An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act (safety of persons and property)

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

Sponsor

Joyce Bateman  Conservative

Introduced as a private member’s bill.

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 Railway Safety Act to improve public safety by providing authority to issue orders if a railway work or a railway operation poses a threat to the safety of persons or property.

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 / 4:05 p.m.
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Conservative

Ed Komarnicki Conservative Souris—Moose Mountain, SK

Mr. Speaker, I will be sharing my time with the member for Mississauga East—Cooksville.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak in support of Bill C-52, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act. Many members of the House have already expressed their sound support for the safe and accountable railway act. Members opposite who have just spoken have said they are in support of the bill, so I will not repeat many of the areas that they have addressed.

Principally, the bill deals with base insurance amounts and a pooled fund to deal with disasters and ensures a structure to deal with that.

I will turn my attention today to another point of significant importance to all Canadians. That is safe grade crossings.

The safety of grade crossings is a cause championed by the member for Winnipeg South Centre, who herself proposed amendments to the Railway Safety Act through her bill, Bill C-627. She appeared before the committee to emphasize the importance of protecting people and property from unsafe railway operations. Bill C-627 and Bill C-52 have become a coordinated effort to ensure that the Minister of Transport and her officials have the mandate and powers to stop the threat to the safety of persons or property from all rail operations. It is a fairly significant addition and piece of legislative work that both the member and this particular bill address. As recognized in both these pieces of legislation, the minister must have the legislative authority to develop, administer, and enforce safety regulations of federally regulated railways.

However, our government's work goes beyond just the legislation before the House. The week of April 27 was Rail Safety Week, and we saw two important announcements that bracketed the range of rail safety challenges from local to international.

At the beginning of the week, the minister announced $9.7 million in new funding to improve safety at more than 600 grade crossings. At the end of the week, the minister and her United States counterpart announced new tank car standards in a joint United States-Canada plan to phase out rail cars that do not meet the new standards. Of course, they will be phased in, because it takes time to replace these cars. These two announcements target both local concerns—the specific places where people and trains intersect daily—and the overall safety of rail operations in Canada and the United States.

It is easy to see why Canadians are concerned about grade crossings. Canadian cities and towns grew up alongside rail lines and continued to spread around them. As subdivision plans are made and the cities continue to grow, obviously those subdivisions and those buildings will be near rail lines. As a result, we have some 37,000 public, private, and pedestrian railway crossings. Although the number of crossing accidents has fallen dramatically since 1980, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada says the risk of trains and vehicles colliding at crossings is still too high. Crossing accidents account for nearly 20% of all rail accidents in Canada, with 30% of these accidents resulting in death or serious injury.

In response to the Transportation Safety Board's call for government action on grade crossings, new grade crossing regulations came into force on November 27, 2014. These regulations and the accompanying standards are intended to help prevent accidents and improve the safety of federally regulated grade crossings.

Sometimes some small things can be done to ensure that safety is first and foremost. These include approximately 14,000 public and 9,000 private grade crossings along with more than 42,000 kilometres of federally regulated railway tracks in Canada.

The regulations that came into force on November 27, 2014, will improve safety by establishing comprehensive and enforceable safety standards for grade crossings. They clarify the roles and responsibilities of railway companies and road authorities and ensure the sharing of key safety information between rail companies and road authorities.

This last element is important. Railway companies share responsibility for grade crossing safety with road authorities, which include provinces, municipalities, band councils, and private crossing owners. All of these parties are responsible for managing railway crossing safety in Canada, so effective collaboration is crucial.

The new regulations have a phased-in approach, and railway companies and road authorities must meet all requirements over the next seven years. This phased-in approach requires immediate safety improvements at grade crossings across Canada, while allowing sufficient time to comply with all the requirements and the regulations.

The new funding for grade crossings announced on April 27, 2015, will be available through Transport Canada's grade crossing improvement program. Under this program, eligible railway crossings will be upgraded based on factors such as traffic volume and accident history. The improvements may include flashing lights and bells, gate barriers, linking crossing signals to traffic signals, upgrading to brighter LED lights, or adding new circuits or timing devices.

Transport Canada also encourages the closing of certain grade crossings under federal jurisdiction. The grade crossing closure program provides grants to crossing owners in exchange for closing a crossing. In 2014-15 Transport Canada approved $165,000 in funding to close nine crossings in the interests of public safety.

Other initiatives to improve safety at railway crossings include Operation Lifesaver. This national public education program aims to reduce loss of life, injuries, and damages caused by grade crossing collisions and pedestrian incidents. Transport Canada provides Operation Lifesaver with $300,000 per year for its outreach and education programs.

Improving safety at grade crossings is an important contribution to rail safety. Another is making all rail operations safer, especially in densely populated areas, as was already mentioned. That is why the minister issued an emergency directive this spring that set the speed limit for trains in densely populated urban areas at 64 kilometres per hour. Slower train speeds were among the Transportation Safety Board of Canada's recommendations. The directive also increases inspections and risk assessments along key routes used for the transportation of dangerous goods, include crude oil and ethanol.

The joint United States-Canada announcement on tank car standards in April was the latest step in our government's coordinated effort to improve rail safety following the Lac-Mégantic disaster. These efforts began soon after the accident and the first advisories from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

In July 2013, Transport Canada ordered rail companies to have crews of at least two persons on trains carrying dangerous goods and imposed stricter requirements for securing unattended trains. This was followed in 2014 by a series of measures, including banning the least crash-resistant DOT-111 tank cars from carrying dangerous goods and requiring companies to phase out cars not meeting new safety standards by May 1, 2017; the coming into force of a series of new regulations, such as the Railway Safety Management System Regulations, 2015; Railway Safety Administrative Monetary Penalties Regulations, Railway Operating Certificate Regulations, and amendments to the Transportation Information Regulations to improve data collection; requiring railways to secure unattended trains with a minimum number of handbrakes and other physical defences to prevent runaways; and tightening railway labelling of hazardous materials.

With the focus on rail safety and the dangers associated with railway operations, we must not lose sight of the important role rail transportation plays and has played in Canada's economy, supporting our exports and bringing goods to Canadians. However, the shadow of Lac-Mégantic looms over anyone living near rail lines, and the daily risk of collisions at grade crossings requires that we do more to ensure rail safety.

Our government takes these potential threats very seriously and is moving to ensure that does not happen again.

I hope that all of my colleagues will join me in recognizing Bill C-52 as a key contribution to improving rail safety and will vote in favour of the bill.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

May 7th, 2015 / 5:40 p.m.
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NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I thank my colleague for introducing Bill C-627, which I will be talking about. This bill is a step in the right direction, but it underscores the gaps in existing regulations.

The NDP has long criticized the fact that companies are allowed to self-regulate and self-inspect. The objective is to provide powers to the minister and inspectors so they can intervene if there is a problem.

However, there are not enough inspectors. We have been looking at this issue for a long time in committee, and the problem has not necessarily been solved. Yes, we can grant more powers, but if there is nobody on the ground to ensure that rails and crossings are safe, that does not solve the problem. The Conservatives have cut the budget for rail inspection by 20% since 2010. The government is not investing in inspections.

I support the bill since it is a step in the right direction, even though it is a private member's bill and it conflicts somewhat with Bill C-52, which I talked about earlier. The fact that members have to fix government rail safety regulations shows that there are problems.

What is funny is that in committee, we examined Bill C-627, a private member's bill, before we examined Bill C-52, but we debated Bill C-52 first. Bill C-52 really should have contained mechanisms that referenced Bill C-627. It is a bit complicated and it shows that the government did not do its homework with regard to rail regulations. The government is rushing to fix things after the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, and it is improvising quite a bit.

In short, I will support the bill because it is a step in the right direction. However, the government could do more in terms of rail safety.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

May 7th, 2015 / 5:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Joyce Bateman Conservative Winnipeg South Centre, MB

moved that the bill be read the third time and passed.

Mr. Speaker, I am absolutely honoured to open this third and final hour on my private member's bill, Bill C-627, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act regarding safety of persons and property.

I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak today to my bill, Bill C-627, and of course to answer any questions my colleagues may have.

As everyone knows, our government's priorities include transportation safety in general and rail transportation in particular.

My bill proposes amendments to the Railway Safety Act that would help ensure the safety and security of all Canadians. I am very grateful to all the members who have spoken to my private member's bill in the House and to all the members of the transport committee who have not only asked me all kinds of questions but have also gone through this bill clause by clause, line by line, word by word, and have sent it back to the House for this third and final reading.

I have heard loud and clear from my constituents that rail safety is an issue that matters to them, and as a servant of Winnipeg South Centre, I chose to use my private member's bill to achieve greater rail safety in my constituency. Although my focus was on my constituency, the happy consequence is that it would impact the entire country, and rail crossings would be safer and more secure because of this bill.

This is exactly the reason I am asking all of my colleagues in this House of Commons to support my bill. I see my colleagues from every party, representing every Canadian, and from each and every one, I seek their support.

The amendments I propose to the Railway Safety Act would give additional powers to the Minister of Transport to intervene, when required, to better ensure the safety of Canadian citizens, their property, and our communities. My proposed legislation seeks to empower railway safety inspectors so that they may quickly intervene to restrict the use of unsafe works and equipment and to forbid or restrict unsafe crossings and road crossings.

This is a very important issue to me, because in my riding, I have been receiving a number of calls from constituents about the condition of some rail crossings. This led me to take action.

I want our crossings to be safe for a child riding a bike, to be safe for a senior on a motorized wheelchair, and to be safe for a family out for a stroll or a bike ride together. I want our crossings to be safe for vehicles and not have, as has recently been the case, wood planks flying up and hitting vehicles as they drive by, even at low speeds.

Rail crossings crisscross my riding, and the safety of them can be enhanced. This bill is about prevention. The essence of the bill is to solve problems before they occur.

My private member's bill is designed to assist in expediting the quick resolution of safety issues encountered at crossings, all to ensure the safety of the public. This is always a number one priority, and it is certainly my number one priority: prevention.

I am very proud to be part of this government and to contribute to the service of this nation. I am equally proud of the work that has already been done by my government on rail safety, and I am happy to present this private member's bill to further enhance the safety of people in our communities.

I am asking my colleagues on all sides of this House for their support of my private member's bill, Bill C-627, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act for the safety of persons and property.

The House proceeded to the consideration of Bill C-627, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act (safety of persons and property), as reported with amendment from the committee.

April 28th, 2015 / 3:35 p.m.
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Jenelle Saskiw Mayor of Marwayne, Alberta, Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Thank you very much. Good afternoon and thank you, Mr. Chair, for your introduction and thank you to the committee members for extending an invitation to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to participate in your study of Bill C-52, the safe and accountable rail act.

The FCM last appeared before your committee in March 2015 as part of your study on Bill C-627, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act and we are pleased to be here again today.

I am the mayor of Marwayne, Alberta; the chair of FCM's standing committee on municipal transportation and infrastructure; and the co-chair of the joint proximity initiative between FCM and the Rail Association of Canada. I'm happy to be here today to represent FCM as co-chair of the National Municipal Rail Safety Working Group. The working group was established after the tragic derailment that devastated the community of Lac-Mégantic in 2013. Our work is guided by three priority areas: to equip and support municipal first responders to rail emergencies, to ensure that federal and industry policies and regulations address the rail safety concerns of municipalities, and to prevent the downloading of rail safety emergency costs to local taxpayers.

I'm joined today by Daniel Rubinstein, manager of policy and research at FCM and our policy lead on rail safety and the transportation of dangerous goods.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities is the national voice of our municipal governments. Our member municipalities come from every corner of Canada and collectively represent over 90% of Canada's population. Members include Canada's largest cities, all urban and rural communities, and 20 provincial and territorial municipal associations. In leading the municipal movement, FCM works to align federal and local priorities, recognizing that strong hometowns make for a strong Canada.

FCM is an active participant in a number of initiatives related to rail safety and the transportation of dangerous goods. We are members of the TDG general policy advisory council, the advisory council on railway safety, and Transport Canada's emergency response task force. We also actively engage Minister Raitt and Transport Canada's senior leadership on these critical issues.

Before speaking on Bill C-52, I want to reiterate for committee members that FCM and the National Municipal Rail Safety Working Group are guided by the essential work undertaken by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada. The TSB serves a critical function in making safety recommendations to the federal government. At FCM we believe that the standard for progress is full implementation of TSB safety recommendations. My colleagues and I from FCM are pleased that the government has substantively responded to the TSB's reports and recommendations following the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic. We expect the same type of response once the TSB has completed its investigation into the recent derailments in northern Ontario and has made additional recommendations to government.

In terms of the focus of today's meeting, let me say a few words about Bill C-52. The key elements of the legislation respond directly to concerns raised by FCM related to insurance and liability, information sharing, and Transport Canada's oversight of federal railways. The bill is an important step forward in improving the safe transportation of dangerous goods by rail. The changes to insurance requirements for railways and a new levy for crude oil shippers, in particular, will address an important concern of municipalities and ensure that those affected by rail emergencies at the local level are fully compensated. While we understand the decision to focus on the risks posed by crude oil shipments, we hope that Transport Canada will look closely at the possibility of expanding the new levy to shippers of other dangerous goods once Bill C-52 has come into effect. It is a positive sign that the legislation includes the ability to scope in other products in the future.

Bill C-52 also represents an important step forward in providing both the minister and the railways inspectors with new powers that will allow for specific corrective actions to be ordered in the event of unsafe railways operations. This includes new power for the minister to issue an order to address any threat to safe railway operations, as opposed to only an immediate threat under the existing railway act. FCM is pleased to see these measures included in Bill C-52, as they should provide the regulator with additional tools to improve rail safety.

Bill C-52 also includes provisions for Transport Canada to develop expanded regulations on information sharing between the railways and third parties, including municipalities. Municipalities need to know about potential risks associated with rail corridors in their communities to reduce the safety risks related to the transportation of dangerous goods by rail and to ensure that local services can plan and respond effectively to emergencies. We look forward to a detailed discussion with Transport Canada on the development of these regulations.

Now, I will shift from the provisions in Bill C-52 to land use planning near rail corridors. As discussed at our last appearance on Bill C-627, FCM and the Railway Association of Canada are committed to building common approaches to the prevention and resolution of issues that may arise when people live and work in close proximity to rail operations. In May 2013, we unveiled new proximity guidelines and a new website intended to promote best practices and awareness about the issues associated with developments near railway operations. Several of Canada's largest cities are now in the process of studying how best to implement these guidelines locally.

Given the considerable interest in proximity issues at our last committee appearance, I want to reiterate that a one-size-fits-all approach on proximity issues is not suitable for a country as geographically and jurisdictionally diverse as Canada. Thus it is critical for the federal government to continue to work closely with provincial and local governments on any new policy initiatives related to land use in proximity to railway operations.

These are a few of the policy areas where proactive and ongoing discussions between FCM and our member municipalities, the federal government, and industry have resulted in concrete reforms that will improve the safety of Canada's railways.

That said, unfortunately our work is not yet done. As derailments continue to occur, again we look to the TSB to provide Canadians with analysis of the causes of recent derailments and recommendations to further improve rail safety in Canada. We look to the government, the rail industry, and the Parliament, through this committee, to ensure that any recommendations are implemented in full.

In closing, FCM welcomes a new insurance and third-party liability regime for railways and dangerous goods shippers, as well as new measures to expand and clarify the oversight and enforcement powers of the minister, the CTA, and railway safety inspectors, including the amendments to the Railway Safety Act and Canada Transportation Act in Bill C-52. We hope that Transport Canada and the Canadian Transportation Agency will ensure that these powers are fully implemented as soon as possible.

Again, thank you very much to the committee for giving FCM the opportunity to present our municipal perspective on Bill C-52. Daniel and I will be happy to answer any questions in regard to the bill, as well as any other issues related to rail safety and the transportation of dangerous goods by rail through our municipalities.

Thank you.

Railway Safety WeekStatements By Members

April 28th, 2015 / 2 p.m.
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Conservative

Joyce Bateman Conservative Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, this week is Railway Safety Week. Every year in Canada, approximately 300 collisions occur at railway crossings. Virtually all of these could be avoided. The goal of Railway Safety Week is to give awareness to Canadians in order to prevent collisions between trains and motor vehicles.

Rail safety is of the utmost importance to me. Ensuring that our families and our communities remain safe is something for which I passionately advocate. In fact, my private member's bill, Bill C-627, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act (safety of persons and property), which has recently passed the committee stage, seeks to give additional powers to the Minister of Transport and railway safety inspectors so they may intervene when required in order to better ensure the safety of citizens, property and communities.

I am confident the bill will make a positive change, and I encourage all Canadians to become involved and promote rail safety. One injury or fatality is one too many.

Transport, Infrastructure and CommunitiesCommittees of the HouseRoutine Proceedings

April 1st, 2015 / 3:15 p.m.
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NDP

Hoang Mai NDP Brossard—La Prairie, QC

Mr. Speaker, I have the honour to present, in both official languages, the seventh report of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in relation to Bill C-627, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act (safety of persons and property).

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

March 31st, 2015 / 4:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Joyce Bateman Conservative Winnipeg South Centre, MB

Mr. Speaker, I am very pleased to speak today to the Safe and Accountable Rail Act, or the Act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act.

I would like to draw the attention of the House to the changes we are proposing to provide greater oversight of federally regulated railway companies.

We are indeed proposing to further strengthen oversight of federally regulated rail companies. The safe and accountable rail act is progressive and forward-looking. The amendments to the Railway Safety Act would mean better safety for Canadians and Canadian communities, strengthened safety management systems, enhanced sharing of information and a safer rail industry in a stronger national economy.

All of these are priorities of the government, and I believe should be priorities of each and every member of this House of Commons. There is nothing more important than the safety and prosperity of Canadians. That is why my private member's bill is the complementary Bill C-627, which was inspired by my constituents of Winnipeg South Centre.

The Railway Safety Act provides the Minister of Transport with the authority to oversee the safety of federally regulated railways. Transport Canada's role is to monitor for threats to safe railway operations, as well as compliance to the Railway Safety Act and its rules, regulations and engineering standards through audits and inspections.

The amendments to the Railway Safety Act would further strengthen oversight and address issues raised by the Lac-Mégantic derailment, and the Transportation Safety Board's recommendations, as well as the recommendations in the Auditor General of Canada's fall 2013 report.

By proposing these amendments, the federal government is reiterating its commitment to a safe and secure national railway system, and to the safety of communities right across this country. The government is focusing on four key areas that will have the most direct and positive impact: meeting the needs of communities; ensuring the people or companies responsible are accountable; strengthening safety management systems; and increasing authorities for our railway safety inspectors.

Collaboration between railways and communities is crucial to ensure the safety of Canadian citizens across our vast country. The Government of Canada is committed to enhancing confidence in railway safety, greater sharing of information and co-operation between railway companies and communities.

This is precisely why we are proposing new regulation-making powers, requiring companies to share information with municipalities. This would help address community railway safety concerns, and I know these changes, along with my private member's Bill C-627, would be extremely well received in my home riding of Winnipeg South Centre.

Too often it is the provinces and municipalities, also known as the taxpayers, that are left to pick up the pieces and pay the bills after a railway incident, especially one that requires the assistance of first responders for issues such as fire.

The Safe and Accountable Rail Act also proposes changes to allow a province or municipality that incurs costs in responding to a fire that would appear to be the result of a railway company’s railway operations to apply to the Canada Transportation Agency to have those costs reimbursed. These changes would give the Canada Transportation Agency the power to determine whether the fire was indeed the result of the railway operations of the railway company in question, and, if so, the Agency would have the authority to order the railway company to reimburse the province or municipality, thereby avoiding downloading the costs on to municipal taxpayers.

Under the auspices of the Railway Safety Act, Transport Canada is responsible for oversight, which includes monitoring for threats to rail safety operations, as well as compliance with the Railway Safety Act and its rules, regulations and engineering standards through audits and inspections. The proposed amendments in this bill include broadening authorities to allow inspectors to issue notices in the event of a threat to safety to any person or entity that has responsibility in relation to that threat, including companies, road authorities and municipalities.

Furthermore, in the event of an immediate threat, an inspector may issue a notice and order to any person or entity, again including companies but now also including road authorities and municipalities, and order them to take specific corrective actions to remove the immediate threat. These broadened authorities complement a broader new authority for the Minister of Transport.

Currently, the Railway Safety Act allows the minister to order only railways to take corrective action in cases of immediate threats to safety. The amendments propose adding an additional power to allow the minister to order a railway company, road authority or municipality to take corrective action following specific procedures or to stop any activity in the interest of rail safety operations.

These amendments are about oversight and advancing railway safety oversight and enforcement, together with furthering safety management system implementation by clarifying and broadening the authority and responsibilities of the minister and railway safety inspectors.

What is more, this act would fully align and complement my own private member's bill, Bill C-627, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act, which aims to provide greater protection to persons and property from risks inherent to railway operations. I introduced that bill on September 23, 2014, and I understand it is in committee as we speak. Furthermore, both bills align with the objectives of the Railway Safety Act to further strengthen railway safety in Canada.

The safe and accountable rail act and Bill C-627 are both about safety, they are both about protecting people, they are both about protecting communities.

It is hard to argue with these changes. The railway is an integral part of Canada's current infrastructure and will continue to be in the future. The railway has to be sound, reliable and safe.

This government believes these amendments to the Railway Safety Act are essential. They would modernize the Railway Safety Act to reflect the requirements of a growing and increasingly complex rail industry. I believe the important safety amendments contained in the bill are ones that we can all agree on, both quickly and unanimously.

This bill is a step forward. It is a step forward for Canadians and a step forward for rail safety. With the agreement of each and every member of the House, we can take these steps together toward a safer, more reliable and economically viable freight and passenger railway system for all Canadians.

March 31st, 2015 / 3:35 p.m.
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Rachel Heft Legal Counsel, Department of Transport

As it stands, the coordinating amendments for Bill C-52 make sure that any changes that are made to section 31 of the Railway Safety Act through Bill C-627 are dovetailed with those in Bill C-52. Any changes made with respect to this amendment would have to be later coordinated with Bill C-52 as well, so it would create some complexity there.

March 31st, 2015 / 3:30 p.m.
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Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

I have just a quick question. Obviously, we know that Bill C-52, which is the government's bill, touches on or tries to dovetail with, I would say, Bill C-627.

Would the addition of these amendments create any kind of complexity in how to deal with Bill C-52 and how the two fit together, if we were to accept an amendment like this?

March 31st, 2015 / 3:30 p.m.
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NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Hoang Mai

Good afternoon, colleagues. Today is the 51st meeting of our committee.

We will examine Bill C-627, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act (safety of persons and property).

Joining us are two witnesses from the Department of Transport: Brigitte Diogo and Rachel Heft. They are here to answer any questions members may have. There will be no presentations as such.

I suggest that we proceed with the clause-by-clause consideration, as proposed on the agenda.

We will start with clause 1, which can be debated.

(Clause 1 agreed to)

(On clause 2)

We move to the NDP-1 amendment to clause 2.

Ms. Morin, do you want to justify your amendment?

Safe and Accountable Rail ActGovernment Orders

March 30th, 2015 / noon
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Halton Ontario

Conservative

Lisa Raitt ConservativeMinister of Transport

moved that Bill C-52, an act to amend the Canada Transportation Act and the Railway Safety Act, be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, today I rise in my place to begin the second reading of Bill C-52, the safe and accountable rail act.

Since arriving at Transport Canada, I have made safety my absolute top priority.

As minister, I have borne witness to events that have led us to examine the safety regime and the manner in which railways and shippers are held accountable when things go wrong. Things can and do go wrong.

The most notable event without question was the explosion of railway cars in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, on July 6, 2013, and the 47 people who died that day, a day that will be inscribed in the memory of all members of this House. It has galvanized our determination to find better ways to protect Canadians and our communities, and better ways to safely move the goods on which the Canadian economy depends.

We are committed to achieving that, and we have taken decisive measures to do so.

Very soon after the tragedy, we introduced measures to address safety issues. We established two-person minimum crews for locomotives pulling dangerous goods, and we slowed the speed of all of those trains. We adjusted the specifications of tank cars, and immediately took the least crash-resistant cars off the rails. We strengthened regulations and we increased inspections. We also took steps to address longer-term issues. We have been working with municipalities, first responders, railways and shippers to strengthen emergency response across this country.

In August, the Transportation Safety Board issued its final investigation report on the Lac-Mégantic tragedy, and again we responded. Last October, I introduced further measures, including an emergency directive on how trains are to be braked, the accurate classification of dangerous goods and steps to improve training of all rail employees.

We also introduced measures to make safety management systems more effective in ways that I will discuss in more detail, but I want to emphasize this: this government has implemented every single one of the recommendations of the Transportation Safety Board in response to Lac-Mégantic. We have learned the lessons inherent in past tragedies, and our commitment to safety is absolute.

The bill before us introduces further steps to strengthen the safety regime of Canada's railways and ensure the accountability of railways in the case of accidents. It moves on three different fronts. The first is prevention. Amendments would strengthen the regulatory regime to reduce the likelihood of rail accidents. The second is communication for effective response. The bill would allow for requirements related to information sharing between railways and municipalities to improve the response in case of emergencies. The third is accountability. The bill would take steps to ensure railways have enough insurance to pay for damages. It would also make crude oil shippers accountable for what they put on the rails by ensuring they pay into a supplementary fund that would be available when an accident involves crude.

The bill before us would amend two pieces of legislation: the Railway Safety Act and the Canada Transportation Act. Taken together, these amendments represent a significant step in improving the overall safety in Canada's railways, especially in the transportation of dangerous goods. These amendments respond to the recommendations of the Transportation Safety Board in response to Lac-Mégantic, and the 2013 fall report of the Auditor General. We welcomed all their input.

Let me begin with prevention and the features of the bill that would help prevent rail accidents. The Railway Safety Act sets out a regulatory framework to address the safety, the security and the environmental impact of rail. Under the act, federally regulated railways are responsible for the safety of their rail line infrastructure, of their railway equipment and of their operations.

Transport Canada monitors the railway's compliance with the act and with the department's rules, regulations and engineering standards.

Transport Canada also conducts audits and inspections to ensure that the overall safety of railway operations is maintained. Canadians can be assured that Transport Canada does not and will not hesitate to take appropriate action to address safety concerns. The bill before us today would provide new authorities to the safety inspectors and to the Minister of Transport to do just that.

Under this bill, a new provision would give the Minister of Transport the authority to order a railway to take a corrective action, to stop any action, to follow any procedure or to suspend operation. In other words, the minister would be able to intervene directly should there be a concern for safety.

A Transport Canada railway safety inspector would be given broader authority to issue notices and orders to any person or entity, including railway companies, road authorities and municipalities, relating to safe railway operations. By increasing the authorities for the minister and railway safety inspectors, we would increase Transport Canada's ability to administer the Railway Safety Act and the regulations, the rules and the engineering standards made under the act. These are all powerful tools and they would increase the regulation of oversight of railway companies that Transport Canada regulates and would ensure that railways operate according to the standards established in the act.

However, I would like to emphasize that some of the most important steps that railways make to improve safety and safety culture are not the results of the provisions of the Railway Safety Act but are contained within their own safety management systems or SMS. I want to be clear on this point. A safety management system is not deregulation and it is not self-regulation; it is an internationally recognized, science-based process that has been used in rail transportation since 2001. SMS do not replace rules or regulations or inspections. They provide a systemic approach to safety that incorporates specific regulations and proactive measures to identify hazards and to mitigate risks.

Transport Canada has created regulatory requirements around safety management systems and the bill before us would strengthen the department's oversight. Under the amendments, I believe that if a railway company were implementing its safety management system in a way that could compromise railway safety, I could take that company to corrective action by placing an order. With this additional oversight, railways would have further incentive to ensure that they manage the risks associated with operating a railway.

I would like to draw the attention of the House to the elements of this bill that would help quicken emergency response through closer communication and co-operation between railways and municipalities through which they pass. Under this bill, Transport Canada would have new authority to regulate the sharing of information, of documents and of records from one party to another other than the department, for example, from a railway company to a municipality.

Canada's history is one of towns and cities that sprang up along the rail lines in this country. We have to ensure that the people who live in these areas are safe. The collaboration between railways and communities on such matters would no longer be at the discretion of the railways. It would form part of a mandatory regulatory framework. The Federation of Canadian Municipalities has been an outspoken champion for better communication and more transparency between railways and municipalities on safety-related issues, and we thank its members for their input and advice.

In addition to prevention and effective communication for improved response, the third pillar of the bill involves accountability. By this, I mean the need to ensure those responsible for operating the railway system and those who put high-risk goods into the system would have the financial resources they need to compensate victims and to clean up communities if things go wrong. This is not just an issue that results from major tragedies such as what happened in Lac-Mégantic, although I will return to that in a moment.

More frequently, municipalities are called to respond to incidents of lesser impact, such as putting out fires that may have been caused as a result of a railway operation. Under the current regime, these costs are often borne by the provinces and municipalities and ultimately their taxpayers. However, under the bill before us, if a province or municipality believes that a fire was started as a result of railway operations, it can apply to the Canadian Transportation Agency for reimbursement. The amendment would give the agency authority to determine if indeed the fire was caused by railway operations, and would be able to determine the costs incurred in putting out the fire and require the railway to reimburse the province or municipality for those costs.

This amendment and the others I have spoken to today are changes to the Railway Safety Act that promote a safe and secure, efficient and environmentally responsible transportation system in Canada. The amendments would give Transport Canada more authority and oversight in rail operations, bring in a new era of communication between railways and municipalities in an effort to improve emergency preparedness, and help make the railways accountable for the costs incurred from fighting fires that result from their operations.

However, another important issue of accountability became all too apparent in the aftermath of the Lac-Mégantic tragedy. The cost of the disaster in terms of the lives lost was incalculable. They are beyond words. However, there were calculable loss costs as well, and the costs of putting out the fire and clearing the debris, cleaning up the effects on the environment, and, of course, the costs of rebuilding a community and compensating, truly shattered lives. No one wants to anticipate such a disaster, but any responsible company must prepare for such eventualities by carrying sufficient insurance to cover the costs.

Under the Canada Transportation Act, federally regulated railways must carry insurance, but the Lac-Mégantic tragedy has proven that the measures now in place are simply not sufficient. Therefore, the bill before us identifies specific levels of insurance that must be carried, depending upon the type and volume of dangerous goods that the railway transports. These insurance requirements would come into force 12 months after the bill's royal assent, giving the insurance market the necessary time to adjust, and railways enough time to obtain the necessary insurance, which is usually purchased on an annual policy.

Class 1 railways carry significant quantities of dangerous goods, and they will be required to hold $1 billion in insurance. The House will be reassured to know that both CN and CP customarily carry more insurance than that. At the other end of the spectrum, railways carrying little or no dangerous goods would be required to hold $25 million in insurance. For short-line railways carrying higher amounts of dangerous goods, there would be an initial requirement to hold either $50 million or $125 million in insurance. One year later, those levels would increase to $100 million and $250 million respectively. This phase-in period would allow short-line railways time to adjust to the new requirements. The agency would be able to make inquiries to determine whether railways are maintaining the correct amount of insurance, and must revoke or suspend the certificate of fitness of any railway that fails to comply.

The agency can also enforce insurance requirements through administrative monetary penalties of up to $100,000, and there is more. Unfortunately, there is always the possibility and potential for a tragedy to exceed the ability of a railway's third-party insurance to cover the damages, so crude oil shippers must also share in the responsibility that comes with the transport of their dangerous goods. For those reasons, the bill would also create a supplemental fund that would be financed by levies on crude oil shippers, in the amount of $1.65 for every tonne of crude that is shipped. If the damages caused by a catastrophic crude oil accident were more than a railway company's insurance could cover, the fund would be there to cover the cost, not the taxpayers.

This is consistent with the polluter pays principle and is similar to the approach taken in marine transportation; the costs associated with an incident are shared by industry.

Crude oil shippers are included in the amendments before us today, but Transport Canada is looking at the possibility of expanding the regime to cover industries that ship other dangerous goods. In this way, we promote a shared accountability between rail carriers and the shippers of dangerous goods to ensure that victims and taxpayers are fully protected from bearing the costs of rail accidents.

Our goal is to ensure that communities, citizens, and taxpayers are protected in the event of an incident. The polluter will pay to clean up and provide compensation. We support a competitive rail sector and the resource economy that brings jobs to Canadians, but when it comes to safety in the transportation system, communities and citizens will always come first.

The measures in this bill come in addition to the steps the government has already taken to improve the rail safety regime. I would point out that there is a private member's bill that has been tabled to amend the Railway Safety Act, and I would like to commend the work of our colleague, the hon. member for Winnipeg South Centre. Her private member's bill, Bill C-627, is also designed to provide greater protection to persons and property from railway operations.

The government supports this bill, and I wish to assure the House that we have coordinated the amendments in the bill before us to ensure that both bills will be harmonized when they reach royal assent. This is the customary way to give effect to two bills and will result in both bills having equal and consistent impact on the Railway Safety Act.

Railway operators and Transport Canada have taken many measures to improve rail safety, and this has reduced accident rates over the past several years. However, the amount of dangerous goods and other commodities moving by rail is increasing, and it will continue to grow. We need proper oversight to reduce accidents. We need better communication between railways and municipalities to provide more effective response, and we need a stronger liability and compensation regime in the event of an accident.

The bill addresses each of these areas. It introduces substantial changes to the regimes for both rail safety, and liability and compensation. In the last Speech from the Throne, this government committed to drawing upon the lessons of the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic to make shippers and rail companies accountable for rail safety.

With this bill, we are fulfilling that commitment.

Our system of transportation safety is strong, but it can be improved. By strengthening the safety, liability, and compensation regimes, we will improve public confidence in the rail industry. Above all, we will underscore that the safety and the security of Canadians remain the top priority of Transport Canada.

We have put in place many rail safety initiatives, through directives, orders, and regulations within the existing legislation framework.

This bill will enable us to take further measures.

I hope hon. members share my sense of urgency that we get this done, and that they join me in supporting this extremely important bill.

March 26th, 2015 / 4:50 p.m.
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Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

Now, from the government's perspective, obviously, and we've heard some of this today at the table, we have a private member who has seen an issue and has tried to address it with Bill C-627. Obviously, the government, from its own perspective, has brought forward a bill, Bill C-52, that takes a number of issues but has recognized what the private member has done and is looking for a way, I think, if it were to pass first, to dovetail that into the legislation.

We don't know which bill will pass, or both, or whatever. We're coming to the end of a parliament, so this committee is tasked with dealing with this specific bill and this specific language. Given that and Bill C-52 aside, do the stakeholders here support the measures of Bill C-627 moving forward? That's what this committee has to decide.

March 26th, 2015 / 4:40 p.m.
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NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Hoang Mai

Is there a possibility under Bill C-627 that when, for instance, the minister decides to close a crossing, that move could affect the activities of railways? For instance, shutting down crossings, or not making—

March 26th, 2015 / 4:30 p.m.
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Lobbyist, Teamsters Canada

Phil Benson

That's a difficult question, sir.

I think any particular improvements we can make should be done. We take them as we find them. I think the most important part with Bill C-52 will actually be with the next parliament dealing with the review of the Railway Safety Act. At that point, I think we'll be coming forward with several suggestions. The first is to end the self-governing, self-regulation of the industry.

We really appreciate the minister planning or pushing forward with more inspectors, greater power for the minister and inspectors. I think they're a positive. We have a lot of work to do. We're not anywhere close to the end. I think eventually we might get there, but I think what's missing is that after 9/11, it took seven, eight, nine, ten years for me to work on that file, to start to get to the point where we're actually getting to the conclusion of it. Here, just a few years after the tragedy at Lac-Mégantic, I think we're looking at a six-, seven-, eight-, nine-year fix.

Some thought 1232 tankers might solve the problem. We didn't think they would. It turns out, they don't. We will find problems and issues. As we move forward, we'll work together and hopefully the committee, as it always has, will work very hard on this issue. I look forward to working with you.