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.
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.