Evidence of meeting #50 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 41st Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was crossings.

A video is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Pauline Quinlan  Co-Chair, National Municipal Rail Safety Working Group, Mayor, City of Bromont, Federation of Canadian Municipalities
Michael Bourque  President and Chief Executive Officer, Railway Association of Canada
Phil Benson  Lobbyist, Teamsters Canada
Don Ashley  National Legislative Director, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, Teamsters Canada
Daniel Rubinstein  Manager, Policy and Research, Policy and Government Relations, Federation of Canadian Municipalities

3:30 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Hoang Mai

Good afternoon, colleagues. Welcome to the 50th meeting of the Standing Committee on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities. We are considering Bill C-627, An Act to amend the Railway Safety Act (safety of persons and property).

From the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, we have with us Pauline Quinlan and Daniel Rubinstein.

We also have with us, from the Railway Association of Canada, Michael Bourque, and from Teamsters Canada, Phil Benson.

The witnesses will have 10 minutes for their presentations.

I give the floor to Ms. Quinlan, from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

3:30 p.m.

Pauline Quinlan Co-Chair, National Municipal Rail Safety Working Group, Mayor, City of Bromont, Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Good afternoon and thank you, Mr. Chair, for your introduction. Thank you to the committee members for extending an invitation to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to participate in your study of Bill C-627, an act to amend the Railway Safety Act, safety of persons and property. FCM last appeared before the committee in May 2014, as part of your study on safety management systems and the transportation of dangerous goods, and we are pleased to be here again.

I am the mayor of the City of Bromont, Quebec, and chair of the Quebec caucus of the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I am happy to be here today to represent the Federation of Canadian Municipalities as the co-chair of the FCM's National Municipal Rail Safety Working Group.

The National Municipal Rail Safety Working Group, which I co-chair, was created in the wake of the catastrophe that devastated the town of Lac-Mégantic in 2013.

The group's work is guided by the following three principles: equipping and supporting municipal first responders to rail emergencies, ensuring that federal and industry policies and regulations address the rail safety concerns of municipalities, and preventing the downloading of rail safety and emergency response costs to municipal taxpayers.

I am joined today by Daniel Rubinstein, Manager of Policy and Research at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. He also handles issues related to rail safety.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities represents 90% of Canada's population and about 2,000 municipalities from across the country. Our mission is to promote and protect the interests of all communities—small or big, urban or rural, central or remote—on issues related to policies and programs that fall under federal jurisdiction.

The federation raises various issues related to rail safety and actively participates in many rail safety initiatives. We are a member of the Transportation of Dangerous Goods General Policy Advisory Council, the Advisory Council on Railway Safety, as well as the emergency response task force. We are also working closely with Minister Raitt and Transport Canada officials on all those issues.

Before speaking about Bill C-627, I want to reiterate for committee members that FCM and the national municipal rail safety working group are guided by essential work undertaken by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.

The TSB serves a critical function in terms of making safety recommendations to the federal government, and at FCM we believe the standard for progress is full implementation of TSB safety recommendations. My colleagues and I at FCM are pleased that the government's response to the TSB report into the tragedy in Lac-Mégantic has indeed been fulsome. We expect the same type of response once the TSB has had the opportunity to fully investigate the recent derailments in northern Ontario and make additional recommendations to government.

In terms of the focus of today's meeting, let me say a few words about Bill C-627. FCM fully supports any legislative measure that clarifies or enhances the ability of the Minister of Transport and Transport Canada officials to conduct robust oversight and enforcement of safety on Canada’s federal railways. Bill C-627 does that just by clarifying that safe railway operations also includes the “safety of persons and property”.

As was discussed at the committee's last meeting this past Tuesday, these provisions complement the enhanced oversight and enforcement powers contained in Bill C-52, the safe and accountable rail act, which was introduced by Minister Raitt last month.

Related to Bill C-627 is the issue of safety standards at railway-roadway level crossings, otherwise known as grade crossings. FCM is fully supportive of Transport Canada’s new grade crossing regulations, which for the first time establish standards for sightlines, warning systems, and other key safety components at both new and existing crossings. These regulations respond to a long-standing recommendation from the TSB.

Over the next seven years, all existing grade crossings in Canada will need to be upgraded to the basic standards laid out in the regulations. Our members and federal railways are in the very early stages of sharing information with each other about existing crossings, which is the first step laid under the regulations. Information sharing must be completed by the end of 2016.

You can expect to hear more from the FCM about the need for additional federal funding for grade crossing improvements once we are able to assess the cost impact of meeting the new grade crossing regulations at existing crossings.

Shifting from rail safety to emergency planning and response, the national municipal rail safety working group has also been vocal about the need for shipments of flammable liquids to require detailed emergency response assistance plans, or ERAPs. ERAPs play a critical function in assisting local first responders in the event of a serious incident involving dangerous goods.

In April 2014 Transport Canada responded favourably to FCM’s request, by expanding Transport Canada’s ERAP requirements to shipments of crude oil, ethanol, gasoline, diesel, and aviation fuel. This regulatory change has provided municipalities with certainty that shippers of flammable liquids will provide specialized assistance when major incidents take place involving these products.

Also in April 2014 Minister Raitt established an emergency response task force with participation from key stakeholders, including FCM, to strengthen nationwide emergency response planning and training. The ERTF has a mandate to submit its recommendations later this year.

As I mentioned earlier in my remarks, in February Minister Raitt announced new legislation, Bill C-52, to improve rail safety and the transportation of dangerous goods in Canada. Key elements of Bill C-52 respond directly to concerns related to insurance and liability, information sharing, and Transport Canada’s oversight of federal railways that were raised by FCM at our last appearance in May 2014.

These are a few examples of policy areas where proactive and ongoing collaboration between FCM and the federal government has resulted in concrete reforms that will improve the safety of Canada’s railways and Canada's population.

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

In closing, FCM welcomes new measures to clarify and expand the oversight and enforcement powers of the minister and railway safety inspectors, including the amendments to the Railway Safety Act proposed in Bill C-627.

I want to thank the committee once again for giving us an opportunity to share our point of view.

3:40 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Hoang Mai

Thank you, Ms. Quinlan.

We will hear from Michael Bourque from the Railway Association of Canada.

You have 10 minutes.

March 26th, 2015 / 3:40 p.m.

Michael Bourque President and Chief Executive Officer, Railway Association of Canada

Good afternoon, Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee. Thank you.

I want to begin by saying that safety is of the utmost importance to the railway industry. Our members are committed to safety and are constantly looking for ways to improve their performance whether it's through training, risk assessment, infrastructure investments, or technology.

Our industry aIso believes in working collaboratively with government, labour groups, municipalities, and other stakeholders on improving our safety performance. ln the last 20 months especially, we've seen new train securement and operating practices, new tank car standards, and many other measures introduced, all of which will contribute to improving safety.

Crossing safety, which member of Parliament, Joyce Bateman, identified as the motivation behind Bill C-627, is aIso a pressing issue for our industry. There are currently more than 31,000 federally regulated grade crossings in Canada, and crossing accidents account for nearly 20% of all rail incidents in Canada. Sadly, a third of those incidents result in death or serious injury.

Crossing safety is an important issue, but I'm not sure Bill C-627 is the best way to tackle it. In fact, I'm questioning why we're discussing it today. As a number of committee members pointed out earlier this week, Bill C-52 will repeal key sections of this bill.

Our primary concern with Bill C-627 is that it may be redundant and it could create confusion. Section 4 of the current Railway Safety Act already states that “regard shall be had not only to the safety of persons and property transported by railways but also to the safety of other persons and other property” in determining whether railway operations are safe, or whether something constitutes a threat to safety.

ln addition, under section 31 of the current Railway Safety Act, railway safety inspectors, on behalf of the Minister of Transport, already have the power to order a rail line or crossing to be closed, or the use of railway equipment to be stopped, if they deem it to be a threat to safety. However, it may well be that improvements to the act are required, and we certainly appreciate many of the crossing safety concerns that Ms. Bateman raised before this committee.

As a result of urban growth around railway operations, traffic has increased at existing crossings and additional crossings have been built to relieve road congestion across the country. Communities and city planners need to think about alternatives to creating new grade crossings, and what upgrades can be made to improve safety at existing crossings.

Although not specifically aimed at crossings, we're making some progress through our joint proximity initiative with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and we recently saw Montreal adopt our Guidelines for New Development in Proximity to Railway Operations as part its long-term development plan. Montreal was the first major urban centre to adopt the guidelines and we're hopeful that other cities will follow suit.

But more can be done. I'll read you a quote. I'm sorry, it's a little bit long, but bear with me.

ln its report, the advisory panel for the Railway Safety Act review recommended that the act be amended to require developers and municipalities to engage in a process of consultation with railway companies prior to any decision respecting land use that may affect railway safety.

We believe that one of the most efficient ways of improving railway safety in this area is to give the Governor in Council the power to make regulations respecting notices that should be given to railways regarding the establishment of a local plan of subdivision, or zoning by-law, or proposed amendments thereto, where the subject land is within 300 metres of a railway line or railway yard. We believe the 300 metres is a distance that makes sense from a safety point of view.

Further, we also believe, as is done in the Aeronautics Act today, that power should be given to the Governor in Council to make regulations respecting the control or prohibition of any other activity in the vicinity of a land on which a line of railway is situated, to the extent that it could constitute a threat to safe railway operations.

These comments were made by my predecessor, Cliff Mackay, to this committee during its review of the Railway Safety Act in 2012, and this is still our position today. Railways are required by law to notify municipalities of any proposed work. We would like to see the Railway Safety Act amended to require developers and municipalities to consult with railway companies prior to making decisions about land use that could affect railway safety.

Another way that we can tackle the issue of crossing safety is to review the existing regulatory approach for opening and closing rail crossings in Canada. Under the existing regime, Transport Canada has the authority to close grade crossings after completing a risk analysis. Meanwhile, the Canadian Transportation Agency has the authority to open new crossings without having to assess public safety. This dichotomy of authority has jeopardized public safety and led to some counterproductive outcomes. In one case, the Canadian Transportation Agency ordered a railway to open a crossing after Transport Canada had ordered it permanently closed for safety reasons.

Furthermore, the number of crossing-related accidents has not decreased over the last decade. Since 2003, there have been more than 2,300 crossing-related accidents and 670 serious injuries and/or fatalities. As I mentioned earlier, 30% of the crossing-related accidents over the last five years have resulted in serious injury or fatality. The increasing number of level crossings, the increase in traffic moved by freight and passenger rail, as well as truck and automobile traffic suggest that crossing-related injuries and fatalities will continue to be a problem in the future if action is not taken. Recent government efforts to improve safety at grade crossings will help, but the best way to improve safety is to close more crossings.

Canada's grade crossings regulations came into effect last December 17. These regulations outline a series of improvements that must be made to grade crossings, including private crossings. Short line railways alone expect that they will invest somewhere in the order of $85 million to meet these regulatory requirements, and the estimate at the time of regulation was a cost of about half a billion dollars to the industry to meet these regulations.

There is also the issue of private crossings. We have many instances where private roads crossing over rail lines are used by one or more landowners, and where there is no crossing agreement. In these situations, railways advise users of the crossing of the need for a crossing agreement, setting out terms of use for construction and maintenance. But in many cases, users are unwilling to enter into these agreements, especially when crossing upgrades are necessary.

Section 103 of the Canada Transportation Act deals with the situation in which the railway company and the landowner adjoining the railway disagree on the suitability or maintenance of a private crossing. Currently, section 103 only permits the landowner to apply to the agency for the resolution of a dispute. There is no comparable right given to the railway company. We believe that, in the interest of safety, railways should have the equal right to apply to the agency under section 103.

The government aIso recently made changes to its grade crossing improvement program. Transport Canada has considerably reduced the amount that it will contribute towards grade crossing improvements. Transport Canada used to cover 80% of the cost of a grade crossing and now only covers 50%. Under the current funding formula, railways are expected to absorb almost 40% of the cost of these upgrades. Furthermore, we are told that compliance with the new regulations will not be an accepted reason for applying for funds under the grade crossing improvement program, and that these funds are not available to provincially regulated railways, which must nevertheless comply with the regulations.

When Joyce Bateman was testifying to this committee the other day, I noticed that what started as an issue of safety quickly morphed into an issue of convenience. I understand it is difficult when constituents call and complain about waiting at a railway crossing for 15 or 20 minutes, but let's consider the alternative.

Earlier this week, Jim Vena, from CN, mentioned that it's not unusual to have trains that are over 150 cars long. One hundred and fifty railcars is the equivalent of about 375 tractor trailers that would otherwise be on our roads. Without rail service, we would have more congestion, more pollution, less safety, and more greenhouse gases. Rail is about 20 times more efficient than trucks in terms of greenhouse gas emissions' intensity, and let's not forget about the economic argument. Railways need to maintain velocity and fluidity on their tracks in order to deliver high levels of service to their customers. When an accident occurs, the whole network gets clogged.

The rail industry is currently operating under a quota for grain. Last year's enormous grain crop was 20 million metric tonnes larger than the average crop. This 20 million metric tonnes required around 2,000 trains, each with 100 cars, to move it to port; then they had to return.

We need rail to move the economy, so before we start making small steps that we think may solve a specific problem, let's make sure we are not further hindering our ability to enable the competitiveness of our customers and the economy in this globally competitive world.

Thank you very much.

3:50 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Hoang Mai

Thank you, Mr. Bourque.

I forgot to mention before that we also have Mr. Don Ashley from Teamsters Canada.

Mr. Benson and Mr. Ashley.

3:50 p.m.

Phil Benson Lobbyist, Teamsters Canada

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I'm a lobbyist for Teamsters Canada and with me is Mr. Don Ashley. He's the national legislative director for the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference. I'll be dealing with some background issues and Mr. Ashley will be dealing with the bill itself.

Just to start, the Teamsters Canada Rail Conference represents the running trades, main lines and most of the short lines. With other components of teamsters divisions, we represent approximately 65% of rail labour.

I want to thank you for having me before the committee. In case this is the last time we get to come here during this Parliamentary lifespan, I'd like to thank the members present and past for their courtesy and for all their hard work. I think we've achieved a lot. We still have a lot to do, but I do want to thank you. If we have a chance to come back, that's great. If we don't, again, thank you very much.

As background, of course, we've seen recently that we have derailments and we have track issues with CPC-1232 cars. Previously, before the committee, we raised our concerns about the CPC-1232 cars, about whether they were actually suitable and if they would work. As we know, from the Gogama tragedy and elsewhere close to tragedy, there seem to be severe problems with them. Similarly, we all have concerns about the new 1711s.

The other issue that is a great concern to me is the movement of dilbit. After Lac-Mégantic and that tragedy—and our prayers and concerns still go out to the families there, that's going to be a long healing process—the issue of dilbit was not a concern from the experts that I attended meetings with, and I certainly attend a lot of them. The issue was shale oil. Clearly, after the Gogama accident, that region and track, that whole dilbit issue and synbit has to be reviewed again. I know it will be in upcoming meetings going forward, but that was a great surprise to me. It's not something that I expected.

Of course, we have Bill C-52.

The other thing we have been very busy with—you can see my stack of notes—is the safety management system regulations that will be in effect on April 1. We have been very busy over the last three weeks to a month being briefed on the bill, on the safety management systems, the processes, the updates, when it's going to happen. To be honest, there are parts we're confused about, parts we're disappointed with, and other parts we're quite pleased with.

One issue that's quite interesting for us is one of the issues that was raised before the committee during the Railway Safety Act amendments. That was the direct line from workers to Transport Canada rail safety, a 1-800 number to report safety issues. I'll ask you as I did last time, where's our 1-800 number? It seems to have not quite vanished, but I do not understand why it's a particular problem to set up a 1-800 number.

It's our position, as a matter of policy, that we do not support private members' bills on areas of transport and the Transportation Act unless the subject matter is tangential to the overall safety scheme. I think Bill C-52 really proves our point on that issue.

That being said, we want to thank Ms. Bateman for bringing it because obviously she had concerns. We would have supported the bill in a way because we did not find it particularly offensive in part. It is important for members to bring forward private members' bills. I'm not discouraging members to do it. However, quite often, acts like the Transportation Act are quite complex and it's very hard to just take out one little section without realizing there are a lot of other implications.

With that, I'll pass it over to Mr. Ashley to deal with the bill.

3:55 p.m.

Don Ashley National Legislative Director, Teamsters Canada Rail Conference, Teamsters Canada

Thank you, and thank you for having us here.

When it comes to the bill itself, we are fully supportive of anything that improves rail safety and gives the minister more regulatory impact on improving rail safety.

When it comes to crossing incidents, it's very impacting on our membership. The devastating effects that the public and the community see with these crossing accidents also deeply impacts our members and their families, and they're lasting affects. One of our highest areas of injury are critical incidents from these crossing accidents. Again, anything that can be done to improve that area would be supported by Teamsters Canada.

With the bill itself, the language is good. When it comes to the changes to sections 31 and 32 of the Railway Safety Act, we prefer the language in Bill C-52. Whether this bill gets picked up and the proposed change to section 9 gets moved to Bill C-52 or you amend this bill with the language from Bill C-52 in regard to sections 31 and 32, we would support either one of those alternatives.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Hoang Mai

Thank you, Teamsters Canada.

We will now go to questions from committee members.

Mr. Toone, the floor is yours. You have seven minutes.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

I want to thank the witnesses for their presentations. They were most interesting.

I think the bill deserves even more attention. Everyone has brought up the fact that another bill is also under consideration. It's a bit difficult to see what the impact of this legislation will be on Bill C-52. It will make the discussion a bit more complex.

Be that as it may, we are discussing Bill C-627 today, and I will try to focus on that.

I would like to start with Ms. Quilan.

3:55 p.m.

Co-Chair, National Municipal Rail Safety Working Group, Mayor, City of Bromont, Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Pauline Quinlan

My last name is Quinlan.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

I think an “n” was missing.

3:55 p.m.

Co-Chair, National Municipal Rail Safety Working Group, Mayor, City of Bromont, Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Pauline Quinlan

Yes, unfortunately.

3:55 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

What is the actual relationship between municipalities and railway companies when it comes to grade crossings? I am trying to understand that. Is any funding provided for grade crossings? Do railway companies give money to municipalities? Do municipalities have to pay rent? Who is in charge of all that, and how does the funding flow?

3:55 p.m.

Co-Chair, National Municipal Rail Safety Working Group, Mayor, City of Bromont, Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Pauline Quinlan

Municipalities have to help maintain grade crossings. Once again, I assume that depends on the province in question. I can tell you that at home, in Quebec, particularly in Bromont, the railway that passes through the city also goes through Lac-Mégantic. So it's the same line. Yes, actually, we do contribute annually to the maintenance of grade crossings.

4 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

So the responsibility—

4 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Hoang Mai

Mr. Watson.

4 p.m.

Conservative

Jeff Watson Conservative Essex, ON

I didn't want to interrupt the member's first question and answer and I don't want my intervention to interrupt his cumulative time. I think I heard you say seven minutes, but I think I heard interpretation say five minutes. I just wanted it to be clear that the member has seven minutes for questions and answers.

4 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Hoang Mai

To clarify, the first round is seven minutes each, so the member has seven minutes.

4 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair. I will continue.

In that case, the responsibility belongs to municipalities and not to railway companies. If an accident was to occur, who would be accountable?

4 p.m.

Co-Chair, National Municipal Rail Safety Working Group, Mayor, City of Bromont, Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Pauline Quinlan

The railway company would be. Of course, we work together.

Mr. Rubinstein will be able to add to my answer in a moment, but we are currently partners. One of the organizations we working with to find solutions to improve safety is the Railway Association of Canada. Although we are not responsible for railway traffic, we are still responsible for the safety of those who live in our cities and municipalities.

Daniel could perhaps complete my answer by providing information on the specific work we are doing with the Railway Association of Canada.

4 p.m.

Daniel Rubinstein Manager, Policy and Research, Policy and Government Relations, Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Very quickly, for federally regulated railways, there are grade crossing regulations that were passed last year. They set out the rules and responsibilities of municipalities as road authorities and federal railways. That includes requirements for information sharing. Each party has different obligations.

When it comes to cost, these are determined through the parties, but the Canadian Transportation Agency can make determinations as well on how those costs are shared.

4 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

If I understand correctly, this bill covers only the rail lines that come under federal jurisdiction?

4 p.m.

Co-Chair, National Municipal Rail Safety Working Group, Mayor, City of Bromont, Federation of Canadian Municipalities

4 p.m.

NDP

Philip Toone NDP Gaspésie—Îles-de-la-Madeleine, QC

Even so, a number of railways in Quebec and elsewhere come under provincial jurisdiction. Am I right to understand that this bill will have no impact on those railways?

4 p.m.

Co-Chair, National Municipal Rail Safety Working Group, Mayor, City of Bromont, Federation of Canadian Municipalities

Pauline Quinlan

Perhaps Daniel could say something about that.