An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act (road crossings)

Sponsor

Hélène Laverdière  NDP

Introduced as a private member’s bill. (These don’t often become law.)

Status

Defeated, as of May 17, 2017

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Summary

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

This enactment amends the Railway Safety Act to authorize the Minister of Transport to order a company to construct a road crossing and to authorize the payment of a grant for that purpose.

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.

Votes

May 17, 2017 Failed 2nd reading of Bill C-322, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act (road crossings)

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

May 17th, 2017 / 6:05 p.m.
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Liberal

The Speaker Liberal Geoff Regan

The House will now proceed to the taking of the deferred recorded division on the motion at second reading stage of Bill C-322 under private members' business.

The House resumed from May 12 consideration of the motion that Bill C-322, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act (road crossings), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

May 12th, 2017 / 1:45 p.m.
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Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, my colleague wants this to be an issue of relevance, but it is relevant because this is the only solution that the NDP has. This legislation is principally designed as a national solution to a challenging circumstance in her riding where, according to her, there are not enough rail crossings, and therefore pedestrians in her riding are crossing the rail track at multiple uncontrolled locations and trespassing on private property. At issue is just that lack of pedestrian crossings on the Canadian Pacific Railway Outremont spur.

I wonder if the bill in its present form is actually necessary. Is this type of large-scale reach the only solution to the illegal crossings that my colleague referenced when she brought the bill forward?

I would like to take a minute or two to look at what is in place presently. My NDP colleague just referred to the Railway Safety Act being vague and confusing, and he gave some examples, but I do not think this bill is going to be the solution to clear that up. The Canadian Transportation Act includes some provisions on rail crossings. Section 100 of the act defines a road crossing as “the part of a road that passes across, over or under a railway line, and includes a structure supporting or protecting that part of the road or facilitating the crossing.”

The member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie says she wants to increase the safety of affected areas where pedestrians are crossing. I believe her approach is sincere, but as I have mentioned, we have questions about the method that she has chosen.

When we try to correct at risk situations, we should be very careful that we do not create new ones. I think that would happen if the bill were passed.

Although it tries to deal with a local issue, the bill would be national in scope, and it should be judged on that basis. Federal legislation already provides municipalities and local authorities with the authority to deal with these types of situations, with the ability to get a railroad to the table to get a crossing built.

Section 101 of the Canada Transportation Act states that if a municipality or a local authority and a railway cannot come to a conclusion and negotiate an agreement to build a crossing, the Canadian Transportation Agency can step in. It can authorize the construction of that crossing. It can determine what percentage of the construction costs each party will be responsible for. It can also determine who will maintain that crossing.

This current process puts the onus on individual local authorities, which is where it should be, to determine whether a new railway crossing is required, where and when that crossing is built and should be built, taking into consideration development plans and how much they are willing to contribute financially to see that crossing built.

The current legislative framework stipulates that if a local municipality or entity and a railway cannot come to an agreement, then the Canadian Transportation Agency can take over and assume responsibility. It can authorize the construction and determine how those costs will be split between the parties, both for the construction of the crossing and for the ongoing maintenance of it.

The minister can already help parties find common ground through various existing policies and can do it in a way that deals with the financial consequences for the stakeholders. As with so many other things, money often ends up being the sticking point on many of these negotiations.

The member told us about her work and the support she had from various agencies. However, the Montreal Port Authority is not one of those agencies that supports her proposed legislative amendment. That is the local entity involved in this situation.

Municipalities have the primary responsibility for their own infrastructure. It makes sense for them to be the ones that decide when, if, and where the railway crossings should be built. It should not be up to the Minister of Transport to determine whether a crossing must be built in a local area. It needs to be given over to the local government to make those decisions, and that is where it should stay.

As I said, the Montreal Port Authority does not support the bill. The rail line affected by the member's initiative serves the port. Setting up new crossings would disrupt port operations. Given a train cannot stop at each grade crossing, the port authority has said the company would have to uncouple and recouple the train and allow people to cross. That would significantly disrupt the operations and increase the risk for company employees and the public. I know the member does not want to hear that as a consequence of her legislation.

When people are crossing at uncontrolled locations, they are in effect trespassing on private property. The sponsor of the bill is saying that just because people are trespassing and putting themselves at risk, the minister has some obligation to build crossings for them. We do not believe this is the case. Increasing the number of pedestrian crossings increases opportunities for people to be injured and/or killed. That is not a good solution to the issue we are faced with here.

Statistics show that railway and road crossings are dangerous for Canadians. Data at the end of October 2016 indicated a total of 89 accidents at road crossings, 16 fatalities, and 20 severe injuries. These problems happen across the entire rail system, not only at these uncontrolled crossings.

We do not see how Bill C-322 in its current form could help improve and solve the problem once and for all. In our view, a broader approach to this is needed. Specific measures should be taken to improve the safety of people crossing railway lines illegally in Canada. We need to come up with a framework to deal with that.

We will oppose the bill because it proposes the wrong solution to the problem in Montreal and other densely populated cities that have rail crossings in them.

The issue is really that pedestrians are trespassing on private property, which typically has industrial activity also occurring, thus exposing people to major danger. The answer is not to give them even more opportunities to be injured and/or killed.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

May 12th, 2017 / 1:45 p.m.
See context

Conservative

David Anderson Conservative Cypress Hills—Grasslands, SK

Mr. Speaker, thank you for the opportunity to speak to Bill C-322 this afternoon.

My experience with crossings is a little different from my colleague's. In my riding, the issues around crossings have typically been the removal of them, particularly in small towns. Train lengths have gotten longer and longer, and we now find freight trains that are two miles in length. The rail companies have actually come in and removed crossings, in their words, to try to remove the danger of people trying to cross at those places. It has made it inconvenient for a number of small communities whose people often have to go around another way to get back to the place where they started.

The second issue I have had with rail crossings in the riding is CPR removing crossings that were used privately and actually not even acknowledging our contacts with them to try to get them to explain what they had done.

I sympathize with my colleague on this issue, but I do not think she has found the correct solution to the problem. In short, the bill before us proposes to amend the Railway Safety Act to give the minister of transport the power to order a company to construct a railway crossing and to authorize the payment of subsidies in that regard. The bill is designed to address a particular problem in Montreal.

I find this to be typical of my NDP colleagues' approach to legislation. The solution is always more and more government intervention and bigger and bigger government. With these issues that should be resolved locally, they always seem to take a national hammer to them to try to repair them that way. I think that is what is happening here.

For those of us who have lived under NDP governments, this is a very familiar picture for us. We believe the solution is not always more and more government involvement and government telling people what they need to do. Of course, in my province it has had a huge impact over the years. We find ourselves, after 50 years of the NDP running the province, with an economy one-third the size of that of our neighbouring province, and it is for that particular reason. Every solution was seen to be more and more government involvement until people left and businesses left and we did not have the economic development that we actually needed in our province. We ended up with, I think, up to 80 crown corporations in a population of less than a million, and nationalized industries, such as potash, which was just about destroyed before it was sold into private hands and then became a crown jewel in our provincial economy.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

May 12th, 2017 / 1:35 p.m.
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NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Mr. Speaker, Bill C-322, which was introduced by the member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, is based on one simple principle. It would authorize the Minister of Transport to order a rail company to construct a road crossing and authorize the payment of grants for that purpose.

This bill is about keeping Quebeckers and Canadian safe. Thousands of people are being forced to take long detours to get to work and access services. In many cases, those detours are unreasonably long, so some people avoid them by crossing the tracks where there is no crossing.

It is a simple image. What is important to understand here is that urban landscapes are constantly changing. I often use the example of a new park, where those who designed and conceived of the park planned the walkways and paved or laid stone in certain areas. A few months later, it becomes clear that the park's users have decided differently, and they create their own paths that reflect how they actually use the park. I am not saying that we should let people walk around as they wish and create the crossings afterwards, but we do need to take into account how people actually move, the development of certain neighbourhoods, and the shifts in urban landscapes so we can adapt to situations that reflect reality.

Transport Canada figures show that the risk of fatalities is twice as high at unprotected locations. In some spots, there are reports of hundreds of people every morning crossing the tracks where there is no crossing. For example, consider the railway right-of-way in Mile End in Montreal. In one day, 289 pedestrians and 81 cyclists were reported to have crossed the tracks at the wrong place, because they had no other real choice.

Despite pressure from businesses, cities, and citizens groups, railway companies often refuse to co-operate on adding crossings and yet this is critical to the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, as we just saw in the example.

The lack of safe crossings jeopardizes public safety and causes mobility problems in our communities. We New Democrats have introduced this bill because we want to improve safety for all Canadians and promote active transportation.

In its response to my colleague from Laurier—Sainte-Marie, the Liberal government seems to oppose this bill because it thinks the solution already exists under current legislation. The Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport said, and I quote:

...under the Railway Safety Act, the Minister of Transport has the appropriate tools and authorities to respond to safety concerns or threats to safe railway operations....It is for these reasons that the Government of Canada does not support Bill C-322.

The government would have us believe that everything is fine and that we do not need to amend the law to protect the safety of Canadians. However, nothing could be further from the truth. A Library of Parliament study shows that the Railway Safety Act is so vague and unclear that it is impossible to determine whether the transport minister does or does not have the authority to order a company to build a railway crossing under the existing legislation.

I asked the Library of Parliament to look into this because I wanted to get the most objective opinion possible on this bill and try to make sense of it. An examination of the existing legislation on railway safety shows that large sections of the text are quite vague to say the least. Actually, they are about as clear as mud.

Therefore, this is not just the opinion of the second opposition party. We are talking about the findings of a non-partisan study involving a rigorous and detailed review of the legislation. The concept of railway safety comes up at least 66 times in the act, but it is never clearly defined.

Just because the word “safety” is used so many times does not mean we have a clear understanding of what it means. Subsection 31(1) of the Railway Safety Act is very confusing because it is not clear whether the notion of railway safety is meant to be interpreted more narrowly here than in other parts of the act.

I will read subsection 31(1). I just want to warn my listeners that I might lose them here. I might even get lost myself, but that will prove my point about how the act that my colleague's bill would amend is very confusing. Here is subsection 31(1):

If a railway safety inspector is of the opinion that a person’s conduct or any thing for which a person is responsible constitutes a threat to the safety or security of railway operations or the safety of persons or property, the inspector shall inform, by notice sent to the person and to any company whose railway operations are affected by the threat, the person and the company of that opinion and of the reasons for it.

I imagine everyone gets the meaning of this paragraph. The words “or the safety of persons or property” might suggest they are there to add to the concept of the security of railway operations and therefore that the safety of persons or property is not necessarily included in that concept. What is more, nowhere else in the Railway Safety Act is the security of railway operations followed by the phrase “or the safety of persons or property”.

Let us take a deep breath and try to make sense of that. That is precisely what Bill C-322 wants to address and why it is important. It clarifies the minister's authority to order the construction of level crossings. Unfortunately, the government is hiding behind outdated regulations that prevent the minister from ordering new crossings to be built even though he has the authority to order them to be closed or modified.

Let us also admit that in reality, the public's bargaining power is disproportionate to that of the railway companies, to say the least. The agreement process for creating a level crossing is also problematic. The person submitting a proposal is supposed to negotiate an agreement directly with the railway company. If the company rejects the idea of building a new level crossing, then the applicant can call on the agency to mediate the negotiations or make an official ruling on the matter.

There is a growing number of examples of individuals, citizens groups, and municipalities pulling together to establish new road crossings, but at the end of the day, the rail company basically has the veto, and nothing happens, even though the risk to public safety, I would remind the House, is well known and even statistically proven.

The problem lies in the unequal balance of power between the parties negotiating the construction of a new crossing. When rail companies cite safety reasons, for example, to justify their refusal to install crossings without releasing the results of their safety studies, the government should have the authority to intervene to ensure public safety and to protect the public interest. That is what we are proposing in the next bill.

Unfortunately, I am running out of time, but I could have quoted many organizations that support the bill sponsored by my colleague from Laurier—Sainte-Marie. They are sending a very clear message that this is a crucial need, not only in the Montreal region, which is represented in part by my colleague from Laurier—Sainte-Marie, but also in many other parts of the country.

Indeed, as I said in the beginning, the urban landscape is constantly changing, and we need to adapt railways that have been there for more than a century to the reality of urban development.

In closing, the current situation is worrisome, and crossings need to be built in strategic locations so that pedestrians and cyclists can move around safely. Improving active transportation and people's mobility are important priorities, and this is true across Canada. This bill will help us achieve that.

The House resumed from March 20 consideration of the motion that Bill C-322, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act (road crossings), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Rail TransportationOral Questions

May 11th, 2017 / 2:50 p.m.
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NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Mr. Speaker, every day, thousands of cyclists and pedestrians cross railroad tracks at unprotected locations to avoid long detours. They have been asking for years for safe crossings. The act clearly gives the minister the authority to order the closure or modification of a railway crossing, but it is unclear as to whether he has the authority to open a new one. I have heard different interpretations of this legislation from different government members.

Bill C-322 seeks to remedy that situation. Will the minister support my bill and take on the authority needed to keep Canadians safe?

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

March 20th, 2017 / 11:55 a.m.
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Conservative

Kelly Block Conservative Carlton Trail—Eagle Creek, SK

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to join with my friend and colleague, the deputy critic for transport, to discuss Bill C-322, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act with regard to road crossings. If passed, this legislation would give the Minister of Transport the power to order the owner of a rail line to build a grade-level crossing across the track and to authorize the payment of a grant for that purpose.

My understanding is that this legislation is principally designed to address a challenging circumstance in the sponsor's riding, where, according to the sponsor, there are not enough rail crossings, and therefore pedestrians are crossing the rail track at multiple uncontrolled locations.

As the issue at hand is a lack of pedestrian crossings along the Canadian Pacific Railway Outremont spur, and as it is common practice by the current Liberal government, one wonders why the Minister of Transport has not called his former caucus colleague, who happens to be the mayor of Montreal, to come up with a suitable plan to build grade-separated overpasses and underpasses for pedestrians to cross the track. However, as per another common practice by the government, it is easier to declare that rail safety for the middle class is a priority for the current minister than to do something about it.

It need not be said that rail safety is a priority for all Canadians, regardless of their personal financial circumstances.

While the intent of Bill C-322 is to address a local issue, it will be national in its scope and should be judged on that basis. Federal legislation already provides municipalities and local authorities with the ability to get a railroad to the table to get a crossing built. Section 101 of the Canada Transportation Act states that if a municipality or the relevant local authority and a railway are unsuccessful in negotiating an agreement to build a crossing, the Canada Transport Agency may, first, authorize the construction of that crossing; second, determine what percentage of the construction costs each party will be responsible for; and finally, determine who will maintain the crossing. This current process puts the onus on each individual local authority to determine whether a new railway crossing is required; where the crossing can and should be built, taking into consideration its development plans; and how much they are willing to contribute financially to see that crossing built.

Municipalities have the primary responsibility for their infrastructure, so it makes sense for them to be the ones determining if and where a railway crossing should be built. It should not be up to the Minister of Transport to determine whether a crossing must be built; it is up to the local government to determine whether it would like to see the rail crossing built.

While Transport Canada does have the ability to close a crossing if it is considered unsafe, this power exists in the interests of safety.

When people cross the track at an uncontrolled location, they are in effect trespassing on private property. The sponsor of this bill in effect is saying that because people are trespassing and putting themselves at risk, the minister needs to build more level-grade crossings.

To be clear, if pedestrians would use existing crossings instead of trespassing on busy railway spurs, the safety of the tracks would not be compromised in this respect. As cities grow around historic railway-owned rights-of-way, the kind of situation we are seeing in Montreal, where there may not be enough grade-separated crossings, will only become more common. Unfortunately, and on too many occasions, pedestrians are cutting holes in fences and taking shortcuts to wherever they need to go rather than walking to existing crossings.

In 2015, accidents between pedestrians and trains resulted in 31 fatalities. The dangers for pedestrians cutting across the track without knowledge of whether a train is coming are obvious, but they are not heeded enough.

I consider it a heavy burden to place on rail operators to have to contend with trespassers as part of their job, when they are already operating heavy equipment under challenging circumstances. I believe that the mental welfare of train operators should be considered in this debate on how to handle the densification of areas around rail lines in cities.

My issue with the bill is that increasing the number of pedestrian crossings that are not grade separated will only increase the opportunities for trespassing on private lands. This will in turn increase the opportunities for pedestrians to find themselves in fatal accidents or to stumble and fall.

I will be opposing the bill, because it proposes the wrong solution to the problem in Montreal and other densely populated cities that have rail lines crossing through them. There will never be a crossing at every single location that is most convenient for all pedestrians. The issue here is that pedestrians are trespassing on private property, thus exposing themselves to major danger.

Governments and railroads share a combined responsibility to ensure that pedestrians stay off the tracks to the greatest extent possible and to make that an ongoing priority in infrastructure initiatives.

I see that my time is coming to an end, so I will leave it there and resume the debate when the bill is next taken up.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

March 20th, 2017 / 11:45 a.m.
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Liberal

Marc Serré Liberal Nickel Belt, ON

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to be here today to speak to issues surrounding Bill C-322, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act in relation to road crossings.

While the government recognizes the complexity of railways and municipalities having to coexist, I would like to explain why the government cannot support the bill.

Essentially, the bill would introduce inconsistencies into the Railway Safety Act, which is the subject of a comprehensive statutory review that has been moved up to start in 2017 rather than 2018. This was announced on November 3, 2016, by the Minister of Transport. It will provide an opportunity for our government and parliamentarians to consider rail safety in a more comprehensive way than through private members' bills designed to address one-off situations.

This is very significant. I have the experience in my riding of Nickel Belt. It is very important that these issues related to rail safety be addressed in partnership with communities and all levels of government. Together we have the responsibility to improve rail safety across Canada, and this private member's bill seeks to address only one specific situation.

As members of Parliament, we all need to provide leadership in our communities to gather all levels of government to improve rail safety. Round table discussions with various communities—federal, provincial, municipal, and indigenous communities, the private sector, and Transport Canada—are crucial.

The statutory review of the Railway Safety Act that has been moved up by a year to 2017 is a move in the right direction.

First, in addition to a rigorous and robust rail safety regulatory framework, there are well-established, existing measures and processes in place, which ultimately makes the proposed bill redundant.

I will illustrate this redundancy by detailing the existing process for the central issue of the private member’s bill: opening or constructing new grade crossings.

To begin, the Grade Crossings Regulations clearly define the responsibilities of the railway company and the road authority with respect to grade crossings.

Understandably, with approximately 14,000 public grade crossings along more than 48,000 kilometres of federally regulated railway tracks across Canada, the regulations recognize and entrench the shared responsibility for rail crossings. Railway companies, road authorities, municipalities and band councils in provinces, and private crossing owners are each responsible for managing safety at grade crossings. This is why Transport Canada encourages rail companies and communities to consult with each other to seek solutions through collaborative approaches.

Likewise, the existing process under the Canada Transportation Act encourages road authorities and railway companies to work together to agree whether or not to open a road crossing, where to open a crossing, and how to apportion the costs.

When the railway company and the municipality agree, the agreement may be filed with the Canadian Transportation Agency, which is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal that makes decisions on a wide range of matters involving federally-regulated modes of transportation, including rail.

These agreements usually include rates to be charged for work performed and specify which parties are responsible for paying for the work, as well as maintenance and liability. The filed agreement becomes an order of the agency authorizing the parties to construct or maintain the crossings, or to apportion the costs, as provided for in the agreement.

If a rail company and a road authority agree on a grade crossing but disagree on who should pay for the work, either party can ask the Canadian Transportation Agency to apportion the costs of that project. When an agreement cannot be reached, the parties have access to mediation services through the Canadian Transportation Agency.

In most cases, the agency first tries to resolve first complaints through facilitation or mediation. Mediators assist the parties in negotiating a mutually satisfactory settlement among themselves.

When mediation is unsuccessful, the next step is for one of the parties to approach the agency in question. Adjudication can take up to 120 days, depending upon the complexity of the case. The agency's ruling under adjudication is legally binding and can include where crossings should be located, how many are required, conditions that the crossing must meet, and apportionment of the costs.

Whether through mediation or adjudication, when crossings are required, Transport Canada provides safety-related advice to agencies before making its decision. All new crossings authorized by the agency must comply with the safety requirements of the Railway Safety Act and associated regulations, such as the Grade Crossings Regulations.

Under the act, the proponent for a new grade crossing must give 60 days' notice to other parties involved. When all other avenues have been exhausted and where there are exceptional threats to safety, the Minister of Transport already has the authority under section 32.01 of the Railway Safety Act to order a company, road authority, or municipality to, among other things, take corrective measures to address a threat to safe railway operations, including construction of a road crossing.

As members can understand, the process in place is a rigorous one even before construction of a grade crossing begins. It goes without saying that the next steps in this process are just as rigorous.

The grade crossings standards referenced in the Grade Crossings Regulations set out the safety criteria for the construction, alteration, maintenance, inspection, and testing of grade crossings. These standards uphold safety at federally regulated crossings by promoting consistency and bring all federally regulated crossings in Canada under one common standard.

Transport Canada's role includes monitoring railway companies through audits and inspections to verify that they meet safety standards under the Grade Crossings Regulations. To do so, the department conducts regular monitoring of rail works and operations, informs railways and road authorities of any safety deficiencies, and, if required, takes appropriate action.

In addition, as previously noted, the Railway Safety Act was amended in June 2015 to provide broader ministerial authorities to address safety risks, threats, or concerns. If the minister considers them necessary in the interests of safe railway operations, specific measures may be ordered, such as constructing, altering, operating, or maintaining a railway work, and a crossing would be included.

While the impetus for Bill C-322 to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists to cross railway tracks is certainly worthwhile, road crossing issues are complex and multi-jurisdictional, requiring the involvement and co-operation of multiple players: the federal government, rail companies, road authorities, municipalities, and members of the general public. The relationship between Transport Canada and the Canadian Transportation Agency strikes the required fine balance between road safety and the needs of the communities. Ultimately, the government is confident that the regulations and processes in place have the necessary rigour and flexibility to address the interests of this proposed bill.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

March 20th, 2017 / 11:40 a.m.
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NDP

Wayne Stetski NDP Kootenay—Columbia, BC

Madam Speaker, this is an important issue. Canada's railways play an important part in our nation, not only for their value of moving goods and people, but as part of our cultural identity.

We all know the story of the last spike and how the government worked with the Canadian Pacific Railway to build our first transcontinental railroad in 1885. That silver spike was driven into the railbed in Craigellachie, just a few kilometres west of my riding of Kootenay—Columbia. At that time, rail was the most efficient way to transport goods and people from one end of the country to the other. That is why the government played an important role in funding and building the railway.

Sir John A. Macdonald's government was brought down due to his accepting bribes from CPR for helping with the railway, and he was re-elected in part due to his promise to complete the railway. After it was completed, it became popular to take the train across the country to see its sights, staying at many of the fantastic hotels that the rail company built to house wealthy guests, including Glacier Hotel in my riding.

At that time, safety may not have been as important as it is today. It is said that Agnes Macdonald, wife of then Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, was so thrilled with the sight of the mountains that she road the train's cowcatcher all the way through. That must have been a “mooving” experience, for sure.

Today we have a very different situation. The railroads are privately owned, but responsibility for their safety lies with the Government of Canada and the federal Department of Transport. However, that responsibility is currently one way. The government can order a railway to close or alter a crossing, but it cannot order the railway to create one, and that is what this legislation is about.

Bill C-322 would grant the Minister of Transport the powers to require the construction of crossings on a rail line. Why is this important? It is important because the situation right now is untenable. Canadians, including individuals and businesses, have demonstrated that they sometimes have legitimate requirements to cross railways at locations other than currently regulated road crossings. However, the rail companies refuse to allow the crossings and they refuse to make them safe.

This is especially true where rail lines run along rivers and lakes. In order to reach the waterway, people are sometimes given the choice between taking an extremely long detour or crossing the tracks illegally and unsafely. In my own riding of Kootenay—Columbia, we have a situation like this. The Kicking Horse River is an offshoot of the mighty Columbia River. It gets its colourful name from an incident in 1858, when Dr. James Hector, a member of the Palliser expedition that was exploring the area, was kicked and knocked out by a horse while trying to lead it across the fast-moving water.

Whitewater rafting in the Kicking Horse River outside of Golden, B.C., is some of the best in the world. Every summer, as many as 40,000 people, assisted by a number of successful companies, load onto rafts to challenge the rapids. The sport brings valuable ecotourism dollars into Golden and provides dozens of jobs, particularly for our youth. To get to the water, rafting companies carefully lead groups across the railway tracks to the lower canyon. They have been doing so for over 40 years without a single accident. Last year, CPR told them that their activity was illegal and stopped rafters from crossing the tracks, citing safety.

I will read to the House a statement from CP issued in early June 2016: “CP cannot support rafters accessing the Kicking Horse River at this location...as it poses a significant risk to their own safety as well as the safety of CP crews and the freight they are transporting.” Subsequently CP put up a metal gate barricading the crossing, and threatened to charge anyone who “trespassed”, their word, to get to the river.

Let me repeat: rafters have been crossing the tracks there for 40 years without a single accident, and now millions of dollars are potentially being lost to this rural seasonal economy because the company has decided not to create a safe crossing.

Last summer, two companies began helicoptering people across this newly closed access, adding hundreds of dollars to the cost of family rafting vacations. There was nothing that the federal government or provincial government could do about that, until now. Bill C-322 would allow the minister to order CP and other railways to create safe crossings in special situations like this. If rail companies are concerned about safety, the solution is not to ban crossings but rather to make them safe.

Now, one may wonder why CP would not create a safe crossing to allow access to the Kicking Horse River. Initially it said it would—but only if the federal or provincial government paid for it. That is right. This company, which earned over $6 billion in 2014 and made a profit of almost $540 million in the first quarter of 2016, said the taxpayers should be on the hook for it to build a crossing over its own tracks. This is unacceptable, and it is worrisome.

Level crossings must be built in strategic locations so that pedestrians, cyclists, and even whitewater rafters can move around safely. The improvement of active transportation and the mobility of people are important priorities across Canada. It should be a no-brainer for every member of the House to support this legislation.

Unfortunately, the government is hiding behind obsolete regulations that prevent the minister from ordering the construction of new crossings, while he already has the power to order them closed. The government seems to be unwilling to take on the responsibility to give Canadians freedom of movement, to save Canadian lives, to force some companies to act in a way that favours small communities, to provide safe access to Canada's rivers and lakes across railroad tracks, which surely should be a fundamental right for every Canadian.

I do not want to encourage anyone to illegally cross railway tracks. That is what government inaction would have people do. We want to make sure such crossings are legal and safe where they are needed.

Across Canada, unregulated crossings cause twice as many accidents and fatalities as regulated crossings, and in some places hundreds of people cross railway tracks every morning. Of course, decades ago, kids in Saskatchewan would walk the railroad tracks to get to school. That may happen to some degree today as well.

By one count, on May 15, 2012, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., 289 pedestrians and 81 cyclists crossed the railway right-of-way in Mile End between Saint-Dominique and Henri-Julien streets in Montreal. Every one of these Canadians could have been fined a minimum of $287 under the Railway Safety Act. Under current laws, these were trespassers, and what they were doing is dangerous.

The lack of safe crossings jeopardizes public safety and causes mobility issues in our communities. New Democrats have introduced this bill because we want to improve security for all Canadians, whether they are walking, cycling, driving, whitewater rafting, or just trying to access rivers and lakes near their homes.

Who else is supporting this legislation? There have been a number of groups, of course. They include whitewater rafters in British Columbia, the Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, BC Healthy Living Alliance, Saskatoon Cycles, Canada Bikes, Citizens for Safe Cycling, Walk Toronto, Cycle Toronto, Ontario By Bike, Jane's Walk, Vélo Québec, Piétons Québec, the Outremont Pedestrians and Cyclists Association, and a variety of municipalities, cities, and businesses.

I invite members to join me in supporting this legislation, which simply gives the transport minister powers to create safe crossings where they do not already exist. It is in the interest of communities, in the interest of Canadians, and in the interest of safety.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

March 20th, 2017 / 11:30 a.m.
See context

Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

Madam Speaker, I would first like to thank the sponsor of the bill, the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie, for her work on this file.

I am very sympathetic to the intentions of my NDP colleague. I know that she has worked very hard and has sought the support of several stakeholders. I am convinced that she is acting for the well-being and safety of residents in the greater Montreal area.

As I mentioned earlier, as the representative of the municipality of Lac-Mégantic, the location of a great tragedy familiar to everyone, I pay close attention to the issue of rail safety. I am sure that many members of the House share the concerns of the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie regarding the safety of people who have to cross railway tracks to travel between their places of work and their homes, for instance, or other users of the public roadways.

In short, the bill before us proposes to amend the Railway Safety Act to give the Minister of Transport the power to order a company to construct a road crossing and to authorize the payment of subsidies in this regard. This bill, as I mentioned, is designed to address a particular problem in Montreal, but there are some weaknesses that I would like to discuss.

The bill does not entirely eliminate the risk of accidents. It seeks to reduce the risk and the hon. member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie acknowledged that. It does however give absolute and total power to the minister and imposes no framework on the minister's powers. I have some problems with that. For example, the bill does not propose using overhead rail crossings, which are a much safer solution for those who have to cross the tracks.

I wonder whether Bill C-322, in its current form, was necessary. Is this the solution to the illegal crossings that my colleague was talking about earlier? The Canada Transportation Act includes some provisions on rail crossings. Section 100 of the act defines crossings as follows:

road crossing means the part of a road that passes across, over or under a railway line, and includes a structure supporting or protecting that part of the road or facilitating the crossing.

The member for Laurier—Sainte-Marie says that she wants to increase the safety of those affected, and I believe her approach is sincere in that respect. I do not doubt her commitment either. However, I have some questions about the method she has chosen with this bill in its current form. In my view, when we want to correct at-risk situations, we try not to create new ones.

Clearly, Bill C-322 first and foremost seeks to solve a serious problem in the Montreal area, but if it is passed, it will be pan-Canadian in scope. If we turn to the current Canada Transportation Act, section 101 of Part III provides instructions to that effect and certain prerogatives to the Canadian Transportation Agency. The act also provides for situations where, like in Montreal, there is no agreement between the parties.

In the event of an agreement, the act states:

101(1) An agreement, or an amendment to an agreement, relating to the construction, maintenance or apportionment of the costs of a road crossing or a utility crossing may be filed with the Agency.

We do not talk about what happens when there is an agreement, but what happens when there is no agreement? Subsection 101(3) states the following:

101(3) If a person is unsuccessful in negotiating an agreement or amendment mentioned in subsection (1), the Agency may, on application, authorize the construction of a suitable road crossing, utility crossing or related work, or specifying who shall maintain the crossing.

The act also stipulates that section 16 of the Railway Safety Act applies if the parties do not reach an agreement. Subsection 16(4) states the following:

16(4) Where a matter is referred to the Agency under subsection (1), the Agency shall, having regard to any grant made under section 12 or 13 in respect of that matter, the relative benefits that each person who has, or who might have, referred the matter stands to gain from the work, and to any other factor that it considers relevant, determine the proportion of the liability for construction, alteration, operational and maintenance costs to be borne by each person, and that liability shall be apportioned accordingly.

In short, the current legislative framework stipulates that, if a municipality or local entity and a railway company cannot agree, the Canadian Transportation Agency may take over and assume responsibility. It can authorize the construction, and determine how the costs will be shared between the parties, both for construction and maintenance.

My understanding is that the minister can already help the parties to find common ground through the various existing programs that would mitigate the financial consequences for the stakeholders. As we know, money is often the sticking point in those kinds of negotiations.

The member told us about her work with the various stakeholders who support her proposed legislative amendment. I would like to share a contrary opinion that must also be considered, namely the opinion of the Montreal Port Authority.

The Montreal Port Authority is against the bill. The rail line affected by the member's initiative serves the port. Setting up new crossings would probably disrupt port operations. Given that a train cannot stop at a grade crossing, the port authority says that the company would have to uncouple and re-couple the trains in order to carry out those daily operations. Those operations could significantly increase the risks for company employees and the general public, not to mention the higher levels of air pollution that those handling operations could generate.

The situation in my colleague's riding is quite specific. Since 2013, the City of Montreal has wanted to add six level crossings on a section of the CP rail line located in the northern part of downtown Montreal. Montreal filed an application with the Canadian Transportation Agency, which is authorized to deal with such matters, as I mentioned earlier. The City of Montreal and CP were unable to reach an agreement, and the negotiations broke off a long time ago.

The Minister of Transport might try to call the mayor of Montreal to potentially resolve the situation by trying to find a solution or becoming involved in the matter and thus avoid having to make legislative amendments. This solution is available to the minister. In her speech, the parliamentary secretary mentioned the authorities that allow the minister to intervene at present. Does the minister intend to do so? In my opinion, he already has the authority and the minister could intervene and take action.

To go back to Bill C-322, we have to look at the basic issue, the safety of Canadians and their families. At the moment, there are certain shortcomings in the bill. Clearly, we encourage people to comply with existing laws and regulations. Pedestrians must not cross railway tracks where they are not allowed to do so, because it is dangerous and puts not only their own lives but those of others at risk. Unfortunately, statistics show that level crossings are not risk free.

I really must provide my colleague with some recommendations. Statistics show that railway and road crossings are equally dangerous for Canadians. At the end of October 2016, data from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada indicated a total of 89 accidents at road crossings, including 16 fatalities and 20 severe injuries. Our colleague talked about the high number of accidents outside road crossings. In other words: Canada's entire railway system. These are not specific locations we are talking about, but about a very large area. It is impossible to put road crossings everywhere and anywhere in Canada where there are railway lines.

We do not see how Bill C-322 in its current form could help to improve and solve the problem once and for all. In our view, a broader approach to road crossings is needed. I agree that specific measures must be taken to improve the situation in Montreal, and thus the safety of the people crossing railway lines illegally in Canada. We should come up with a framework within which the minister could use this new power to authorize new road crossings.

I offer my colleague my cooperation in the coming weeks; let us keep discussing the bill and see whether it is possible to make any improvements that would result in our being able to support it. Unfortunately, at the moment, we cannot support Bill C-322 in its current form.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

March 20th, 2017 / 11:20 a.m.
See context

Kanata—Carleton Ontario

Liberal

Karen McCrimmon LiberalParliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport

Madam Speaker, I am pleased to have the opportunity to speak to Bill C-322, which would amend the Railway Safety Act and provide the Minister of Transport with an authority to order a railway company to construct a road crossing. I will explain the reasons why the government will not support the bill.

The Government of Canada does have a mandate to oversee the safety of federally regulated railway operations in Canada. Dating back to its inception in 1989, the Railway Safety Act, administered by Transport Canada, gives the current Minister of Transport direct jurisdiction over railways that fall within the legislative authority of Parliament, as well as the authority to oversee their safety.

Transport Canada's role is to monitor regulated entities, such as federal railway companies, local railway companies, provincial railways that operate on federally regulated track, and road authorities, which can include municipalities, provinces, and band councils, for compliance with the rules, regulations, and engineering standards under the Railway Safety Act through a robust oversight program.

Transport Canada also monitors for safety and has the authority to act to address threats and immediate threats to safe railway operations through various means, including ordering corrective actions. In fact, the Railway Safety Act provides both the Minister of Transport and Transport Canada railway safety inspectors with several authorities to address railway safety issues when there is a risk, threat, or concern caused by a railway operation to the safety of the public, as well as railway personnel, and the protection of property and the environment.

In addition, the Grade Crossings Regulations, which came into force in November 2014, contain a number of provisions that set out roles and responsibilities at federally regulated grade crossings, fostering collaboration between railway companies and road authorities toward improving safety.

Allow me to describe the existing authorities and mechanisms that are currently in place.

The Railway Safety Act provides inspectors with direct authority to conduct inspections and audits and to address safety threats. The act provides authority for an inspector to issue a notice to inform a company that a threat to safety has been identified. The notice is provided to the company identifying the threat and the company must provide a response as to how it will address it. Where a threat is deemed immediate by an inspector, the Railway Safety Act also provides authority to include an order in the notice restricting the company's use of railway equipment, infrastructure, or railway operation creating the immediate threat, or allowing that operations can continue but under terms and conditions specified by the inspector until the company mitigates the immediate threat on a more permanent basis.

In June 2015, the Safe and Accountable Rail Act was passed, which amended the Railway Safety Act and provided a series of broader authorities for both the Minister of Transport and railway safety inspectors to better address rail safety threats, risks, and concerns. These new authorities 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 railways, road authorities, and municipalities. Furthermore, in the event of an immediate safety threat, an inspector may issue a notice and order to any person or entity, again including railway companies, road authorities, and municipalities, and order them to take specific corrective actions to remove the immediate threat.

These broadened inspector authorities complement a similar authority for the Minister of Transport. If the minister considers it necessary in the interests of safe railway operations, the minister may order the company, road authority, or municipality to stop any activity that might constitute a threat to safe railway operations, or to follow procedures, or to take corrective measures specified in the order, including constructing, altering, operating or maintaining railway work, which includes crossings. Another key consideration, in addition to these existing authorities under the Railway Safety Act, is that a process for opening new road crossings already exists.

Whereas Transport Canada is responsible for the safety oversight of railway operations, the Canadian Transportation Agency, an independent quasi-judicial tribunal, sets the ground rules that establish the rights and responsibilities of transportation services providers and users, and resolves disputes.

Rest assured that these responsibilities are complementary to addressing both safety and economic concerns with respect to rail crossings in Canada. Both organizations promote a collaborative approach for road authorities and railway companies to work together to determine whether to open a road crossing. Should discussions be unsuccessful, proponents can access services, such as mediation and adjudication, through the Canadian Transportation Agency.

It is important to note that agency decisions made through adjudication are legally binding and can include where crossings should be located, conditions the crossing must meet, and apportionment of the costs. In the exceptional circumstances that the minister orders the construction, alteration, operation, or maintenance of a railway work, the proponent may, if there is another beneficiary of the work, refer the allocation of liability and costs to the Canadian Transportation Agency for a determination.

In either instance, once a road crossing is to be opened, the road authority and railway company are responsible for the safety of the crossing and Transport Canada is responsible for monitoring compliance to the standards and regulations.

Moreover, Transport Canada takes appropriate enforcement action when safety concerns or instances of non-compliance to the regulations and standards are identified. In addition to the tools already mentioned, inspectors can use administrative tools, such as letters of concern sent to railways and road authorities, in order to mitigate safety concerns. In the event of non-compliance, Transport Canada's actions may range from a letter of warning to a fine through an administrative monetary penalty to prosecution and finally to the suspension or cancellation of the company's railway operating certificate, essentially shutting down its operations.

To be clear, when all other avenues have been exhausted and when there are exceptional threats to safety, the Minister of Transport already has the authority, under section 32.01 of the Railway Safety Act, to order a company, road authority or municipality to, among other things, take corrective measures to address a threat to safe railway operations, including constructing a road crossing.

We understand that certain communities living in close proximity to railway operations are struggling to combat willful trespassing on railway property. I believe the intention of the bill is sincere and is a way to address these trespassing issues. While the government fully understands the importance of this issue, the bill looks to amend the Railway Safety Act. However, doing so would duplicate existing authorities already in place.

As I have mentioned, under the Railway Safety Act, the Minister of Transport has the appropriate tools and authorities to respond to safety concerns or threats to safe railway operations. I know the Minister of Transport and Transport Canada will not hesitate to exercise these delegated powers when necessary.

It is for these reasons that the Government of Canada does not support Bill C-322.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

March 20th, 2017 / 11:15 a.m.
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Conservative

Luc Berthold Conservative Mégantic—L'Érable, QC

First of all, Madam Speaker, I would like to acknowledge the excellent work that my colleague has done on Bill C-322. Indeed, she has asked the right questions and raised a major issue for the people of her riding.

As the MP of a riding where there was a railway tragedy, I am very sensitive to the issue of railway safety. Could my colleague elaborate on the potential risks of adding new crossings to the rail system?

I believe this is one of the issues of the bill. We had the opportunity to discuss it together. I will raise this issue again this morning because every new crossing added to Canada's rail system presents risks as well. Therefore, the solution put forward may be creating new risks.

I would like to know whether my colleague has thought about this and what she is proposing in that regard, because the current bill does not seem to take such concerns into consideration.

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

March 20th, 2017 / 11:15 a.m.
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Liberal

Karen McCrimmon Liberal Kanata—Carleton, ON

Madam Speaker, I would like to start by thanking the hon. member for her initiative and her speech this morning. I am very pleased to have the opportunity to speak about Bill C-322, which would amend the Railway Safety Act to provide the Minister of Transport

Railway Safety ActPrivate Members' Business

March 20th, 2017 / 11:05 a.m.
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NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

moved that Bill C-322, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act (road crossings), be read the second time and referred to a committee.

Mr. Speaker, my bill is very straightforward. At present, the Minister of Transport has the power to order the closure or modification of a railway crossing, level or otherwise. However, the minister does not have the power to order the construction of a new crossing around rail lines.

The people of Laurier—Sainte-Marie are leaders in active transportation. A lot of people use public transit, bike, or walk in order to get around. This is true throughout the island of Montreal. We do have one problem, however: a rail line runs right through the centre of the island and cuts off connecting corridors.

Although not used extensively, this rail line is nevertheless extremely important. However, all the infrastructure around it was built to accommodate cars. As I just said, active transportation is very common in my area, which is densely populated and very walkable. In fact, the city grew around the rail line, and this is creating some serious problems.

I will give an example. I know that I am focusing a lot of my attention on Montreal, but I will talk about other places later. In Montreal there is a place near the offices of corporations such as Ubisoft where people have to take a detour of 800 metres, nearly a kilometre, to get to the metro station on the other side of the tracks. People tend to cross the track where there is no crossing, which is extremely dangerous. In Canada, there are twice as many fatal accidents at illegal crossings compared to safe crossings.

The other day near that location, I saw a mother pushing a stroller across the tracks illegally. This is not uncommon. That is why businesses, municipalities, and citizen groups have long been calling for the construction of crossings at suitable or strategic locations to be given due consideration.

I mention Laurier—Sainte-Marie a lot, but in Montreal this problem also affects the people of Outremont, Rosemont—La Petite-Patrie, and Papineau. I hope the people of Papineau will share their concerns about this with the Prime Minister. For 20 years, citizens, municipalities, private companies, and elected officials have been calling for action on this, but to no avail.

When I looked at this issue because of what was happening in Montreal, I discovered a few things. I realized that this was a problem not just in Montreal, but also in Toronto and Saskatoon. This problem exists all across the country, and not just in urban areas.

My colleague will probably talk later about a very good example of this problem in British Columbia, where a railway runs along the shore of Kicking Horse River. People, including employees of rafting companies, used to cross the railway to access the river. CP closed people's access, blocking the way to the river, which is one of our natural resources, to the detriment of rafting companies. They are now required to use helicopters, which increases the cost of their operations.

In short, this is a very common problem. The systems in place do not work. Since I was talking about British Columbia, I will quote the Minister of Jobs, Tourism, and Skills Training, and Minister Responsible for Labour for the province of British Columbia:

From the moment the Province heard about the challenges facing the rafting season, staff have worked to find a way rafters can continue to safely cross the CP tracks in Golden. Staff have been on the ground and at the table in Golden with suggestions and solutions. CP has made it abundantly clear that it is unwilling to be a reasonable partner, despite its earlier commitment to work...to find a solution.

What can the minister do in the face of such obstinacy? Nothing. He is completely powerless, as I said earlier. He has the power to order a closure or modification, but he has no power to order the construction of a new crossing. This bill simply gives the minister that power. The bill does not dictate that a crossing should be built in any particular location. It simply gives the minister the same power to create a crossing as the power to close one. It seems very reasonable to me. The minister and the appropriate bureaucrats could examine each request and each file and then make a decision based on the safety of our citizens. There are places where, some mornings, up to 500 people cross railroad tracks unsafely. The last thing we should do is wait for an accident to happen before taking action.

That is why the bill is so important for enhancing safety, including for cyclists and pedestrians. As I was saying, most of the network was built with cars in mind. The bill has received and continues to receive much support. It has the support of Canada Bikes, Citizen for Safe Cycling, in Ontario, Walk Toronto, Cycle Toronto, Ontario By Bike, Glacier Raft Company, Golden, B.C., Greater Victoria Cycling Coalition, BC Healthy Living Alliance, Saskatoon Cycles, Jane's Walk, in Ontario, Vélo Québec, Piétons Québec, Collectif pour les passages à niveau, and the Association of Pedestrians and Cyclists of Outremont, and other municipalities, cities, and businesses. If any of my colleagues are interested, I have a letter from Ubisoft in Montreal calling for the same thing. Again, many people and the City of Montreal have been calling for this for over 20 years.

Given all this support, I hope we will also have the minister's support. It would be surprising, to say the least, if the minister said he did not want to provide the tools to ensure public safety. We are providing him with a tool. We are giving him a gift on a silver platter. I hope he will graciously accept this gift and use his new powers wisely. This is essentially a matter of ensuring public safety.

In closing, I would like to read a joint statement issued by Piétons Québec, Vélo Québec, and Collectif pour les passages à niveau, which sums up the situation very well:

Rail lines...create urban boundaries that seriously inhibit active movement in inhabited areas...Measures taken in the past ten years or so to control and restrict access are ineffective because of the high number of users without satisfactory alternatives.

...The problem of illegal crossings can be solved by developing infrastructure suitable for the urban environment [such as level crossings]....To that end, the regulations governing railway crossings must be updated to meet the specific needs of urban areas and allow people to use rail crossings safely.

I would like to add that in the greater Montreal area, on the south shore among other places and in Toronto as well, there are crossings for pedestrians and cyclists that work very well. They do not have a problem.

The last quote I read to the House mentions urban areas. However, as I mentioned earlier in my speech, there are also problems in rural areas. A Conservative member told me about the problems in Alberta.

As I was saying, the only thing my bill will do is restore the balance between the minister's ability to close, change, and open grade crossings and provide him with a new tool that he will be able to use, as he sees fit, to improve the safety of Canadians.