Madam Speaker, I am very pleased to have an opportunity to speak to Bill C-33, Safer Railways Act, which has been brought forward today by the government. It represents the government's thinking on moving forward with railway safety in this country.
I certainly agree with most of the speakers here that the railway system in this country is one that is under pressure. We need to ensure that it is operated in the safest and most complete fashion for all those who live near it or are involved in it.
There are some deficiencies in the current safety act that are in need of fixing, but I think this bill takes on some elements that are perhaps redundant. These may not move so much forward on safety but rather increase the bureaucracy around the railways.
This bill corrects some minor errors that have been identified in existing acts and creates a certification process for railroads to show that they are safe. Also, it creates a ticketing process for enforcement and tweaks certain elements within the safety management system for railways. That is all good and proper.
However, there are problems, such as using a ticket system of fines for enforcement. The U.S. has a system of tickets but now uses it only in the most serious and egregious violations. The U.S. has learned that tickets do not actually work to improve safety. There are reports throughout the United States that the tickets were sometimes paid by the railways rather than go ahead with required improvements and fix-ups. In some cases, the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration prefers to issue compliance orders, special notices for repair, disqualification orders, injunctions, and emergency orders so that things actually are done on the system. If there is a point in the system where problems are occurring, they get fixed with these types of orders.
We can talk about the certification process, but once a railway starts operating, it has already complied with the Railway Safety Act. By starting up it goes through a process of ensuring that its system is well set up and within the rules that it is guided by. Therefore, the extra process of certification is something that we would like to understand better. Perhaps at committee we will see how this certification process would improve safety. That is something we must leave to witnesses and those people who will know about that in committee.
What Bill C-33 does not do is dramatically increase railway safety. According to “Stronger Ties”, the 2007 review of the Railway Safety Act, the major cause of death comes from accidents at level crossings and trespassing.
Since 2001, an average of 84 people have been killed or seriously injured annually as a result of crossing accidents and an average of 79 people have been killed or seriously injured due to trespassing. These are very large numbers. These are real issues of concern when we talk about railway safety. Many Canadians are dying around our railways. In 2006, 142 people were killed or seriously injured as a result of crossing and trespassing accidents. The railway industry considers these collisions to be a major problem. The greater tragedy is that perhaps many of these incidents could have been avoided.
Rail collisions are in fact one of the most predictable of all transportation hazards. Trains and motor vehicles are alike in that both travel on hundreds of thousands of kilometres of rail or highway and urban road networks. Similarly, aircraft have millions of kilometres of airspace in which to fly.
However, a highway railway crossing has a precise location. The intersection of the highway and the railway track is where a collision between a motor vehicle and a train is most likely to occur. We have a very defined area within the rail system where these accidents are occurring.
Investigation reports reveal that in most circumstances motorists are responsible for these collisions. They disregard the horn and bell warnings of approaching trains. They ignore light and bell warnings at crossings and sometimes they even drive around lowered gates. There is nothing in the bill that will decrease those numbers.
How could we do this? Perhaps we could begin a larger, federal, education campaign. Working in partnership with the Railway Association, Transport Canada could lead the effort to bring together people who can deal with the education required for motorists to better deal with rail crossings, to not be impatient when the gates go down, and to be observant.
There are about 43,000 federally and provincially regulated public and private level crossings in Canada, so when the minister talks about the dollars that the government has invested over the past number of years on railways crossings, he is not talking about a huge sum of money in comparison to the issues before us.
In “Stronger Ties”, the railway safety advisory panel recommended the government develop a program to identify which crossings can be closed, limit the number of new crossings, and improve the safety at existing crossings.
Many of the European countries do different things with rail or level crossings that allow high-speed trains to move through rail crossings with a great degree of safety. They have automated systems that detect metal in the level crossing and stop the train on an automatic basis. We have to train Canadians to wait for this to occur, because if we stop a train because somebody is in the level crossing, we have to close the crossing earlier for that to occur.
We know that trespassing accidents can never be completely eliminated, but what about the requirement for fencing? Where can we do better on that particular requirement so that we reduce the number of incidents of trespassing and reduce the number of deaths that are occurring? These are serious problems with railway safety, problems that need to be addressed, and perhaps as we take this bill forward to committee, we could look at some things there. Once again, the bill is directed in a more bureaucratic fashion to deal with penalties and to deal with other issues, but really we need to look at some of the basic precepts of railway safety.
Another area would be to have regulations that ensure that trains respect signals. In many countries, if there is a red signal, the train automatically slows down or stops. In Canada that is not the case. We do not have those fail-safe systems and that can lead to more accidents. Once again, the issues are sometimes technical in nature, but they are also things that this federal government has a responsibility to legislate.
Actions do not come from nothing. It is not a simple job to improve railway safety. It is an investment. It is regulations. It is certainly enforcement, but it certainly speaks to the need for more than what is in the bill here today. The bill may do something, but we really need to look at the overall picture of railway safety and fix the things that need to be fixed to ensure the Canadian public is protected.
We need to ensure that our standards for some of the problems we have are raised to the point that they match up to other countries and the rest of the world.