Evidence of meeting #32 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was s-4.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Luc Bourdon  Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport
Clerk of the Committee  Mr. Alexandre Roger

9:45 a.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

Luc Bourdon

Bill S-4 does not make research and development mandatory. However some legislation like the Railway Safety Act, some sections of which are included in Bill S-4, do encourage the introduction and use of new technologies under existing rules. For example, under existing rules, we can test new technologies in just about 35 days. If all goes well, in less than four months approximately, we can allow a blanket exemption for a rule or regulation in order to encourage the introduction of new technologies.

For example, we are testing a new technology with Canadian Pacific to eliminate the use of brake tests. We are testing heat detectors that will detect brake malfunction from the heat of the wheels. Almost all companies in North America are examining this revolutionary new technology.

April 24th, 2012 / 9:50 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

PTC was mentioned earlier on. It would seem that the cost-benefit ratio of this technology is too far from what we are looking for to even think about implementing it. With regard to research and development, are there other available systems that would be just as efficient but more affordable?

9:50 a.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

Luc Bourdon

There is a system that I would describe as a system of signals in the cabin. These signals appear on a screen, which allows the crew to see the next signal and to know what restrictions are coming up, in terms of speed, for example. But no Canadian railway has that system. We are really looking into this to see how PTC is working in the United States.

First of all, under the act, as it stands today, railway companies could be forced to implement PTC. No amendment would be necessary.

In any case, we are keeping an eye on how the technology is evolving. Once the problems with the system have been ironed out and the cost analysis is complete, we will have a much better grasp of the situation and access to a much cheaper system, I think.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Merv Tweed

Mr. Richards.

9:50 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I appreciate your being here today.

This isn't the first time we've seen this bill, or a bill similar to this one, come before this committee. Obviously both here at this committee and elsewhere there's been a lot of consultation and discussion about this bill. There seems to be fairly widespread support for the bill as well.

I'd like to get a sense of this from you. With this minister being the engaging guy he is, I'm sure there's been a lot of consultation. Whether it be with industry, the public, or other stakeholders, I know there's been a lot of consultation taking place.

I'd like to get a bit of a summary from you on some of the consultation that has taken place, what form that has taken, and what exactly has been done in terms of discussion of this bill with industry, the public, and other stakeholders as well.

9:50 a.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

Luc Bourdon

We actually met with all of the provinces on this bill in its current form and under Bill C-33. We gave them a clause-by-clause...and we saw no issue or concern.

We met with all the railway unions. We met with most of the companies. We participated in many conferences across Canada where we knew that stakeholders would be in attendance.

We did pretty much a massive...I wouldn't call it consultation because we told people what's in the bill. I think we've been able to do a good job to diffuse many concerns people had, especially with respect to the railway operating certificate. People were concerned about what it would entail and when they were going to need one.

Everybody found out that we would do a consolidated group with industry members and the unions to determine the criteria and that there would be a two-year grace period once the regulation is in place. This is an example where people were concerned, and after we explained the process they felt it would be solid.

It was the same thing with administrative monetary penalties. A lot of the railways at the beginning said we were going to have guys out there with a booklet of tickets; we were going to give them a fine. It's a maximum of $50,000 for an individual and $250,000 for a company. We explained the process we would have in place: a regulation, with one enforcement officer per region and one in Ottawa who will make recommendations on the level of the AMPs.

There's a provision in the bill as well to appeal to the Transportation Appeal Tribunal of Canada. This is the only tribunal that is going to be allowed to overturn our decision or reduce the fine.

By talking to all the stakeholders, I think we've been in a very good position to get acceptance for this bill. That's why there were so few amendments brought to the committee the last time.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Certainly there has been a lot of consultation and discussion, and I'm not surprised by that at all. By what you've heard and the inputs and suggestions that have been made, it sounds like there's been a receptiveness to the bill.

To follow along on that, since Bill C-33 I think there have been some amendments to the bill. Can you tell me a bit about the amendments that have been made and what effect those will have?

9:55 a.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

Luc Bourdon

Just going from my memory, I'd say that most of these amendments have had value added. There were some proposed by the teamsters. For instance, in terms of the whistle-blower protection, Bill C-33 was requiring the employees to report directly to the companies. The unions felt that with the relationship they had with Transport Canada, and with the trust that was between us and them, we could handle that. So this was one of their amendments.

They also asked that fatigue science be considered within a safety management system, which was also tabled by members of this committee at the time. There was also the possibility for all regulations passed by Transport Canada to be revised by this committee.

There have been some housekeeping items. For instance, with all the stakeholders that were involved with revising this bill, some of them, and even us, found that words were missing at some points. Amendments were proposed to add these words that may have been missing. In section 11 of the Railway Safety Act—clause 8 of this bill—there was something with sound engineering principles where “maintenance” was left out. One of the amendments was to add it.

Those were, I'd say, the main amendments that came through this committee. As I said, there was very little.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Thank you. I appreciate that.

9:55 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Merv Tweed

We've finished our rounds, but I'm going to open up the floor to each party for five minutes.

Ms. Chow or Mr. Sullivan? I know you're going to split your five.

9:55 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

You can start.

9:55 a.m.

NDP

Mike Sullivan NDP York South—Weston, ON

Okay.

On the issue of rail crossings and pedestrian safety, it's been my experience that the railroads don't maintain their crossings and don't maintain those fences very well at all, so of course people cross.

We had an Earth Day event there a couple of years ago, and because we were having the event, they started giving people tickets for going through their fence, which had been down for many years.

What can Transport Canada do to enforce this measure of safety?

9:55 a.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

Luc Bourdon

In terms of crossings, I think they're pretty much in good shape, I would say. When we test them, when we inspect them, usually they're pretty good. The crossing regulation will enhance that.

However, I would agree with you that from a trespassing standpoint it's been an issue. Fencing is an issue. They're constantly being cut and destroyed. In some high-risk areas, as I explained earlier, we will impose some slow orders. We will put the whistle back, which a lot of times will force the railway and the municipalities to sit together and decide to do something jointly.

The area where.... It's almost like there's a correlation between fences and trespassing. In some areas there are no fences because no one trespasses. In areas that are being fenced, there's constantly trespassing, as I said, because fences are constantly cut. It's a major problem.

Some areas in Canada, such as Canmore, are very well protected, with pedestrian crossings, with fences on both sides of the track, and yet they still have a high trespassing problem, even when all the protection is there.

We're doing our very best to control that. Eventually we hope to have an access control regulation that will help us to deal with that issue. But it remains a problem; I'll admit to that.

10 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

How often are the fences patrolled? I know that in the Toronto area, and I could name the area, the fences are just broken. Technically CN is obligated to fix it—it's their railroad—but they often don't do that at all. It's not that they don't have enough cash. I think the last time I checked, they had $2 billion in profit or something of that nature, up 13%. They really don't do a good job maintaining the fence.

What can Transport Canada do? Is it more inspections, or tickets? Is it mandating the CN? They are already supposed to fix these fences.

10 a.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

Luc Bourdon

One of the things that was recognized through the Railway Safety Act was that we did not have enough people to handle that. We do now. We hired the last one, I think, a few months ago. So we will have more people to deal with that issue.

Plus, we now have more people to deal with education and awareness. A lot of times the issue with fencing is that when we perform an inspection, if we see there is a deficiency, we'll take action and advise the railway. If we see evidence that there's trespassing, we will impose measures on the railway. However, once we perform an inspection and the thing may have been fixed, with 72,000 kilometres of track, I mean, we will have our inspector going elsewhere, so there's always a probability that the fence.... I've seen fences cut within four hours after they were repaired.

10 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Is there a public complaint phone number that you can make available, highlighted on the Transport Canada website, so that people know they can make a public complaint?

Rather than you having to send people out all the time, the citizens can be the eyes and ears for you. I made this kind of a recommendation in the immigration system. So when there are crooked consultants, people can report it, and it was then highlighted. And it was quite useful.

Do we have the same system in Transport Canada?

10 a.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

Luc Bourdon

Yes. We had a 1-800 number with Transport Canada, with rail safety, where people could report everything they had seen. I will have to check. It's currently being revamped, because there are too many of these numbers right now, and people were—

10 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

I'm confused about which number, though. Can you let us know?

10 a.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

Luc Bourdon

Yes. It will be on our website and it'll be one number. We used to have one, as I said, but they just did a survey and there were several of them at Transport Canada. Other branches were getting complaints from rail; we were getting complaints from other branches. We're just trying to streamline that. But people can always file a formal complaint with us by e-mail.

We investigate 100% of the complaints we get, regardless of how frivolous they may appear. We always send someone out there, because they're not frivolous for these people.

10 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

If you could send that to the committee members, through the chair, it would be helpful. Because you're right, there are several routes, and if you could tell us which route is the best, that would be very helpful.

10 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Merv Tweed

Mr. Coderre, you have the floor.

10 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Chair, I would like to continue on the issue of ministerial authority. It means that the minister can, as he wishes, address a situation thanks to his discretion under Bill S-4. The bill gives additional powers to the minister.

10 a.m.

Director General, Rail Safety, Department of Transport

Luc Bourdon

Yes, and several of these powers will be delegated directly to inspectors in the field.

10 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

So the authority is delegated.