.

That is what I was referring to; it was Bakken crude. Bakken crude by itself has too high a Reid vapour pressure to be transported by any of the reputable pipeline companies, which is one of the reasons it is transported in rail cars.

That being said, the rail car system in this country is currently not safe enough for the transportation of these kinds of dangerous goods. The Reid vapour pressure and other parts of that Bakken crude are explosive, and the containers it is being shipped in are subject to being ruptured in even the smallest of collisions at slowest speeds. That is what we are hoping the current government will take some steps on, and to date it has not.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2015 / 5:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, I thank my hon. colleague for that clarification. However, I think if he checks, he will find that even Bakken crude is not uniform. Crude from various wells, whether it is in the Bakken or elsewhere will have different properties in each case. It is variable.

The fact is that the vast majority of crude moving by rail, from what I have heard and read, certainly can be moved by pipeline. That is one of the reasons there is such a push for more pipelines. There may certainly be cases where that cannot happen and it has to go by rail, in which case we need to have a very safe system. That is why we are concerned about ensuring that the current government goes further and is more responsible in its attitude toward rail safety.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2015 / 5:05 p.m.
See context

Green

Bruce Hyer Green Thunder Bay—Superior North, ON

Mr. Speaker, the member for Halifax West has repeatedly used the word “responsible”. He has implied that the Greens are not being responsible by wanting to stop the expansion of growth of the tar sands and shipping unprocessed crude overseas. That is not the case.

However, speaking of responsibility, the real question is whether it is responsible on the part of the Liberal Party to have absolutely no plan to price carbon and to leave it up to the provinces to do it. Is that leadership? Is that the kind of leadership it promises after October 19?

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2015 / 5:05 p.m.
See context

Liberal

Geoff Regan Liberal Halifax West, NS

Mr. Speaker, first, I do not think my hon. colleague characterized accurately what I said whatsoever. I talked about the Green Party's plan suggesting that we should do all of the upgrading, refining, that the Government of Canada ought to dictate where that happens and how it happens. The party's idea is perhaps that it should own and nationalize that industry. I am not sure exactly what it has in mind, but that is what I was talking about. He suggested something entirely different. I think he should be clear about that, and I think he may recognize that. I see him grinning back there. I encourage him to be more accurate in terms of characterizing what I have said about that.

In terms of our policy on climate change, I would encourage him to look at the speech that my leader gave in Calgary a few months ago. I think we see many provinces going in that direction, and I think we have seen people across Canada starting more and more to adopt exactly that point of view.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2015 / 5:10 p.m.
See context

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Rivière-des-Mille-Îles.

The entire country was shaken when, on July 6, 2013, a freight train carrying Bakken formation crude oil rolled downhill and derailed. We watched footage of the explosion and the fire with our hearts in our mouths. We mourned, with the families, friends and communities, the 47 people confirmed and presumed dead. We wondered why there were more and more accidents on what was once the safest way to travel. We were shocked when we found out that in this case Maine and Atlantic Railway only carried $25 million in third party liability insurance, which is not nearly enough to cover the incredible magnitude of the resulting damage and loss of both life and property that night.

Currently, estimates of damages in Lac-Mégantic exceed $400 million, and the cost of rebuilding Lac-Mégantic to what it once was will be far higher. Taxpayers are on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars in cleanup and rebuilding costs, and we cannot put a price on the tragic loss of 47 Canadians.

The rail system in our country has gone through decades of deregulation, underfunding, mismanagement and bad decision making under the present government and the previous government.

The bill does not go far enough to address many of our concerns. I support the bill, but we must do more. The tragic Lac-Mégantic derailment has shown us that our liability and compensation regime for rail must be strengthened. However, it is important to also address the fundamental problems that have led to a dramatic increase in rail accidents.

In 1999, the Liberal government amended the Railway Safety Act to accelerate deregulation, a policy continued by the subsequent federal governments. In 2001, direct federal oversight was replaced by safety management systems, which were drafted by the companies themselves. The federal government's role in rail safety changed profoundly.

Meanwhile during this time, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of rail accidents. These accidents have had increasingly dangerous consequences in our communities. According to the Railway Association of Canada numbers, in 2009, only 500 cars a year were carrying highly flammable fossil fuel. In 2013, 160,000 cars carried flammable fossil fuel. By 2017, our rail system is expected to be transporting 33.9 million tonnes of fossil fuel per year. These numbers do not include other hazardous materials being transported through our communities.

There is absolutely no doubt that protecting the public is our core responsibility and improving liability and accountability measures is long overdue for our railways.

It is sad that it took the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic to get the government to be serious about that responsibility. We have had exponential growth in the transport of hazardous materials. We should have been working on increasing protections ages ago.

In 2013, 144 accidents involved dangerous goods, 7 of which resulted in dangerous goods being released. Many of us have heard of the three derailments in northern Ontario. These derailments happened in the space of less than a month, between February and March of this year. In two of these derailments, tank cars carrying crude oil burst into flames. In both of these incidents of fire, the tank cars involved were upgraded models of the DOT-111s.

The government ordered the phase-out of the DOT-111s over the span of a decade. The Transportation Safety Board, which investigates railway accidents, has flagged the length of the phase-out as a huge concern.

In fact, in February 2014, there was a derailment in my riding on Sewells Road and Reesor Road. According to police, the freight car was empty, and a CN Rail spokesperson confirmed that no dangerous goods were involved and no one was injured. We were very lucky.

My riding is criss-crossed by railway tracks and is home to CN's Toronto east rail yard. The Canadian National line, running near Steeles, transports oil and gas and other flammable materials every day. Most of the tracks run at street level, in many instances, a few metres from homes, from parks where children play or people bike and run.

I am speaking today because I am concerned about the carriage of volatile materials with inadequate regulations in such close proximity to where my community members, my neighbours live.

Aside from discussing liability after an accident, we need immediate measures so we can help prevent and mitigate disasters.

I am not the only one who feels that we need stronger measures for rail safety. On March 31, the mayor of Toronto and 17 councillors from across the municipality wrote to theMinister of Transport, asking that Transport Canada establish stronger protections for cities than the ones being implemented right now. A recent report by the Toronto Start found that dangerous goods were often transported through the heart of Toronto.

The city has a set of recommendations, and I am proud to stand with them and demand stronger enforcement of regulations, and the adoption of stronger regulations to keep Canadians safe, Torontonians safe and all Scarborough residents safe.

As I mentioned, the goods transported by our rail system have been increasingly dangerous and our rail safety regimes need an overhaul to keep people safe. This would also mean that we need adequate resources to implement this plan in Bill C-52 and to implement additional oversight and regulation called for by our communities.

However, the budget at Transport Canada was cut 11% this year, or by $202 million. The government spent $42 million on economic action plan advertisement last year, yet spent $33 million on rail safety. It is shameful. Year after year, Transport Canada has seen budget cuts.

How can the government talk of meaningful oversight without providing the resources to do so? Oversight clearly requires resources.

As for Bill C-52, essentially, it requires minimum insurance levels for railways transporting dangerous goods and establishes a disaster relief fund paid for by crude oil shippers to compensate victims of derailments, provinces and municipalities.

We are concerned that the minimum insurance levels established in this bill may not be sufficient. Insurance levels should be based on the threat to the public, not just on the type and volume of the goods being transported. Estimates of damages at Lac-Mégantic exceed $400 million, but these new rules do not appear to get us to that level for small companies.

The bill would also establish a pooled disaster relief fund that would be made available if the minimum insurance levels were insufficient. However, is the relief fund going to actually have enough money? That is the question that is on everybody's mind.

For the 200,000 barrels of oil transported daily, Transport Canada estimates that oil levies would contribute about $17 million annually to general revenues. This is a step forward, but there are certainly many outstanding concerns. We would need to have that levy in place for about 15 years before we could actually reach the $250 million level where it believes we would be able to respond to any level of crisis. I would again point to Lac-Mégantic. It cost $400 million for the damage done in that one accident alone. Therefore, this levy would certainly not be enough.

We also want to ensure that the fund being established sufficiently covers all disasters, including unlimited liability for the railway's negligence. The bill would ensure that municipalities and provinces would be better able to be reimbursed by the railway company for the cost of responding to a fire caused by their operations. However, we have a long way to go to ensure accidents are less likely.

We need to figure out how to protect the lives of people living in Canada. We need real plans to manage the risk created by the kinds of dangerous goods being transported through our communities. We need to ensure that the federal government maintains an active role in rail safety regimes. After those years when the Liberal government allowed self-regulation and we saw numerous increases in accidents and a decline in safety, we need to ensure there are independent inspectors and that companies are held accountable.

Finally, we need to continue the national conversation about how we are going to process oil, bitumen and other natural resources in our country. We have an opportunity here to do much more in Canada to create real rail safety, and passing this bill will not create a safe rail transport system. Canadians deserve real rail safety measures and safe rail systems. This bill is one step, but it just does not go far enough.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2015 / 5:15 p.m.
See context

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, I agree with many of the comments that were just made by my hon. friend from Scarborough—Rouge River, about rail safety and the minimum amount that is now in this legislation.

While, overall, I think everyone in the House sees the bill as an improvement, there is much more that needs to be done on rail safety, particularly, as other members have noted, now that we are moving unconventional forms of fossil fuels that represent very different kinds of threats. There is more to be learned about the quality of fossil fuels. Bitumen from the oil sands is, without diluent added to it, quite a benign material to transport, but bitumen will not move through a pipeline without adding toxic and more dangerous materials that are more flammable. As other colleagues have mentioned, Bakken crude from North Dakota is entirely different.

Does my friend have any comments around whether the municipalities along rail routes should be receiving warnings of the most toxic and dangerous materials?

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2015 / 5:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Rathika Sitsabaiesan NDP Scarborough—Rouge River, ON

Mr. Speaker, my hon. colleague has agreed with much of what I have said. We need to ensure that our communities are kept safe. There are many measures possible, and we need to ensure that we do not put our residents in harm's way by not doing everything we can to ensure the transport of goods along our railways is safe. We need to work toward that.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 27th, 2015 / 5:20 p.m.
See context

NDP

Laurin Liu NDP Rivière-des-Mille-Îles, QC

Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to rise in the House to speak to Bill C-52.

Basically, this bill requires railway companies that transport dangerous goods to have a minimum amount of insurance coverage. It also establishes a disaster relief fund paid for by crude oil shippers to compensate victims of derailments, provinces and municipalities.

The measures contained in this bill are vital, and that is why I support them. However, the bill is not enough to ensure proper rail safety in Canada. The Government of Canada has been deregulating the rail industry for decades. It started under the Liberals' watch. They began making amendments to the Railway Safety Act as early as 1999 in order to hasten the deregulation of this industry.

I would also like to talk about my constituents' concerns regarding the transportation of dangerous goods. Last week, I went door to door with a team of volunteers in order to talk to my constituents about the environment and their concerns about environmental assessment.

We found that a great deal of deregulation has occurred in the rail industry. There has also been a lot of deregulation regarding pipelines and the associated environmental assessments. The Conservatives have seriously undermined Canadians' confidence in the federal pipeline assessment process by gutting the environmental rules and seriously limiting public consultation.

Obviously, the Conservative government is willing to deregulate at any cost in order to promote the industry, and it is our environment and our health that will suffer for it. In fact, Ottawa recently transferred the responsibility for determining whether a pipeline project would have an impact on fish and aquatic species at risk to the National Energy Board. The National Energy Board is responsible for monitoring the oil and gas industry, not the environment and aquatic species. The board does not have the necessary expertise to reassure Canadians that there will be a rigorous environmental assessment process.

Getting back to the subject of rail industry deregulation, in 1999 the Liberal government amended the Railway Safety Act. Successive governments maintained that policy. In 2001, when direct federal government oversight was replaced by safety management systems, the federal government's rail safety role changed dramatically. Nothing in this bill guarantees that rail companies will comply with the government's regulations.

In conclusion, I would like to say that Canadians deserve a government that will take action to prevent accidents and protect their health, their environment and their safety across the country. The federal government has so neglected railways in Canada that the transportation of dangerous goods by train has become extremely risky. That is why we need a national transportation strategy such as the one proposed by my former colleague from Trinity—Spadina, Olivia Chow. We need a strategy to ensure that dangerous goods can be transported safely with the infrastructure we have in Canada. That is why we put this proposal forward. I would like to conclude by saying that the government's approach has been a complete failure. The NDP has solutions that will really keep Canadians safe.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2015 / 12:45 p.m.
See context

Green

Elizabeth May Green Saanich—Gulf Islands, BC

Mr. Speaker, before I begin, I just wanted to double-check because I believe there was still some time on the clock for the hon. member for Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine. I thought I saw him here a moment ago, but if that is not the case, I am more than prepared to proceed.

I rise to speak today on a bill that is important and has my support, but it opens up an area of public policy that really bears fuller examination. This bill gives us a chance to discuss that. I speak of Bill C-52, a bill for rail safety. As we all know, the issues of rail safety have become increasingly of concern to Canadians.

The title of Bill C-52 is the safe and accountable rail act, but I think it needs to be acknowledged that, while the bill is certainly welcome and is a step in the right direction, it actually only speaks to the accountability side of safe and accountable. It speaks to what we do in the event of accidents, such as who is responsible, how much insurance they must carry, and who can sue after the fact under the polluter pays principle. It does provide a number of important improvements, particularly for municipalities and others affected by rail accidents. It does create a minimum insurance requirement of $1 billion. These things are welcome.

However, the issue of rail safety continues to be one of deep concern. So many of the witnesses before committee spoke to the fact that Bill C-52, while welcome, does not go nearly far enough, and the steps that have been taken so far by Transport Canada to improve rail safety in the wake of the disaster at Lac-Mégantic also are moving too slowly and, even if fully implemented, do not go far enough.

I would like to take a moment to point out that, if we look at Lac-Mégantic as an example—and this was an example put forward by witnesses at committee—a $1 billion minimum insurance requirement for class 1 railways is something that was legislated mandate. The class 1 railways have already been carrying it. Certainly we never wanted to see the Lac-Mégantic disaster. May we never again see a disaster of that scale. However, now that we know it is possible, it behooves us to put in place the insurance requirements that would meet a disaster of that scale, which would, according to witnesses, be closer to six times that amount, or $6 billion.

Looking at the issue of rail safety, over the last number of years we have had what I would almost put forward as a perfect storm of changes in the private sector, in government, and in the types of goods we are shipping. They come together in ways that leave us less safe than we have been before, even with the improvements Transport Canada and the minister have made. For instance, as recently as 2009, only 500 cars a year were carrying highly flammable fossil fuels, the flammable crudes that take up most of our discussion these days. We know the number has gone up in the last two years, but in 2013 we were up to 160,000 car loads. This is a phenomenal increase in hazardous goods moving on our rails, and that leaves out other types of hazardous goods, whether chlorine or other hazardous substances.

The Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs took this statistic and converted it into millions of barrels and said that, as of now, we have a million barrels of crude oil, flammable class 3 liquids, per day moving on our rails. It also pointed out that in 2013, the last year for which I have statistics, which I found through the witnesses, there were 144 accidents that involved dangerous goods, 7 of which resulted in dangerous goods being released.

We have seen steps taken. I referred to them briefly before. The transportation safety boards in Canada and the U.S. make findings about safety but do not have the regulatory power to implement them.

The transportation safety boards on both sides of our border found some time ago that the DOT-111 railcars constituted an unsafe way to transport such hazardous and flammable materials.

We have taken some steps, as has the U.S., but there is a long lead time for the implementation, so now we are taking class 1232 trains and retrofitting them for crude oil. That must be done by 2020 and for less flammable materials by 2025. Still, until 2017—so we have 2 more years to go—the unsafe DOT-111 cars will still be rolling through our communities; 80,000 DOT-111 railcars will be still in service in the U.S. and Canada until 2017.

Why did I speak of the trends? We have essentially less safety and more hazardous goods. The rail industry, in theory, whether moving passengers or goods, is one of the safest and most environmentally appropriate way to move people and goods. This needs to be reiterated because it is an essential part of our infrastructure, and one of our arguments as Greens is that it is an essential part of our infrastructure that we have been ignoring too long.

We need to upgrade in the passenger context, and we need to invest in more modern trains and better rail beds. We need to continually upgrade the access to passenger rail and invest in VIA Rail for Canadians from coast to coast—and ultimately to coast, at least insofar as the Hudson Bay train would get there. Coast to coast to coast rail service makes sense, and modernizing it to bring it into the 21st century is an important investment for Canadians. It is an important part of our transportation infrastructure.

In the case of goods travelling by rail compared to by truck, it is safer in terms of accidents on our highways and, in theory, it reduces greenhouse gases. It is by far the safest way to transport hazardous goods. The difficulty we have is what has been happening in practice. Over the last decade or so—certainly not just in recent years—we saw a change through the smart regulatory regime; we have seen a change through private sector pressures to improve productivity; we have seen a change through government cutbacks; and ultimately we have greater risks because of the change in our industry.

Let us look, in terms of reduced safety, at the first point I wanted to make. The freight industry in Canada is private sector, whereas VIA Rail is a Crown corporation. We are now dealing with the pressure of for-profit companies, and one certainly understands their point of view, but as a result of their pressure to improve the profit bottom line, we heard from the rail sector labour force, and particularly from the unionized members and the union in that rail sector, of a continual cutback in engineers and onboard rail crews that has led to greater safety concerns.

We have also seen a failure to pay sufficient attention to maintenance along tracks. A number of the significant derailments that have occurred recently occurred because of failure to keep tracks and bridges operating properly. We even had a fatality because of the failure to keep a railway trestle in proper repair.

Back in 2005, a CN train derailed at Wabamun Lake in Alberta and resulted in a substantial spill, in which CN Rail was ultimately fined $1.4 million, which was a very modest fine, given the scale of that spill. The inquiry into that found that the rails over which that train was travelling were worn out and they had not been kept in adequate repair.

That was certainly a significant event, but there were a number of derailments right after it in 2005. This started creating more concern about the use of rail for freight that extended right across Canada, asking what more we could do and what the Transportation Safety Board was doing to ensure rail safety.

The second piece that made us less safe has been in the government decision to move to safety management systems. It is essentially a form of deregulation that came into effect some time ago.

I direct the House to a finding in a report released in 2007 by the Canada Safety Council. It reported that the system is one that:

...allows rail companies to regulate themselves, removing the federal government's ability to protect Canadians and their environment, and allowing the industry to hide critical safety information from the public.

One would think that having gone to a system such as this, Transport Canada would have a supervisory authority to review these SMSs, or safety management systems, to ensure their adequacy. However, it does not appear that is the case.

The third part of the less safe system is cutbacks at Transport Canada. We now have fewer engineers than we used to have available in Transport Canada to do the work of reviewing rail safety. According to a number of media reports, Transport Canada currently has, and has had since 2009, 30 critical rail safety positions that have remained vacant. These are for engineers who could do such things as anticipate and organize the removal of DOT-111 cars from the tracks. Missing critical people in rail safety and critical people at Transport Canada who deal with hazardous goods is not a good sign to Canadians. We saw budget cuts at Transport Canada in 2012 that seem to now put in stone the fact that these positions are not likely to be filled again.

We have hazardous goods moving through communities, as the committee was reminded by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and citizen groups concerned with hazardous goods rolling through communities, yet we have not filled critical safety positions within Transport Canada.

The third part relies on what is happening in the private sector and why we are seeing more and more freight, and particularly more and more dangerous freight, on our tracks. I am a huge supporter of passenger rail, as members can probably tell by now from my speech. I have travelled Canada's rails, criss-crossing the country as often as I get the chance. Often, I have done it in the context of political campaigns and whistlestop tours, where it really matters to know that we are going to arrive at our destination some time near the scheduled time on the VIA Rail schedule.

As anyone who pays attention to rail in Canada knows, VIA Rail has to rent the tracks from CN and other rail owners. VIA Rail is not in control of the switches or the red, yellow, and green lights. In other words, passenger rail in Canada and on-time arrivals are virtually entirely hostage to freight. When we have increasingly long trains that can no longer pull over onto sidings and VIA Rail passenger rail that is short enough to stay on the sidings, VIA Rail passenger trains often have to wait for hours for the convenience of freight to go by.

We have not given adequate concern or attention as Parliament or Transport Canada's regulators to the length of freight trains and the fact that they are often stacking cars, and then again to the kinds of material that they are shipping. The horrors of Lac-Mégantic woke us up to what they are shipping. I do not think that any of us will ever forget the horror of the morning of July 5, 2013, of the disaster that killed 47 people.

The Transportation Safety Board had already approved what looked like a perfectly satisfactory system of safety on the part of the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway. It had provided its safety management system to Transport Canada, and it was entirely legal on July 5, 2013, for an engineer to leave an idling train above a community, having set hand brakes with the assumption that the air brakes would not fail. The engineer actually set seven hand brakes when, in fact, the minimum number of hand brakes on the company chart was nine. The Transportation Safety Board has since found that nine hand brakes would not have held the train if the air brakes had failed.

As we know, the disaster of Lac-Mégantic is one of a train barrelling into a community that lay entirely unaware of the disaster that was about to befall it. Not only did the community not know that it was legal and that Transport Canada had approved a system that allowed an idling train to be left unattended with hand brakes on above a community, but no one really knew what kind of flammable and dangerous materials were on board, because it was reported as crude oil.

It was in fact Bakken shale, which is an entirely different chemical composition, and as we know, to our horror, it formed a fireball that destroyed much of that community, killed 47 people, and injured many more.

As we stand here today on May 12, 2015, are we sure that such a disaster as Lac-Mégantic could not happen in another Canadian community? Despite all the safety measures I mentioned, and in the face of Bill C-52, the safe and accountable rail act, we have to say no.

We know a lot more about Bakken shale, and there is a greater requirement that communities be notified if it is moving through the community, but Bakken shale is not the only unconventional oil. If we mix bitumen with diluent, it also becomes far more flammable than bitumen by itself.

I should mention parenthetically, because I think it is of some interest to people, that if bitumen by itself is heated so that it can be put into a railcar without the presence of diluents, it is virtually not a dangerous material at all. It cannot spill and it does not blow up.

However, we have not taken safety measures to ensure that diluent will not be moved by rail. Diluent is the stuff they mix with bitumen. It was diluent, which is toxic and hazardous, that was being shipped to northern Alberta through the city of Calgary in those railcars that were hanging so precipitously over the Bow River during the flooding when the bridge gave way. The municipal workers of Calgary had to thread cables through those railcars to keep them from falling into the river. The material in those railcars was diluent, and it was headed to northern Alberta to be stirred in with solid bitumen so that it would be capable of being shipped, whether by pipe or by rail, without resorting to steam-liquefied bitumen, which can actually be moved into railcars without adding diluent.

A wide range of toxic and and dangerous substances are being moved by rail, and I want to turn to the evidence of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, as presented by Paul Boissonneault, fire chief of County of Brant Fire Department and current president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs. He has pointed out a number of things that we could do to make the situation safer. One would be to divert some funding for firefighter training to assist people in communities and local fire departments to be able to confront threats. Firefighters should never be exposed to something as dreadful as Lac-Mégantic and neither should the community, but we do have a serious gap that the fire chiefs have pointed out in terms of preparation for firefighters.

They are also looking specifically at other hazardous goods. The bill deals with various forms of crude oil and the most flammable and dangerous forms of crude oil, which are not really crude at all, such as Bakken shale or bitumen mixed with diluent. However, the firefighters also point out that the propane and chlorine that move on our rails also need to be brought into the bill for further measures for safety.

We need to have much more information sharing, and the bill makes some good first steps. The bill would allow requirements relating to information sharing between railways and municipalities in response to emergencies, but we do need greater levels of detail in that information, and the communities have a right to know.

We need to do much more in strengthening the Canadian Transport Emergency Centre to be part of current regulatory activities. We need municipalities to be sitting down with Transport Canada and with the shippers to find better and safer ways. There are some that we know about; one is called “positive train control”. It is used in the United States and is in its rail safety act, although it is not fully implemented yet. It constitutes an on-board computerized system that creates very clear advance information and very immediate real-time information about where brakes are weak, where parts of the trains are overheating, whether speed is out of control, and whether there are problems on board. Positive train control is now part of the U.S. rail safety act; it should be part of ours.

We can also take steps to regulate for shorter freight trains. Braking is far more dangerous and difficult when trains are essentially too long to stop.

We have an opportunity to do much more in Canada to create real rail safety. While I will be voting for Bill C-52, I want no Canadian under any illusion that passing the bill will create a safe rail transport system. It will not, and Canadians deserve a real safe rail system in this country.

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

May 12th, 2015 / 1:05 p.m.
See context

NDP

Chris Charlton NDP Hamilton Mountain, ON

Mr. Speaker, there is absolutely no doubt that protecting the public is a core responsibility of this government—of any government, for that matter—and improving rail liability and accountability measures is long overdue. It is sad that it took the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic to get the government to be serious about that responsibility.

I listened carefully to my colleague's speech. I wonder whether she would comment on a different aspect, one that she did not get to in her speech. It seems to me that one of the things that has become apparent as we have studied the Lac-Mégantic tragedy and others is that the safety of railcars is also something that we need to take very seriously.

I come from Hamilton, where we have lost over 13,000 manufacturing jobs. We all know that under the current Conservative government the country has lost almost 420,000 manufacturing jobs, yet in Hamilton we have a company called National Steel Car, which produces railcars in this country. I know that the company would very much welcome the opportunity to talk to Transport Canada and officials about how to design and build those railcars in Canada.

I wonder whether the member could comment on whether she would support a strategy that would support manufacturing jobs here in Canada, in this case specifically for railcars.